Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Taxi drivers protecting their turf in Europe, protesting ride share companies like Uber

In April of last year when I took a trip to Barcelona with my family, we took taxis a few times. One of these times was on the way back to the airport. We called for a taxi, loaded up our luggage when it arrived and set off. Then after we'd been driving about 20 minutes, and I didn't see any signs indicating that the airport was close by (our apartment was very close to the airport), I looked at the map on my phone. It turns out that we were headed in the complete opposite direction, away from the airport.

I asked the cab driver what was going on. He said, "Oh, there's a marathon going on today, I was just avoiding traffic". He immediately got on the highway heading towards the airport, and we were there in a few minutes. Pathetically, we actually believed he may have been telling the truth, and still gave him a tip when he dropped us off.

Of course, there was no marathon that day, he was just ripping us off by taking us on a long ride. And this isn't the only time we'd been ripped off by taxi drivers - it happened a couple times when we were in Istanbul years ago (taking the "scenic route", and then also being charged the night rate in the middle of the day), and in other cities as well.

What does this have to do with Uber? A lot, really. Had something like this happened on an Uber ride, it would have been very easy to complain - just a few clicks on a smartphone app. And I'm sure it would have resulted in a problem for the driver. Which is why this type of thing happens very rarely, if at all, with Uber.

With a regular taxi, there's realistically no means of complaint. Sure, if you looked carefully enough in the car there may be some kind of registration number, and if you did lots of calling around to government offices you'd probably be able to lodge some kind of complaint. But would anything actually happen to the driver or the company? Unless the taxi driver murdered someone, I doubt it.

I was reminded of some of my taxi horror stories when I read the articles in the Wall Street Journal today about taxi drivers all over Europe protesting the popularity of ride share companies such as Uber. To me, it's just typical protectionism -the taxi drivers and taxi company owners protesting against sorely needed competition. It's nothing new - it's just like the textile workers in 1700's England smashing the power looms introduced by the Industrial Revolution. People protect their own interests.

We used Uber a few times in San Francisco on our last trip there, and it was very impressive. You make a request, a driver accepts the request and you can follow the little car icon on your smartphone screen as they come pick you up. The drivers were always prompt and friendly. Some of them were, in fact, former taxi drivers. I hope they, and other ride sharing companies, prevail and provide some much needed competition to the taxi companies.


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