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June 12, 2014 11:19 AM   Subscribe

In capital cities across Europe, taxi drivers took to the streets without passengers Wednesday afternoon. They slowed to a snail's pace in what Parisians called "Operation Escargot." Horns blared around Trafalgar Square in London. In Berlin, taxis massed at the Central Station. All to protest the smartphone app Uber.

For drivers of London's iconic black taxi cabs, Uber seems to pose an existential threat. Eddie Tresida spent two years studying for "The Knowledge," the famously difficult test that requires prospective drivers to memorize every street in London before they can drive a black cab.

"Other drivers it takes three, four years. All depends how hard you work at it," says Tresida. "If you want to be a taxi driver, then do the same as what I've done. It's hard for two years. You go without things. You have to sacrifice things in your life. But if you want to be a taxi driver, this is the best taxi service in the world."

Similar fights are happening in American cities, too. In Virginia, the company is openly defying orders to stop offering rides, running afoul of existing laws. Uber and Lyft car services have said they will continue to operate in Virginia, despite a cease-and-desist letter from the state saying the service is illegal because it hasn't received authorization from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
posted by Ruthless Bunny (185 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 


Bring me great taxi service, and I shall use it.
posted by josher71 at 11:23 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Just commenting to say "Brava!" for the awesome post title. Well done, Ruthless Bunny.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:25 AM on June 12 [27 favorites]


What's Uber's answer to The Knowledge? Can their drivers get around in London or do they need an equivalent of the studying?
posted by michaelh at 11:26 AM on June 12


What's Uber's answer to The Knowledge?

GPS.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 11:28 AM on June 12 [75 favorites]


What's Uber's answer to The Knowledge? Can their drivers get around in London or do they need an equivalent of the studying?

GPS negates the need for encyclopedic knowledge of urban areas.

It's interesting to me because I'm thinking this is a dying market to some extent. GPS has the whole, 'know where it is" thing covered. Uber makes it super easy to know when the cab will show up. Have you ever tried to get a cab after a show lets out in NYC?

There are tons of professions that died because of new technology. Perhaps taxis are one of them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:29 AM on June 12 [15 favorites]


From the NPR article: "Finally seeing some sort of competition coming to the market is something that is new," he says. "And even on the protest today, what I'm seeing is taxis are trying to bring cities to a standstill, while Uber is focused on helping as many people as possible move around cities."

I do sympathize with the argument that Uber is taking shortcuts, but I think this quote summarizes the public's perspective on the whole thing, at least at the moment.

(Also seconding the amazing post title)
posted by knownassociate at 11:29 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


michaelh it's a smartphone with GPS. Uber's answer to cabs is transparency... with Uber you can see always where your car is, both from the moment you call it (and you can see how close or how far away it is from you), to the entire ride. And once they drop you off? You get a map, of your route, in your inbox, with the receipt.

Uber is incredible. It's transparent, it's cheaper, and it actually encourages their drivers to be nice because of the rating system. The last time I took a cab I had the cabbie literally curse at me because of my destination. I've been kicked out of cabs before because of my destination. I've had cabbies scam me, because I didn't know where I was going. None of this can happen with Uber, because they have maps, they have GPS, and they have ratings. Fuck cabs, hope they go the way of the dinosaurs.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:30 AM on June 12 [61 favorites]


How much did Uber pay for this protest? I can't think of a better way to promote Uber than shutting down traditional cab service for a day.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:32 AM on June 12 [19 favorites]


Fuck, you could not bring this service to Vancouver fast enough.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:32 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


How much did Uber pay for this protest? I can't think of a better way to promote Uber than shutting down traditional cab service for a day.

The Economist reported there was an 850% increase in Uber signups on the first day of the strike.

It's a strange, highly-regulated business that doesn't work either with regulations or without them.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


My one experience with Uber was great service-wise, but it somehow cost as much as a taxi to get to my destination (I'd used taxis previously and knew the rate). I was confused.
posted by echocollate at 11:34 AM on June 12


In my mind Uber is an app enabled car service. It's not a taxi service, though it compete's in the same vein. In a lot of jurisdictions I don't get the issue. London Black Cabs are great, there drivers are really good, but there are couple of others taxi services in London to use too.
What I can't stand is Ubers "disruptive" shenanigans (lax insurance etc), if you want to play in the streets, please play by the existing rules.
FD: I'm a uber user when I travel to big cities.
posted by Agent_X_ at 11:35 AM on June 12 [9 favorites]


Fuck, you could not bring this service to Vancouver fast enough.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:32 AM on June 12


It was in Vancouver, it was shut down due a loophole in the Motor Carriers Act.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:36 AM on June 12


Uber isn't cheaper than a taxi in my experience. Just better. So, so much better.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:36 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


according to some cabbies, there was more at stake than Uber in London. according to this blog:
I can’t let this post finish without at least trying to also correct a few of the misconceptions about what the issue with Uber actually is. When you read it, you may scratch your head and think what is all the fuss about. And you’d be right, and it helps to explain why yesterday ABSOLUTELY WAS NOT ABOUT UBER, because in the grand scheme of things Uber are possibly the least of our worries. The day to day inefficiency and incompetence from TfL has a far bigger impact on our working lives.
posted by spindle at 11:39 AM on June 12 [8 favorites]


Black cabs have always been bizarrely expensive. They are only affordable to the very wealthy, or for occasional use. The price is many times the cost of a limousine in the USA. It is time they were replaced and the drivers compensated somehow. "The knowledge" was an amazing thing before gps made it obsolete.
posted by bhnyc at 11:39 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]



GPS negates the need for encyclopedic knowledge of urban areas.

That's Uber's theory, sure. From what I understand the point of the Knowledge is not just knowing the city streets but knowing the pulses of traffic at any given time of day, how to re-route on the fly for construction, road closures, traffic, etc. I don't know whether GPS totally negates The Knowledge (or any equivalent system of local expertise) but I wouldn't be quick to assume that it did.
posted by anazgnos at 11:39 AM on June 12 [35 favorites]


There was once a snail who was sick and tired of his reputation for being so slow. He decided to get some fast wheels to make up the difference. After shopping around a while, he decided that the Datson 240-Z was the car to get. So the snail goes to the nearest Datsun dealer and says he wants to buy the 240-Z, but he wants it repainted "240-S".

The dealer asks, "Why 'S'?"

The snail replies, "'S' stands for snail. I want everybody who sees me roaring past to know who's driving."

Well, the dealer doesn't want to lose the unique opportunity to sell a car to a snail, so he agrees to have the car repainted for a small fee.

The snail gets his new car and spent the rest of his days roaring happily down the highway at top speed. And whenever anyone would see him zooming by, they'd say

(wait for it)

"Wow! Look at that S-car go!"

please, tip your waitresses, I'm here all week
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:40 AM on June 12 [65 favorites]


Uber's answer to cabs is transparency... with Uber you can see always where your car is, both from the moment you call it (and you can see how close or how far away it is from you), to the entire ride.

This is huge and is what made me enamored of Uber in San Francisco. Pre-Uber, I used to travel a lot and would take cabs to the airport. Sometimes they just wouldn't show up and I had no idea until I was really, really, OMFG IM GONNA MISS MY FLIGHT, late. Call the cab company and what do they say? "Oh, it'll be 15-20 minutes." Yeah. Sure it will.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:40 AM on June 12 [12 favorites]


I live a couple blocks from a cab company. Getting a cab isn't any easier. I'm all for disrupting this "market."
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:40 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


In Boston, cab owners are allowed to post bond for $10K instead of getting insurance.

So if you're hit by a cab, your life is ruined.

The drivers don't have it easy. But the medallion owners in Boston are the kind of scum that belongs floating in the Muddy River.

Uber can't kill them fast enough as far as I'm concerned. If the cabbies circle Uber HQ again, I will be there to flip them the bird.
posted by ocschwar at 11:40 AM on June 12 [10 favorites]


....the only experience I've had with Uber was when I was trying to hail a cab in Brooklyn, and the driver pulled up to the curb and asked "did you call on the phone?" I didn't know what he was asking, so I shrugged, he started pulling away, then stopped and shrugged and told me to get in and off we went. It wasn't until we were about ten blocks on that I realized someone else at that corner had flagged him using Uber, but had failed to show, so he thought "fuck it, I'll take the person who is here."

Which actually appeases my concerns about Uber as a non-user - namely, that those of us without it will be stuck trying to hail a cab on the street forever because jacknuts with iPhones have reserved them all already "just in case" and so we can't get to them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:40 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Taxi Cabs you say?
Here is a taxi cab story Keys says instead of trying to clear up the misunderstanding, investigators lied to him and said a “white female” had confirmed that he was an unlicensed cab driver.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:44 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


I've never used Uber directly, although I'm a real outlier among my friends that way, and so I've been in a few other people called. The thing that's always confused me is why is Uber a separate creature. There's nothing about using smart phones and GPS that keeps you from also being a normal traditional taxi company, is there? It seems like the "disruption" to the taxi system is an attitude that's separate from the functional parts of their business that actually attract customers.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:44 AM on June 12 [17 favorites]


I've seen black cab drivers in London using GPS. The Knowledge is an anachronism. Minicab drivers are still overly reliant on GPS though, one way streets are their kryptonite.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:44 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


When I visited SF, the uber drivers were regular people with their personal cars. In NY all the ubers are cabs and black cars that have medallions. I don't know why these cities don't just impose the same laws as NY.
posted by [tk] at 11:45 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]


A lot of cabbies are complaining that they paid tons of money for the medallion and that their cars are inspected and they have all this insurance. True. And to a certain extent, Uber should insure that folks are covered in case of accident, etc.

But the whole Medallion thing is such a boondoggle, and it totally messes with free enterprise!

If you took the medallion away, and could be sure that an Uber driver was properly insured...it's a different thing isn't it?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:45 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


I hate regular cab service as much as the next person, but there's no way I'm going to use a service that openly ignores regulations and screws the working stiffs who don't.
posted by monospace at 11:46 AM on June 12 [36 favorites]


Wait a second, why would the rise of Uber/Lyft/Sidecar lead to unemployment? At least, for drivers? Couldn't taxi drivers simply work for those services instead?
posted by Apocryphon at 11:47 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


From what I get there's no reason taxi companies couldn't do something like Uber except that they never had to so you could call for a cab and they'd never show up or they'd decide not to take a credit card or whatever.
posted by jeather at 11:47 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, these taxi drivers are protesting for the right to continue harassing, assaulting, cheating, stealing from, standing up, and lying to passengers (plus the right to go on and on, often in a terrifying manner, about something that is guaranteed to be the opposite of my politics) without any repercussion or recourse on the part of the customer.

If cab companies wanted to compete, GPS and ride-logging is right there waiting for them. But the management couldn't hire literally the most terrifying employees possible at rock-bottom prices if they were accountable for their service.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:48 AM on June 12 [27 favorites]


Uber in Europe seems a bit unnecessary; in my experience European cabs are professional, reliabile, and in good cars. London cabbies are famous for quality, but cabs work great in Paris, in Berlin, in Amsterdam.

But in America.. I am so, so grateful to Uber's black car service in San Francisco. The taxi service in SF is truly awful; crappy old rattletrap cars, rude drivers who don't know the city and won't even hang up their personal phone call to listen to your directions, and of course the impossibility of calling a cab to pick you up. So fuck the cab companies and bring on Uber.

But we're playing with fire here, demolishing a semi-public transportation infrastructure like taxis in favor of a libertarian wet-dream private company like Uber. Some of the risks are already apparent: the predatory surge pricing is really painful. Also UberX, the low cost service, is pretty awful. Last UberX I took in SF the driver didn't know where Market Street was and did not know how to consult a GPS for directions. Also the company is skirting the cheap, unregulated line as close as they can with UberX. At least they stopped pretending the drivers had their own insurance.
posted by Nelson at 11:48 AM on June 12 [18 favorites]


Also, I have friends who drive for Uber in San Francisco and it's a good gig. No upfront costs/maintenance, can make their own schedules, etc. UberX, though? Nope from a passenger perspective: I did that once and it was one time too many. (Plus, that seems a raw deal for the drivers using their own cars.)
posted by sfkiddo at 11:48 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


In NY all the ubers are cabs and black cars that have medallions.

What? Taxi medallions in NYC cost a shit ton of money. Are you sure about this?
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Any time a new technology comes along that is better, the old traditional technology fights it (and tries to make it illegal) on any number of fronts.

Nothing to see here, move along....
posted by CrowGoat at 11:51 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


The thing that's always confused me is why is Uber a separate creature. There's nothing about using smart phones and GPS that keeps you from also being a normal traditional taxi company, is there?

In Chicago Uber can be (and mostly is, I think) used to call actual, licensed, medallion-bearing normal cabs. It's basically (when you use it this way) a dispatching and payment-processing layer between you and the cab. Which seems like a useful and not-awful thing, though their behavior in other markets (like ignoring rulings from regulators on no particular grounds beyond "we're rich white people with venture capital so of course the rules don't apply to us") is so off-putting that I haven't yet been able to convince myself to use it.
posted by enn at 11:53 AM on June 12 [7 favorites]


Not using Über until there is an option to indicate you want to follow that car and step on it!
posted by The Whelk at 11:55 AM on June 12 [16 favorites]


Wait a second, why would the rise of Uber/Lyft/Sidecar lead to unemployment? At least, for drivers? Couldn't taxi drivers simply work for those services instead?

Here in Seattle, they do. I use Uber because the cab companies here have been terrible for years. The services Uber provide are not fucking evil magic. If you can't update your service model, I'm sorry but I'm going to give my money to the company that can provide that service. The cab companies here were making money hand over fist and now they want that money back through regulation. Nope, nope, a thousand times nope.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:56 AM on June 12 [6 favorites]


In Detroit, many people have set up their own livery service. Good bartenders will have access to one. It's usually an industrious guy, with a nicer SUV, who makes most of his bread and butter driving bartenders and not-too-drunk patrons home at the end of the evening. I had cause to use one after a Detroit Bus Tour bar-hopping event, where they decided to switch up the route and it would mean I'd be riding on a bus for the next hour, with no stops. The bartender called my hubs and I a "cab" and it took us right to our car and we paid what we thought was a decent amount. It's risky, sure, but most of them have regular clientele and add only referrals.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:56 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


The fact that innovations like "knowing when your cab is arriving" came from outside the industry just lampshades what a comfortable monopoly cab companies have created for themselves.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:58 AM on June 12 [39 favorites]


Black cabs have always been bizarrely expensive.

Every single time I have tried to take one they heard my accent and immediately added 50 or more pounds onto the fare. I would much rather get in a ratty old fiesta with some unlicensed west african dude than have to deal with some smug twattish jackass in a black cab who tells me it's 90 fucking quid to go from Elephant and Castle to Maida Vale, sorry love, that's the price!
posted by elizardbits at 11:58 AM on June 12 [12 favorites]


I'm sympathetic to London's cabbies because the vehicles are wheelchair-accessible and allow service animals without an additional charge. If Uber can meet or beat them at that, more power to them, but until then, give me a black cab any day.
posted by evoque at 12:00 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


When I visited SF, the uber drivers were regular people with their personal cars. In NY all the ubers are cabs and black cars that have medallions.

Are you confusing UberX and UberBlack? UberX is supposed to be (like Lyft) people in their personal cars; UberBlack is professional towncar drivers. I personally only really use UberBlack. The one time I used UberX it wasn't a great experience (the person wasn't a very good driver and the car wasn't very nice). I'm willing to pay a bit more for a better experience here. I'll never use a traditional cab again, unless Uber is unavailable in that location.
posted by primethyme at 12:01 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I still don't understand what's better about Uber. I have an app on my phone for the local cab company (this predates Uber by a year), I plug in where I am and where I'm going, I can see where they're at in relationship to me.

I left my car downtown last weekend because I was too drunk to drive home. The next morning, I checked into using Uber to retrieve it. $40!!! for less than 6 miles!!! on a late Sunday morning!!!

I ended up taking the bus.
posted by desjardins at 12:01 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


PS, I have taken an 8 mile trip in a regular cab for $20 before. Same city.
posted by desjardins at 12:02 PM on June 12



Then there's Hacking in Baltimore.

And I picked up Slugs when I lived in the SF Bay Area.

Barrier to entry is the cost of the medallion.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:02 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I still don't understand what's better about Uber. I have an app on my phone for the local cab company (this predates Uber by a year), I plug in where I am and where I'm going, I can see where they're at in relationship to me.

You don't have to understand, because you live in a place with a competent and cool local cab company.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:03 PM on June 12 [17 favorites]


I decline to side with either the black-cab cartel that exploits regulatory structures to provide terrible value for money, or the horrifying libertarian newcomer that thinks regulations can have no value. Call your local minicab firm!

(Although usually public transport is quicker anyway. Whatever you're paying for your taxi ride through central London, you're paying to stand still in catastrophic levels of traffic.)
posted by oliverburkeman at 12:04 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


I have an app on my phone for the local cab company (this predates Uber by a year), I plug in where I am and where I'm going, I can see where they're at in relationship to me.

Yeah, that's unusual.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:04 PM on June 12


The taxi service in SF is truly awful; crappy old rattletrap cars, rude drivers who don't know the city and won't even hang up their personal phone call to listen to your directions, and of course the impossibility of calling a cab to pick you up.

And when you want to pay with a credit card, they get hostile. And when you leave the city, they throw 100% of the surcharge into the tip. And when you want a receipt, they hand you a bullshit piece of paper you fill out yourself.

The fact that innovations like "knowing when your cab is arriving" came from outside the industry just lampshades what a comfortable monopoly cab companies have created for themselves.

Here in Calgary we can pay by card with no hassles, and get real receipts with mileage and everything, but when you call for a taxi you get a *busy signal*. When's the last time you heard one of those? And if you get through, then you need to be on hold for 30+ minutes. To basically put a row in a database. And of course they can't give you an accurate ETA; tracking moving vehicles is impossible.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:06 PM on June 12




I still don't understand what's better about Uber.

One advantage is that if you travel a lot, you now have an option with consistency of service from place to place. I no longer have to try and remember whether or not cab drivers in Philly will take credit cards...
posted by mr_roboto at 12:08 PM on June 12


Here in Pittsburgh Uber and Lyft are competing with a largely mythical taxi service. Taxis here are notorious for only ever wanting to take people to the airport from hotels and very much not interested in showing up anywhere else. Just by providing a car service that actually shows up, goes into neighborhoods, picks up people of color, runs late at night, does't rip you off and doesn't reek of cigarette smoke, they win.
posted by octothorpe at 12:09 PM on June 12 [12 favorites]


I still don't understand what's better about Uber. I have an app on my phone for the local cab company (this predates Uber by a year), I plug in where I am and where I'm going, I can see where they're at in relationship to me.

Absolutely nothing is better about Uber if your local cab company provides all the benefits that Uber does. Here, when I phone for a cab, they don't necessarily come, they fight you about your destination, they're pissy about credit cards, etc. (I've never had them take me weird routes.)
posted by jeather at 12:09 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I'm sure. In NY it's never just some dude with his own car. It must be some legal thing for NY uber.
posted by [tk] at 12:09 PM on June 12


On the East COast, there are livery cabs and hackney cabs. Hackneycabs are taxis: regulated rates, medallions, the usual. You can hail them from the street.

Livery cabs are not allowed to pick up passengers from the street. The passenger has to arrange the cab's arrival in advance. Rates are not regulated, but the condition of the car is, as is the driver's license, which is a commercial one.

Uber's killer app was to allow livery car drivers to get extra customers hailing with their smart phones.
posted by ocschwar at 12:13 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


Huh. I would never have thought Milwaukee has better traditional cab service than bigger cities. I have literally never had a bad experience here; the last time I took a cab (when my car had broken down and I had to get to work), the guy pointed out a way to improve my commute times.
posted by desjardins at 12:13 PM on June 12


Pittsburgh's taxis have been so bad for so long that August Wilson wrote a play about it thirty-five years ago.
posted by octothorpe at 12:16 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I'm of two minds about this. I appreciate the desire for cities to regulate what is essentially a public service, to have mechanisms for making sure drivers are competent and there are ways to identify and report them for improper behavior. I think that the medallion system can be kind of messed up, but at the same time I understand cities wanting to control the number of taxis on their streets.

But the existing system doesn't work all that great. Drivers can be shitty. They are pissy about credit cards (it's no fun to worry your driver is going to kick you out late at night on a desolate street because you don't have cash and there are no ATMs nearby). They don't always show up if you call/arrange in advance. They drive dangerously and refuse to go to certain neighborhoods.

I don't know what the solution is.

In Chicago (and I think other cities?) there's an app called Hailo, which has all the GPS tracking and automatic credit card payments and all that like Uber but the drivers are regular taxis. It's pretty good, but I have had the same problem you have when you call a cab old-school style: the cabbie sees a street fare and changes his mind and bails on you. At least with Hailo you know he's bailed right when it happens, vs. just waiting and waiting if you call a taxi company.
posted by misskaz at 12:19 PM on June 12


I'm sure. In NY it's never just some dude with his own car. It must be some legal thing for NY uber.

NYC does have UberX; drivers with UberX do use their own cars.

If you use the standard Uber Black Car service, you'll get a livery car. Livery cars are definitely not medallianed.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:20 PM on June 12


Yeah, I have to agree with desjardins here. I think a lot of the appeal of Uber et alia is how bad the local taxi services are; here in Portland, I've never had a bad experience, ever. (caveat, white male)
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:21 PM on June 12


It was in Vancouver, it was shut down due a loophole in the Motor Carriers Act.

The problem with City of Vancouver is that there are too few cab licenses. And those bastards will fuck you over. I used to work for government and pre- Canada Line I had to get out to the airport from head office on W Georgia. Cabbies would routinely turn off the meter... or try to, which ain't gonna fly if I am spending taxpayer dollars on my travel allowance (believe me, the places I was going were not Club Med). Or you would have to phone a couple of hours ahead of time to catch a cab... and then some wiseass would steal it from you.

I feel bad for the cabbies, but then again post-corporate life I bust my ass to make a living, so...
posted by KokuRyu at 12:23 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


On the East COast, there are livery cabs and hackney cabs. Hackneycabs are taxis: regulated rates, medallions, the usual. You can hail them from the street.

Livery cabs are not allowed to pick up passengers from the street. The passenger has to arrange the cab's arrival in advance. Rates are not regulated, but the condition of the car is, as is the driver's license, which is a commercial one.

Uber's killer app was to allow livery car drivers to get extra customers hailing with their smart phones.


This is similar to the situation in England, with livery cabs called "private hire". If Uber is simply letting passengers do as you say, then I'm all for it. Private hire vehicles still have to be licensed and insured, so you're not being endangered any more than if you booked them traditionally.
posted by Thing at 12:26 PM on June 12


I appreciate the desire for cities to regulate what is essentially a public service, to have mechanisms for making sure drivers are competent and there are ways to identify and report them for improper behavior.

Über has a rating system, so there appears to be more of a mechanism in place there than any cab I've used.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:29 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Rtha, that is the article I've been looking for. Great analysis. TL;DR: Uber drivers don't earn nearly as much as the company would like to claim (ending up around the average for traditional taxi drivers), aren't required to have the proper livery insurance (putting everyone at greater risk for financial catastrophe), and only seem to benefit if they're running Uber AND as many other competitors as they can to always be making money.

Uber is skirting the law in most places and flagrantly breaking it in others. The taxi industry needs (some would say 'should adopt') the app system Uber has in place.

I'm hoping for a quick shutdown followed by Uber transitioning into a consulting firm that rockets about the globe updating the legally operating taxi companies in each city with the technology that makes everything so pleasant.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:35 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


No, I hear that, but that's a rating system built and maintained by a private company. Where's the accountability there? They, in theory, could just disappear bad ratings. What are their policies for firing drivers with bad ratings? I'm not opposed to it, but how does it compare to (at least theoretically) more transparent/accountable procedures for cab complaints run by the cities themselves?
posted by misskaz at 12:36 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I can see the London taxi drivers being upset at Uber coming in and undercutting their business after the whole The Knowledge ordeal, but you've got to adapt to current conditions and consumer demand.

I used Uber twice in one day a month or two ago right after they'd started in Houston when I had jury duty. UberX in the morning to get there, and ended up with an Uber Black all-leather luxury SUV to get home that afternoon.

I was VERY impressed and happy with the service. This was during the period when Uber was giving rides for free (because they couldn't charge people due to city laws or something), but the drivers were still getting paid their normal rates.

Both times I made sure to let the driver know that hey, it looks like someone dropped a $20 bill in your passenger seat. Wow, isn't that neat! :)
posted by mrbill at 12:39 PM on June 12


(I've never had them take me weird routes.)

I was an Uber skeptic for a while, but one thing that turned me around on them* is that if you feel your driver didn't take the most optimal route, you can report that on the app and they'll adjust your fare down if the GPS bears you out. I've had it happen twice!

I think a lot of the appeal of Uber et alia is how bad the local taxi services are

Here in DC, the taxi industry is notorious for their intractable hostility to modernization, and it's no surprise that Uber has grown rapidly to encompass black cars (and SUVs!), regular taxis (yes, they have a cab fleet too), the miserable UberX, and even something called UberXL. The demand here is insatiable.

*Funny how dislocating your knee and still needing to get around town will lead to a quick run-through of all available options for the most practical/efficient door-to-door transport. The Uber drivers all immediately jumped out of the car and helped me maneuver my crutches, which is worlds more than I could say for regular cabdrivers.
posted by psoas at 12:42 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Über has a rating system, so there appears to be more of a mechanism in place there than any cab I've used.

Part of the assumption built into Uber is that the high-quality drivers/cars will "rise to the top" rather than creating a "race to the bottom" in which the only drivers who can support themselves are the ones with the most aggressive cost cutting who can sustain a more desperate lifestyle than others willing to assume the expense of better-maintained cars while only working 40 hours/week. With fixed prices, one assumes that the motivating factor will be consumers willing to wait longer for a "good" car. If they're not, then we get the "race to the bottom" like we have with airlines. The question is whether we will have, as gawker puts it, a problem where "the good are crowded out by the desperate." That would not be a factor if Uber was employing the cabbies directly but most certainly is if their model is "replace cabs by random dudes with their own car."
posted by deanc at 12:43 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


One big difference in the economics of a cab driver vs. an Uber driver is that the cab driver (in NYC) starts about $130 in the hole. He has to work 4-6 hours to break even, and sometimes won't break even for an entire shift.
The Uber driver can be a person (who would otherwise own a car anyway) working ONLY 4-6 hours a day, and still be profitable, because he isn't paying for the right to pick up fares.
posted by bashos_frog at 12:45 PM on June 12 [8 favorites]


Though I should add that I have had nothing but good experiences with Uber, although I rarely use taxi services because I am a cheapskate like that.
posted by deanc at 12:45 PM on June 12


I used Uber once. I watched on my phone app as the cab driver drove around and around and around my one-way street for ten minutes because he couldn't figure out how to get to me. It turned out he was an unemployed banker who'd started working with Uber a month before.

The race to the bottom continues.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:50 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


What are their policies for firing drivers with bad ratings?

If they do a worse job than Lyft, Lyft will get a reputation for having better drivers, and people will adjust accordingly.

The only Uber that exists in my city is UberX and it's actually pretty nice, in my limited experience. Clean cars and decent drivers. But, there's good local taxis too, so there's definitely not nearly the demand for Uber/Lyft type services as there are other places.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:55 PM on June 12


Are there any female UberX drivers? I can't imagine taking that risk.
posted by desjardins at 12:55 PM on June 12


You've been able to order a regular cab in Singapore from your iPhone since at least 2010. Get with the program, The West.
posted by grubby at 12:59 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


There are, in fact, female Uber drivers - this was black car. I just had one last week. A very nice lady who had just purchased her suburban and was really enjoying working for Uber. As mentioned above, the cab service here in Washington DC has been truly awful. Uber has actually forced the cab companies to step up their game - i've noticed a marked improvement in the cabs in town in the last year.
posted by Thistledown at 1:00 PM on June 12


We're all the way into this Uber thread and nobody has mentioned their surge pricing model, in which you pay more for an Uber car at peak times? Yes, they tell you upfront when you book it, but even so -- you have to wonder when those "peak" times will become more and more arbitrary.

Regular cab drivers have IDs and licenses you can see in the cab. I'm not confident getting into an ordinary car with no taxi insignia. Sure, it's driven by "Bobby," who might be friendly enough, but how do I know he's a regular driver with insurance -- and not a potential creeper?

See also "Why Is Uber Charging You Extra to Not Get Assaulted?"

In San Francisco, there's also Flywheel, another cab-ordering app, which a lot of the cab companies use -- and there are no surge prices. I've used it several times and each time a regular cab has arrived, and it works the same way as Uber's app does.
posted by vickyverky at 1:03 PM on June 12 [6 favorites]


It's not just the ordering that's better with Uber. The payment process is much better as well. As others have mentioned, in the worst case, I've had cabbies who simply refuse to take credit cards. I don't carry much cash unless I know I need it for something, so that's a real hassle. And when I'm traveling on business, I am supposed to use my company credit card. But even when they do take a card, it's almost always a pain. They don't want you to use the built-in machine in the cab, or it's broken (or "broken"). Their reader won't work unless they swipe twenty times. The cellular connection is bad so the authorization keeps timing out. They want to use one of those old carbon copy imprint machines which of course gives them a full copy of your card number to handle as they please. Etc., etc. All while you're sitting there blocking traffic and just wanting to get where you're going.

With Uber, my personal and business credit cards are on file. There's absolutely no payment dance involved with the ride. I just say thanks and hop out of the car. It's really a huge improvement.
posted by primethyme at 1:06 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I love the rock star payment thing in Uber. Also appreciate the tip being built in and fixed. (Related: fuck NY cabs. The tip options on the in-car payment thing are 20%, 25%, and 30%. Before they instituted that system, the tips people chose to give were 10-15%. Now people tip 20%+! Everyone wins! Well actually, only the cabbie wins. Also the in-car payment thing plays noisy ads at you.)
posted by Nelson at 1:09 PM on June 12


Everyone I know who uses Uber uses it because they despise Washington-area cabs. Which, as stated, are the ever-loving WORST. It's not cheaper here -- it's more expensive. So what does that tell you about how much people didn't like the service they were getting? Speaking for myself, I got tired of being yelled at, scolded, complained to, and, in a couple of cases, dumped out on the street because they didn't feel like taking me to where I lived as the law requires them to do. (I did not live in some outrageous location.) I feel no guilt whatsoever about it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:10 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


In the "Beautiful Illusions" article posted by rtha, there's a link to an interesting paper on the history of taxi regulation: Taxi Industry Regulation, Deregulation, and Reregulation: The Paradox of Market Failure. It's a bit long but the tl;dr of it is that there was a period in the 1980s where a whole bunch of US cities deregulated their taxis (e.g.: did away with the medallion system for restricting cab supply, etc...). The result was a disaster, both for consumers and the taxi companies themselves, leading to all but the four smallest of the deregulated cities to go back to re-regulating taxis.

The exact reasons for this failure are a bit involved but they all seem to boil down to various market imperfections in the taxicab market. I have found that there's a certain strain of thinking that simply accepts all markets as an unalloyed good, the freer the better. Except I think one should remember that not all markets are created equal and not all market imperfections are dastardly/incompetent schemes imposed by the government. It remains to be seen how Uber fits into the taxi landscape in the long-term -- whether cities will play hardball and force them into the existing regulatory regime or if they really do end up disrupting it. And, if the latter, how we end up avoiding what happened last time with taxi deregulation.
posted by mhum at 1:14 PM on June 12 [6 favorites]


I live in a city where Uber is quite popular and my friends use it often. I'm torn as to whether it's a good thing, or a good thing with some potential serious drawbacks.

Basically what Uber is doing is introducing (the economists' wet dream of) perfect information into the ride service market. It does that through a large centralized company with cool (but not mind-blowing by any means) technology.

Perfect information here can be great. You know your driver's history, he knows yours, and this reduces risk. It solves all kind of coordination problems, matching demand and supply.

But Uber is also a massive centralized entity and as such has a lot of market power. Whether or not drivers are getting a fair, sustainable cut is a huge question. It seems currently like they are, but this still means leaving drivers under the thumb of the company.

Ultimately it's a question of the market that ends up existing for drivers and for passengers. At this point Uber is still growing a lot and it's still competing with existing taxis and other companies like Lyft. As the market matures and margins start getting squeezed this industry "disruption" may look like a ripe market to be turned into public utility. But that's a ways off and plenty of cities could use the shakeup, since e.g. the NYC medallion system sounds like a rather obvious exercise in rent-seeking from where I sit.

Also of note: drivers around the world are already using GPS, which significantly lowers barriers to entry and thus the bargaining power of workers. Since taxi services are generally highly regulated this hasn't disrupted taxi labor markets as much as it could have, but the market dynamics have shifted significantly.
posted by ropeladder at 1:15 PM on June 12


Here in Boston, getting into a regular cab means risking life and limb and getting yelled at by the driver for your trouble. Fuck that. Uber has been a complete game changer because, while slightly more expensive, it provides a dramatically safer, more pleasant, and convenient service.

And on a personal note, it avoids tripping my anxiety trigger regarding tips. It's all factored in, I don't have to feel intimidated into tipping horrible assholes just because they will get blatantly hostile if they feel in anyway shortchanged (anything less than 20% rounding up seems to anger cab drivers, these days). Let's not even talk about the credit card thing, which is entirely theoretical even when they have a credit card reader on board.
posted by lydhre at 1:26 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]



Regular cab drivers have IDs and licenses you can see in the cab. I'm not confident getting into an ordinary car with no taxi insignia. Sure, it's driven by "Bobby," who might be friendly enough, but how do I know he's a regular driver with insurance -- and not a potential creeper?


When you book a ride with Uber, the app logs both you and the driver. There's a data trail, and that should be enough to deter creep drivers and creep passengers.
posted by ocschwar at 1:32 PM on June 12


Chicago's American Taxi has had an Uber-like tracking system for years. Their text message and mobile web system was a little clunky last time I used it, but you could tell when they were coming to pick you up.

Regarding the blank taxi receipt, that's a feature, not a bug. I've seen colossal works of fiction in taxi expenses.
posted by scruss at 1:34 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


The exact reasons for this failure are a bit involved but they all seem to boil down to various market imperfections in the taxicab market.

And almost all these market imperfections are due to you hailing a taxi on the street and having no idea what kind of car or driver it is, or what you're getting into.

Mobile taxi hailing apps help resolve that problem.
posted by ocschwar at 1:41 PM on June 12


I have to say, if I was an UberX driver I'd be worried about assault or robbery.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:53 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Trying to rob an UberX driver would be a pretty poor criminal choice compared to robbing a regular taxi driver since UberX drivers don't carry cash and taxi drivers typically have wads of it.
posted by fancypants at 2:00 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Amazed at how many people want to look forward to surge charges and "safety fees."

But sure, let's value a way to call a cab at billions of dollars and not spend dime one on public infrastructure.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:07 PM on June 12 [16 favorites]


Everyone I know who uses Uber uses it because they despise Washington-area cabs.

With good reason! But Washington, DC cabs are a fairly unregulated system. There is no medallion system and the cab companies don't face a lot of regulations when it comes to car quality. Given this reality, we have to wonder why there was no core of cabs that rose to the top and became known as cabs you would prefer to hail or call on their dispatch service, but instead ended up in a race to the bottom.

On one hand, Uber wins by providing a premium service at premium cost which we are willing to pay for (ie, replicating black-car service but with a better ordering system). On the other hand, they claim that they will provide a low cost service that competes directly with cabs at lower cost and with better service when it seems to me that if cab companies were able to do that, they would have done so.
posted by deanc at 2:29 PM on June 12


On the other hand, they claim that they will provide a low cost service that competes directly with cabs at lower cost and with better service when it seems to me that if can companies were able to do that, they would have done so.

I think you meen "if they felt the need to do that."

If there's a medallion cap in place, why would they feel the need? It's good to be king.
posted by ocschwar at 2:33 PM on June 12


There's a data trail, and that should be enough to deter creep drivers and creep passengers.

Them and the insignificant minority who place any value on privacy, I guess. Cryptography was once supposed to have ways to deal with this problem without us ending up with constant surveillance of everyone's use of the transportation networks, but I guess it's too much bother to implement them.
posted by sfenders at 2:33 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


If there's a medallion cap in place, why would they feel the need? It's good to be king.

As I said, DC doesn't have a medallion cap in place. And the daily complaint from DC residents is how crappy the cab service and cab quality is compared to NYC, whose medallion system is infamous.
posted by deanc at 2:35 PM on June 12


But sure, let's value a way to call a cab at billions of dollars and not spend dime one on public infrastructure.

I'm not spending billions of dollars on anything. Just $20 every once and awhile.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:40 PM on June 12


Man, fuck taxis.
posted by DynamiteToast at 2:42 PM on June 12


Oh, I have a taxi story. I live in Atlanta and regularly use Taxi Magic to get taxis (it is an App) except the last three times I used it here in Atlanta, it would show the taxi that was assigned to me as just .9 miles away...for 20 minutes.

I literally missed a train because of that last month, and came close to missing a plane. I think I'll give Uber a shot...
posted by arnicae at 2:43 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Couldn't have happened to a nicer industry.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:47 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


What I can't stand is Ubers "disruptive" shenanigans (lax insurance etc), if you want to play in the streets, please play by the existing rules.

True. And to a certain extent, Uber should insure that folks are covered in case of accident, etc.

I really wish this would stop. Uber IS insured, the stuff about them not being is FUD created because they don't have special taxi insurance. They have commercial insurance on their rideshares, like a private party bus or whatever. Their non-uberx black cars are registered as livery cars but have limo license stickers in washington, and i'd assume similarly elsewhere and hold all the required licensing/insurance for that.

If someone wants to say they're not using proper insurance, please show your work. Because i've only seen that in hit piece/outrage clickbait posts which don't source that info about why they're a terrible company that shouldn't exist.

Are there any female UberX drivers? I can't imagine taking that risk.

I would say nearly half of the Lyft drivers i've seen in seattle were ladies. Most of them were >40, but one of them was was about my age(~25ish). I remember being surprised to see a younger woman, and also that she was driving a stick shift car... as a taxi... in seattle.

Seeing as how people get rated, and your account is tied to your identity/credit card/etc people who are assholes are very quickly flushed out of the system since no one will pick them up, or only picked up by another type of driver i've also seen, the Huge Guy Who Doesn't Give a Fuck.

One of the ladies i talked to had done it in another city on the east coast(boston, maybe?) and just transferred over when she moved to seattle. She had been doing it since basically they started existing, and said she never had encountered any real problems, just stupid drunk people. She also seemed like someone who could knock heads together if they needed it though...
posted by emptythought at 3:09 PM on June 12 [9 favorites]


"What I can't stand is Ubers "disruptive" shenanigans (lax insurance etc), if you want to play in the streets, please play by the existing rules."

"I hate regular cab service as much as the next person, but there's no way I'm going to use a service that openly ignores regulations and screws the working stiffs who don't."

I've never used Uber, and have only an academic interest in this. But I think Uber's response would be that the existing rules and regulations came about as the result of lobbying from the taxicab industry, and don't serve the public.

"But we're playing with fire here, demolishing a semi-public transportation infrastructure like taxis in favor of a libertarian wet-dream private company like Uber. "

Man, what is it with Metafilter and Libertarian wet dreams?
posted by Alaska Jack at 3:25 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


Took 1/3 of the existing comment volume before anyone stopped cheerleading the glossy tech taxis and finally noted that "predatory surge pricing is really painful" and that UberX is not qualitatively different from existing taxi services. Can't wait for the posts a couple years from now when the booming enthusiasm for Uber has settled into, oh, we just ended up with the same problematic transportation issues we had before, only less so if you're able and willing to pay more.

This is largely my interpretation of the central premise of the "disruption" buzzword, that an industry being disrupted more than anything means a different group of people make money off of some service than did before and with some nonessential aspects of said service slightly modified so as to appear different.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:25 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


UberX is not qualitatively different from existing taxi services.

Except they come when called, go where I want them to, I can always pay with my credit card, and I never have to worry about tips.

No significant differences, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:30 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


But sure, let's value a way to call a cab at billions of dollars and not spend dime one on public infrastructure.

I see Uber as a complement to public transportation, not an enemy. Things like Uber and ZipCar in combination with public transportation are probably enough for a lot of people in cities to finally give up on owning their own car. In most cities, it's very difficult to rely only on busses/trains because they don't go to neighborhoods and usually don't run on nights/weekends as much but with a reliable car service, a lot more cities can become viable for car-free living.
posted by octothorpe at 3:32 PM on June 12 [11 favorites]


Took 1/3 of the existing comment volume before anyone stopped cheerleading the glossy tech taxis and finally noted that "predatory surge pricing is really painful"

I've never understood the complaint about surge pricing. They tell you when surge pricing is in effect, so you can just refuse to use Uber under those circumstances and do a street hail, call a dispatch service for a cab, or get in touch with your preferred livery black car service.

If a restaurant advertised "surge prices" on a busy night, doubling their prices, we would laugh at them and go to another restaurant, rather than complain of price gouging. If you don't like surge pricing, eschew Uber and do whatever you used to do before Uber existed.
posted by deanc at 3:35 PM on June 12 [6 favorites]


In NYC, UberX only uses licensed livery cars driven by people with livery licenses. Identical to more upscale Uber services (Black and SUV) except for the car, and (anecdotally) at least a third of the time you opt for UberX a driver with a higher tier vehicle takes the fare.

The common UberX model wasn't adopted here because, quite simply, the TLC made clear that they would run busts and put drivers in jail.
posted by MattD at 3:40 PM on June 12


emptythought

CA wants Uber to pony up insurance for drivers, who Uber says have to rely on their own presumptively adequate personal medical insurance.

"Q.What happens if an Uber driver is injured in an accident; does Uber have insurance to cover a driver, or is the driver only covered by his/her own insurance?

Uber: Uber’s insurance policy is an excess liability policy that covers third-party liability incidents. If a driver injures himself/herself in an accident, most auto-insurance policies require the driver's personal health insurance coverage to cover costs."

mr_roboto

I guess there are two sides to a response to that response: the customer side, and the driver side. Customer side: we've flat out waited longer for Uber drivers than cabs, routinely, living in an out-of-the-way neighborhood; I haven't paid cash for a cab in any city since 2008 (including Searcy, Arkansas, of all places); and I have no problem calculating tip math. Driver side: Uber is just as shitty an employer as cab companies, and unscrupulous drivers work for Uber just as they do for cab companies.

What would be great is if the tenor of this "debate" would back a little bit down from asserting at all coasts and volumes that one of these options is somehow deserving to be the only option because IT'S THE BEST SHUT UP IT IS instead of, oh, well, they both exist and have pros and cons so there's that, also maybe we can use civic processes to make sure both get better.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:43 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, I've also heard it's getting tough to flag down boro taxis, as they're predominantly uberT (which is the Uber component only(?) in NYC that is all "real"/medallion taxis, which I assume is why NYC decided not to ban Uber).
posted by unknowncommand at 3:55 PM on June 12


"I've never understood the complaint about surge pricing"

At all? There are more angles to it than "just don't pay it if you don't like it," but, again, they can do whatever they want to pricing as long as the discussion is couched in making Uber an addition to transportation options instead of the victor or replacement transportation option.

It's also worth noting that people don't just take cabs when they're at the curb, or suddenly need a ride somewhere. Example: I work for a nonprofit and just bought a house (in SF) with my husband and so I like to do things like call ahead and ask for a quote range for trips. When I was going to physical therapy after an injury that left me unable to manage public transit, this was incredibly necessary. You should try that with Uber, they high ball the quote to take in to account potential surge pricing. It makes it immediately clear that Uber is very directly going to cost more than other services. I was happy to call a different service, a standard cab company, and I've never had any issues with the service they offer.

So there it is. I generally can't afford Uber rates. I've taken Uber trips when I can, and they're fine. As you don't understand the issue with surge pricing, I don't understand the big upset that Uber provides over other services. I hope what shakes out of this isn't that people like me are anti-tech or anti-whatever, just that new things can mesh with old things without needing to stamp them out of existence. What works for one person doesn't work for another, right?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:01 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Mobile taxi hailing apps help resolve that problem.

So long as you have a smart phone...
and the battery hasn't died...
and you can get a signal.
posted by MikeKD at 4:11 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


The reason I don't really get the complaints about surge pricing (or Uber pricing in general) is that I see Uber as a premium service. I pay extra because I find it's worth it to get a service that better meets my needs and preferences. When and if I don't want to pay, I still have the option of a traditional cab, a shared ride shuttle, public transit, biking, walking, etc. Just like I don't want to lose the option to pay extra for Uber, I don't want to lose the option to pay less for a cab or shuttle. These things should be able to co-exist.
posted by primethyme at 4:16 PM on June 12


This market disruption reminds me of Borders Book Stores.... people would go, browse, make a list if things to order from Amazon, and a token purchase. (I bought what I wanted in the traditional way, resisting temptation)...

A few years later, everyone is surprised that their collective action results in the closure of Borders.

Taxis are expensive little yellow time machines, that make it possible to get places faster than bus or train. Don't ruin it!
posted by MikeWarot at 4:27 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


They tell you when surge pricing is in effect, so you can just refuse to use Uber under those circumstances

You're assuming there's a choice other than Uber. I'm honestly at the point in San Francisco where I rely on Uber to get places. I plan my trips around using Uber. So when I pick up my phone to schedule a car and suddenly it's at 3x price, I'm kind of stuck. It's a rainy night, and there's a ballgame and big conference in town, so of course it's going to be busy. But I was counting on Uber; now what? I'm a captive customer.

I get the argument for demand pricing and I think in some ways it's better than just not being able to get a car at all at any price. But it's also troubling. Doubly so in that the surge pricing is unregulated; Uber is doing whatever pricing they feel like. There's been some whispers already that Uber is manipulating prices in order to adjust the long-term market supply and demand, particularly UberX.

The good thing about the surge pricing is Uber passes through the higher rates to the drivers. So they get the benefit as much as the company, and it hopefully encourages more drivers to start driving, increasing supply when demand is high. It's certainly better than the taxi answer, which is just to shrug and laugh.

Mostly I see Uber as evidence that the existing public transit option of taxis is just broken in the US. So I'm grateful to have a working alternative, particularly one that caters to people like me who can afford it. But it feels like a step backward in terms of the public good.
posted by Nelson at 4:33 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


What a great advertisement for Uber.
posted by zardoz at 4:36 PM on June 12


I'm a captive customer.

But there was a world before Uber existed that is still there! Sure, SF's taxis aren't the most reliable, but they exist. There are no doubt livery black-car services that you can call (Uber started out as basically a dispatch service for black-car drivers who were between engagements). Also, there's Lyft.

The point is that Uber isn't supposed to be a public good-- it's a luxury service that essentially brings towncar service to the masses.
posted by deanc at 4:48 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


UberX may well drive taxis out of business; they're cheaper and offer better service. Some SF cab companies are already complaining they can't hire enough drivers to fill the taxi fleet because everyone's driving for the competition. Agreed Uber Black is a luxury service, but UberX in SF is going right for the taxi companies throat.

(For those of you not up on the nuances. UberX is very low cost drives from ordinary joe drivers in ordinary joe (but newish) cars. Fares are the same or cheaper than a taxi. Uber Black is the luxury service in black town cars with licensed commercial drivers. Fares are about 50% more than a taxi. There's also Uber SUV (more than Black), Uber Lux, and Uber Taxi. I've never seen the latter two in SF.)
posted by Nelson at 4:54 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


What's Uber's answer to The Knowledge?

GPS.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 11:28 AM on June 12 [42 favorites +] [!]


That would be the answer which makes sense except... some Uber drivers don't know how to use GPS or they even don't have it on their phones even. A few times I've had to guide Uber drivers with my own iPhone. Mostly they do use GPS though, but it doesn't seem to be a requirement
posted by Bwithh at 4:55 PM on June 12



As I said, DC doesn't have a medallion cap in place. And the daily complaint from DC residents is how crappy the cab service and cab quality is compared to NYC, whose medallion system is infamous.


Wel, if DC isn't setting and enforcing minimum quality standards for licensed cabs, that's completely orthogonal to whether there's a medallion cap. Just set a fucking standard and issue a license to every car and driver that meets it.
posted by ocschwar at 4:57 PM on June 12


They have to have GPS, it's how Uber's dispatching system works. They may not know how to use it, or want to, for some reason...
posted by bashos_frog at 4:57 PM on June 12


In Atlanta, the taxi cabs are OK, but it is a big sprawling city, and my experience with cabs has been that they work much better when scheduled than when you need to call and wait or, as a poster above noted about Atlanta, use an app like TaxiMagic (shout out to Atlanta Checker Cab, which has been pretty solid for me over the years). Uber has really taken off here and I have started to quiz the drivers about how they got into Uber and what they think. My data points are that 5 for 5 drivers were already pro limo drivers who owned their own vehicle (regulated here as a "livery service") and switched over to Uber full time (4 of 5) and only had good things to say about working for them (5 of 5). I haven't experienced surge pricing, but based on one recurring trip I make, Uber costs about 40% more than a taxi ride. It has never taken me longer than 8 or 9 minutes from app request to pickup, which for people familiar with Atlanta is pretty amazing. Some days I can't even get out of my subdivision in 8 or 9 minutes.

Our state legislature introduced a bill to (lightly) regulate Uber and Lyft this past winter. It eventually failed, but the reaction was interesting. A lot of people were suddenly wondering why we were regulating taxis so heavily and whether we should maybe be deregulating cabs rather than regulating Uber. According to reports, the taxi industry was horrified by the idea of deregulating - it provided nice high walls for them and they just wanted Uber to go away. Meanwhile, the legislation proposed was something that Uber was pretty much already doing (some simple stuff around background checks and insurance), but Uber argued that capitalism would fail and the earth would certainly crash into the sun if this law were passed. So the bill eventually failed and we are at status quo, which is Uber continuing to disrupt the taxi industry here.
posted by BlueTongueLizard at 5:22 PM on June 12


Ruthless Bunny: "There are tons of professions that died because of new technology. Perhaps taxis are one of them."

So you're saying Über drivers don't get paid?

It's not a "profession" you're talking about wanting to get rid of. It's a little thing called "government regulation." If you're advocating for Über, you're advocating against the laws that keep people from getting rated and murdered in cabs. And that's the essential problem with Über.

Fuck Über. If you want cheaper cabs, streamline the regulations. Don't go outright breaking the law in dozens of cities just because you think lining your pocketbook is more important than respecting the right of a city to rule itself. The Über folks are the worst kind of startup culture, libertarian exploiters it's who think they're better than everyone. And the volunteerism at the heart of their model doesn't make me happy, either.
posted by koeselitz at 5:28 PM on June 12 [8 favorites]


primethyme: "Just like I don't want to lose the option to pay extra for Uber, I don't want to lose the option to pay less for a cab or shuttle. These things should be able to co-exist."

You know what you do if you want to open a restaurant? You talk to a lawyer and learn about the regulations for keeping a restaurant clean. You know what you do if you want to open a gymnasium? You check around a bit, maybe go to the library, and learn what owning a business requires, what the laws are in your area, how you are required to handle liability.

You know what people should have to do if they start a taxi service? The same things: learn about the law and follow it - not sidestep it, outright break it, and leave your drivers hanging when they get arrested for breaking the law.

It's not the responsibility of the government to keep up with Uber. It's the responsibility of Uber to follow the rule of law.
posted by koeselitz at 5:33 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


I'm really torn on Uber. On the one hand, yay smartphone don't-fuck-with-me good service know where your cab is whatever it has. And yeah, the current medallion system used in many cities just fucks over newcomers while allowing the landed gentry of the cab business to rake in the profits. On the other hand, it's kind of bullshit for Uber to be able to basically take traditional cab business without having to play in the same regulatory space that traditional cabs have to play in. Uber uses highly elastic pricing based on things like weather conditions, which leads to the bullshit of raising prices nearly tenfold during big storms. Uber offered free rides to school kids during a Boston school bus strike, so it feels like I'm supporting a company that actively works against the interests of unions if I were to use them, which I don't.

On the other other hand, if Uber is what it takes to get real taxi reform in places like NYC, where medallions are hard to come by and cost hundred of thousands of dollars, then maybe it's all for the best. But my priorities for any cab service are simple. One, don't undermine public transit. Two, pay your workers fairly. Three, get me where I want to go quickly and at low cost. Four, smartphone geegaws like tracking the cab on its way to me. If Uber can match all those priorities, maybe I would actually consider using it. So far, it's not looking great.
posted by chrominance at 5:34 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


(and on the other other other hand taxi drivers don't necessarily make a whole lot of dough in the current system either so I'm not saying the way things are now is the best either.)
posted by chrominance at 5:35 PM on June 12


You know what people should have to do if they start a taxi service?

Bribe the local taxi commission to let you get started, then invest several million dollars in medallions? Maybe pay off a local organized crime outfit too, just to be sure your cars don't have any unfortunate accidents?
posted by Nelson at 5:43 PM on June 12 [6 favorites]


On the other hand, it's kind of bullshit for Uber to be able to basically take traditional cab business without having to play in the same regulatory space that traditional cabs have to play in.

Uber is a livery service. I'm unaware of any jurisdiction where they don't conform to the appropriate rules.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:46 PM on June 12


I have ridden in Uber black cars a couple of times, called by friends. The cost was the same or higher than a taxi, but as everyone says the experience was far better -- clean cars, you can see the car coming on your phone which is nice when it is two am and you are standing on a not-so-nice street, and no weirdness about paying.

The taxi industry is ripe for improvement -- at some point Uber is going to have to play within the rules, but hopefully in the process the pressure will become irresistible for taxi companies to hook into the same kind of centralized ordering and billing service, as well as improve their customer service at the driver level.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:48 PM on June 12


Uber's fantastic. In NYC, I'm thrilled they're disrupting the scheme of medallion monopolies that ensures shitty service.
posted by shivohum at 5:50 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


The husband convinced me to use Lyft this last trip. I had a lot of reservations because it seemed like serial killer bait. It turned out fine. I got to talk to the drivers, who loved driving for lyft. They actually loved the software because the rating system went both ways, so if you scored a driver 3 stars or below that driver and you would never meet again. From the driver side they did not have to deal with problem customers. Both drivers said that the schedule was so flexible they could do anything else such as, study for the bar exam. Both liked just talking to people and driving. I got a ride in less than 7 minutes, had GPS tracking, pictures of driver and vehicle and all concerns of serial killer addressed. It was the best experience.

Regarding DC taxi service, yeah, I was in a cab, late in the evening, when the cab got into an accident with another vehicle. The taxi driver did not have a phone (had to borrow the phone of the other driver) and the service refused to send another cab to get me without me paying the 2nd cab's fare. Before I entered the second taxi the first driver yelled at me that I needed to pay the fare for his ride. It was awful. So, I can see why Uber and Lyft are not just an economic issue.
posted by jadepearl at 5:58 PM on June 12 [6 favorites]


ChurchHatesTucker: "Uber is a livery service. I'm unaware of any jurisdiction where they don't conform to the appropriate rules."

Er - I feel like you're being disingenuous here. You are aware that they've had legal troubles in at least a dozen cities, right? That they've had drivers arrested or ticketed for this all over the place (for instance in my own current city, Boston)? That the CEO of Uber has famously declared himself a Randian libertarian opponent of silly regulation happy to "disrupt" the law wherever necessary?

And this claim that they are a "livery service" is nonsense. They're a cab company.
posted by koeselitz at 5:59 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Also, news worth noting from a few days ago: an LA Uber driver was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and rape.
posted by koeselitz at 6:03 PM on June 12


It's the responsibility of Uber to follow the rule of law.

Even when the laws (taxi medallions) are explicitly designed to enrich existing taxi companies and keep new entrants out of the market? You're defending a cartel, and it's one that screws over anyone trying to live without a car.

If Uber is violating safety standards, that's a different story. But most of their legal troubles are occurring because they're entering jurisdictions where it's straight-up illegal to operate new cabs.
posted by ripley_ at 6:32 PM on June 12


If you're advocating for Über, you're advocating against the laws that keep people from getting rated and murdered in cabs. And that's the essential problem with Über.


Haha for fucks sake is this really gonna be your lede? I'm not a fan of Uber as a company because their founder is indeed the textbook startup asshole and I don't trust him not to exploit his employees, though I actually know a couple of UberX drivers and both are relatively satisfied with it so far. But it's a superb experience for the customer and I'm just fine with the level of risk, thanks.
posted by atoxyl at 6:34 PM on June 12


Er - I feel like you're being disingenuous here. You are aware that they've had legal troubles in at least a dozen cities, right?

True, but they've ceded to those attacks by adopting the space already offered by livery services (which are mostly immune from cabbie attacks by virtue of having politicos and one per centers as a large customer base.)

You want to fight Uber? Outlaw livery services. See how far that goes.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:35 PM on June 12


If you're advocating for Über, you're advocating against the laws that keep people from getting rated and murdered in cabs.

You're arguing that because Uber is breaking law A (explicit limits on the number of cabs allowed to operate), anyone on their side is against law B (requiring background checks and some form of accountability for cab drivers).

It's a complete non sequitur, made even stranger by the fact that Uber is requiring background checks for their drivers.
posted by ripley_ at 6:48 PM on June 12


Uber is a livery service.

Except when it's not convenient to be a livery service. Then they're just a tech company with an app that provides a platform for transactions between individuals and independent contractors. Really they're just a carefully engineered parasite designed to extract as much as possible from an industry without actually having any exposure in that industry.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:52 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


If you're not a worker, you're a parasite!
posted by fraxil at 6:58 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


ripley_: "It's a complete non sequitur, made even stranger by the fact that Uber is requiring background checks for their drivers."

As of five months ago, yes, they do require national background checks. Before then, they didn't. And it should be noted that these national background checks, while helpful, are not remotely as stringent as the background checks taxi licensure requires in most municipalities. Most taxi drivers have to get their fingerprints taken and their entire background checked; the current checks only go back about seven years in most states. Citation. Which unfortunately is why a lot of bad drivers have slipped through the cracks.
posted by koeselitz at 7:03 PM on June 12


If you're advocating for Über, you're advocating against the laws that keep people from getting rated and murdered in cabs. And that's the essential problem with Über.

I might be out of touch with American law, but last I checked taxi cab regulations aren't the ones that make rape and murder illegal. The position you seem to imply- taxi companies buying medallions and then renting them out holds cab riders back from rape and murder- is bonkers. Moreover, you discredit yourself when you accuse people of advocating for rape and murder when they disagree with you about regulations surrounding cars-for-hire.

If you want cheaper cabs, streamline the regulations. Don't go outright breaking the law in dozens of cities just because you think lining your pocketbook is more important than respecting the right of a city to rule itself.
Why should anyone support lining the pocketbooks of the current fascist exploiters more than the new libertarian exploiters? You spew an impressive amount of bile in your posts but it doesn't lend weight to your assertions; you might consider presenting an argument.

Also, news worth noting from a few days ago: an LA Uber driver was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and rape.
Forunately for your position cabbies never rape anyone.

And this claim that they are a "livery service" is nonsense. They're a cab company.

Uber Black/SUV is a livery service. Uber Taxi is a cab dispatcher. UberX/XL is a hacking cooperative. In no way are they a cab company- that's the central point of the entire discussion surrounding them. All of this information is available when you understand what you're posting about instead of racing towards glorious ignorant outage.
posted by elsp at 7:13 PM on June 12 [11 favorites]


I work as a bartender. Public transit does not exist when I get off work. Because of the area in which I work, it is actually cheaper for me to take a cab every single day than it is to own a car. Also I have been doing this for years. So, I have a shitload of experience with cabs, and then Uber when it was first introduced, UberX, UberXL, Lyft, and Sidecar. What follows is, perhaps anecdata, but keep in mind I literally have thousands of trips to draw from.

I also always ride alone, and my ride is generally about 20-30 minutes. So ample time to talk. And I always talk. One of my best friends is a cabbie in Portland, and I used to want to be a cabbie.

Cabbies are on tight schedules. 12 hours shifts, usually. They don't get much of a break, I don't exactly remember why, but I've been told they are basically required to work the entire shift. 5-7 days a week. For this, in Chicago, they make 40-60k, which is pretty fuckin good money for an immigrant. Which they always are - Kazak, Tajiki, Nigerian, and Russian being most common. Though plenty of others.

Cabbies have no rating system, nothing to make them care about your experience. If you're nice, they might chat, turn down the music, or otherwise engage you, but for the most part, they want to make money. It's part of the culture. Get in, make money, get out.

For what it's worth, I've been turned on to a lot of really incredible "world" music in cabs. Especially the Indian ones - I don't know why, but Indian cabbies in Chicago play some fucking jams.

Now I use UberX, which is a ride-share like service. It is not licensed like black car (yet), but this is changing. In fact, it may have already changed - I haven't been taking nearly as many cabs/ubers lately, so I've missed on some pivotal laws that have been passed in the past few weeks.

UberX drivers drive when ever they want to, for how long as they want to. They often times are college kids, or people with second jobs. Once I got picked up at 2am by a software engineer who couldn't sleep, so he logged in and started driving. Once I got picked up by Nigerian oil baron, in a fucking brand new Audi A8. I've been picked up by women in mini-vans, by a teenager (I think) in a WRX, and by about 200 different whiteish/brownish guys in Toyota Priuses.

Every. Single. One. of my UberX experiences has been vastly superior to cabs. Sure, I've had some great cab drivers. But my average, no let's even say shitty UberX driver is as good as the best cabbies. Why? Because they're working whenever they want, as side income. In their own vehicle. And their customers are generally alright, because not only do the custies rate the drivers, but the drivers rate the customer. Bad customers don't get picked up. Like when my friend got drunk and yelled at a driver. He couldn't get an UberX for weeks, and it served him right. And they need a good rating to stay in the UberX system - if they go below a 4 (out of 5) they are put on probation - drivers and customers.

Sure there are going to be full time uberX drivers. Most of them aren't, though. I've had daytraders, bodega owners, restaurant servers, flight attendants, and everything in between.

If you're that afraid of getting murdered, in a system where everything and everyone is GPS tracked and tagged, then what the hell are you doing getting in a cab? I've never had a single problem with UberX, or Lyft, or Sidecar (though I mostly use UberX because it was the first to provide service to my neighborhood). But I have had problems with cabs. I got kicked out of one, in a bad neighborhood in west Chicago, in the middle of winter, because the cab driver had a nervous breakdown. Or something. I don't know, I just asked him what part of town he called home, and he started screaming at me that I was going to stalk and kill him and to get the fuck out of his cab. I've twice been in cabs that have been pulled over for speeding, and like, speeding a lot. I've had so many cabbies smoke in the cab, with me in it, I've lost count.

Cabs, and cabbies, are unregulated, out of control, and dangerous. My best friend had 32 bones in her body broken, her life almost destroyed, when a cabbie hit her on her bike. Cabs are a monopoly, and they operate as thugs, careless of the safety of others, trying to get a buck as fast as they can.

Uber, Lyft, Sidecar et all represent a new concept. It's not just Uber. It's the whole idea of ride-sharing. This is not a fucking libertarian wet dream. Cab monopolies are a libertarian wet dream. Ridesharing is common fucking sense.

/rant.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 7:22 PM on June 12 [37 favorites]


Which unfortunately is why a lot of bad drivers have slipped through the cracks.

Unless you have any evidence that assault happens more with Uber than with cabs, you're arguing from anecdotes - and if this thread has proved anything, it's that there are a lot more "bad cabbie" anecdotes than "bad Uber driver" anecdotes.

Even the article you linked to indicated that Uber isn't providing substandard background checks in California, according to the law:

For one, the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates ridesharing companies and black car services, doesn’t mandate Live Scan background checks.

You want Uber to comply with the same background check requirements faced by traditional cabs, while ignoring the fact that they are explicitly prevented from operating as cabs in most jurisdictions.

You're also defending an existing system that fucks over people like me who don't own a car.
posted by ripley_ at 7:39 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


It's not a "profession" you're talking about wanting to get rid of. It's a little thing called "government regulation." If you're advocating for Über, you're advocating against the laws that keep people from getting rated and murdered in cabs. And that's the essential problem with Über.

These are things that are happening right now in cabs in my city. They're in fact NOTORIOUS for it. Not murder, but assault(including sexual assault), sexual harassment, robbery, extortion, coercion, whatever. Just generally the "criminal element". Of COURSE people have called the cops and the complaint line and the state and whatever. It doesn't make any fucking difference. Many older people have told me they were shit before i was born.

I can think that they're the worst kind of libertarian silicon valley douchemasters while also thinking they're the lesser of two evils, which is why i begrudgingly endorse what they're doing. It's like seeing the annoying kid who you hate, who isn't your friend but acts like he is, beat up the bully who hasn't left you alone since preschool. You're still not really his friend, but you take what you can get.

Er - I feel like you're being disingenuous here. You are aware that they've had legal troubles in at least a dozen cities, right? That they've had drivers arrested or ticketed for this all over the place (for instance in my own current city, Boston)? That the CEO of Uber has famously declared himself a Randian libertarian opponent of silly regulation happy to "disrupt" the law wherever necessary?

And this claim that they are a "livery service" is nonsense. They're a cab company.


They've had legal troubles for uberX, which is where they have random people driving their own cars.(and sometimes dispatch a livery car anyways). Uber proper is a licensed livery service, and the way this is determined is that they have to be called, and aren't allowed to be hailed or have certain markings on their cars.

And you're calling them with an app, on your phone. So they're following the letter of the law.

Nearly all of the conflict has been over the uberX ridesharing. There's been very little gruff or conflict over uber "black", the livery service.
posted by emptythought at 7:40 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


the technology that makes everything so pleasant.

Built in bongs?
posted by spitbull at 7:49 PM on June 12


It's interesting. When Washio was featured on the Blue last week, most people were all full of snark and criticism about tech-bro culture and creating a "premium" service that was only about creating a class division in services.

But this week Uber comes up and not only are people like "Whoa, whoa, I like Uber", a lot of people are actually like "fuck taxi drivers, they deserve it". Which is actually surprising, especially considering the general lukewarm response to Silicon Valley disruption/innovation and the whole "sharing" economy.

In other words, Metafilter: Land of contrasts (but use Uber to navigate through).
posted by FJT at 8:01 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


But this week Uber comes up and not only are people like "Whoa, whoa, I like Uber", a lot of people are actually like "fuck taxi drivers, they deserve it".

Yes, well, Washio really isn't adding anything meaningful that you can't already get from any number of laundry pick-up/drop-off services. If laundromats regularly refused to take your laundry because they don't like washing shirts, didn't show up at all half the time, harangued you about your payment method, and aggressively tried to keep out any more-customer-friendly competition by lobbying for limited laundromat licenses - then we might be having a different conversation.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:34 PM on June 12 [8 favorites]


a lot of people are actually like "fuck taxi drivers, they deserve it"

Well yeah. Fuck taxi drivers, they deserve it. Actually I have sympathy for the drivers; but fuck the cab companies who own the cars and medallions.

Uber Black, at least in SF, is absolutely 100% a livery service. It is not a taxi in any way. Their product is to make it easier for you to find a licensed livery driver. You no longer need to know the phone number of a guy with one car, you can easily ask any of 50 livery drivers to pick you up. That's the core Uber Black business and, at least in SF, it's 100% legal and convenient and great. (And expensive).

UberX is different. Personally I don't trust it, but then I can afford to pay extra for a great car with a licensed professional driver. The fact they're offering a taxi-like product for cheaper prices and better service makes me a little worried about the future of taxi companies. But fuck taxi companies, because for years they have treated captive customers like me with contempt.
posted by Nelson at 8:40 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


All I know is people like James L. Brooks or Ed. Weinberger won't create bittersweet sitcoms about Uber drivers anytime soon.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:55 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


But fuck taxi companies, because for years they have treated captive customers like me with contempt.

Yeah, I don't have a dog in this fight, except to say that I have only ridden taxis in Taiwan and have always had a good experience (relevant because, apparently Uber is now expanding into Asia). And I'm just wondering why in comparison, the US taxi system in some places is so crappy.

It also seems that Uber is doing some market segmentation. By only being activated through an app and only accepting credit cards and not cash, there's some passive filtering going on. And then with the star rating system, there's active selection. In the end, Uber can select the best customers and throw the rest out. I'm kind of wondering what the long term impact is going to be on the traditional taxi when Uber takes all the good customers.
posted by FJT at 9:06 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


emptythought: “These are things that are happening right now in cabs in my city. They're in fact NOTORIOUS for it. Not murder, but assault(including sexual assault), sexual harassment, robbery, extortion, coercion, whatever. Just generally the 'criminal element'. Of COURSE people have called the cops and the complaint line and the state and whatever. It doesn't make any fucking difference. Many older people have told me they were shit before i was born.”

In my city, this happens almost exclusively in unlicensed cabs. And if you look at stories from a lot of cities, this is often the case.

But even if it isn't – that's really not an argument in favor of Uber. It's an argument in favor of what I'm advocating: streamlined, but more effective and rigorous, taxi cab regulations.

ripley_: “Unless you have any evidence that assault happens more with Uber than with cabs, you're arguing from anecdotes - and if this thread has proved anything, it's that there are a lot more 'bad cabbie' anecdotes than 'bad Uber driver' anecdotes.”

Which means absolutely nothing – that's a big chunk of my point. It's remarkable how many people have posted "well, it totally feels safe! I have no complaints!" as an argument for safety. I appreciate that people personally feel safe, but the point of public policy is not to make a particular person feel safe. I recognize that I'm totally an outlier, and I don't want policy made based solely on what I think is safe. We need to base it on facts. I sometimes feel like Uber is so over-hyped that people miss the stories like the one I posted above.

I would like to know the numbers, too. That's the only thing that can really help us assess safety. And frankly, it would help a lot in the inevitable and necessary regulation of Uber that will have to happen going forward, and that a lot of cities are struggling to put in place.

That's another thing I'm saying here: we need to regulate Uber. Yeah, fine, bring them in. They piss me off as a company, and if they break the law in the city I live in (which, uh, they have, hence my annoyance) then I'm going to be mad. But they're just another business, at the end of the day, and I can't force them to stop. We all have to have a peaceful coexistence.

What I would ask, both of Uber and of the municipalities where they base themselves, is that they subject themselves to the same background tests taxis do; that they follow the same registration and monitoring systems; etc. And the thing is, Uber has the capability to bring a lot of useful things to the table, given that they actually track their drivers wherever they go on the clock and keep much more data than most other taxi companies seem to.

ripley_: “You're also defending an existing system that fucks over people like me who don't own a car.”

I don't own a car, either. And I've never been able to afford to regularly take a cab or use Uber – and I guess it wasn't something that was necessary for me in my circumstances, as some people here have said it was necessary for them. Even where the buses were terrible – in New Mexico, for example, in Albuquerque and Santa Fe – I have ridden them.

If I had my druthers, we'd have a comprehensive public transportation system in this country, and all this ridesharing business would be academic. When it comes down to it, a public transportation system is much, much cheaper than a fleet of cabs, even if those cabs are staffed by people with smartphones and technology that allows them to do the whole thing much more efficiently. And I'd like to believe that's what the future holds. But I guess I won't hold my breath for that.
posted by koeselitz at 10:03 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Has anyone mentioned Hailo in this thread yet? I live in London, and though I don't catch cabs very often, when I do, I use the Hailo app to summon a black cab. The app works very much like the Uber one, though in my opinion it's much better. I choose to support black cabs and cabbies who've completed the Knowledge.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 10:17 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


But this week Uber comes up and not only are people like "Whoa, whoa, I like Uber", a lot of people are actually like "fuck taxi drivers, they deserve it". Which is actually surprising, especially considering the general lukewarm response to Silicon Valley disruption/innovation and the whole "sharing" economy.

There's some false equivalency that happens here where people seem to think of the taxi as the ultimate symbol of the working class proletariat or something. In reality, the drivers are fine... but they're getting fucked by the taxi system which is absolute scum. Depending on the area it's a grab bag of an oligopoly, the worst kind of rentier BS, and supports status quo maintaining lobbying and manipulation of the city council/state.

It was discussed in the previous thread, but uber and lyft actually have a value-add on the vendor side whereas washio does not. Card processing, customer matching, insurance, etc. Uber livery drivers get paid better than taxi drivers too, at least in my city.

No one is saying fuck taxi drivers, they're saying fuck taxi companies and the system they're attempting to lock in. I mean yea, i'll admit i've hated on taxi drivers but it's really at least where i am, that fucked system which attracts only the truly desperate and shitty people to work for them. At least where i am, it's easier to become a taxi driver than it is to buy a gun. And it's not like the dispatch company is going to do a character interview or ride along with you like lyft and uber do. You show up with the license card and fill out some paperwork and go treat people like shit.

"It's interesting how differently you all reacted to this different thing that some writer decided to lump together in a sharing economy-focused writeup" is a pretty specious point.
posted by emptythought at 10:49 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


London has two systems; the 'black cab' taxis are the ones who can pick you up on the street or from taxi ranks, and have to take you where you want to go in London - they're the ones with taxi signs. They are heavily regulated, tested on the local knowledge of London regularly, have to display their ID number and the fares are set by Transport for London - the taxi meter rate. They all drive some varient of the hackney carriage, though they're not all black. You shouldn't ever get stitched up on the fare by a black cab taxi driver, but if you do, report them! There are real consequences. They should also be much safer for a female passenger to get into at night alone, though alas John Warboys proved even black taxis aren't entirely safe.

Licenced mini cabs are basically saloon cars or people carriers dispatched by a control office - they have a private hire plate on the back. You book them, they turn up theoretically; you can also find them at airports, where you agree the destination and charge before you travel at a nearby office. They have to give you a fixed price for your destination based on distance, they can't charge you based on a meter for how long it takes to get there after the fact. Some minicab firms are reputable, with tested and safe checked drivers and proper insurance; others are... less safe. They can charge you pretty much what they like as long as they tell you upfront, and don't have to take you. There are femaie-only driver minicab firms, which should be safer for female passengers.

Gypsy mini cabs are unlicenced, and usually uninsured, and illegal. They're the ones you see swarming at tourist hotspots touting for fares (which minicabs are not allowed to do), and you have no idea what you're going to get.

The argument against uber et al is that it allows minicabs to act like black taxis; i.e. pick you up on the street easily, charge you a variable rate, but at best are regulated no more than minicabs, and quite possibly less than that. Yes, they can be cheaper (but not always!) but by cutting into the blackcab monopoly on meter-based fares, you basically destroy the economics of running a black taxi, and all the safety benefits for female passengers, the disabled, people who live in places minicabs don't want to go etc.

The black cab protest was also about a lot more than uber - it was about Transport for London's lax policies on minicabs in general, including that they're basically ignoring the illegal gypsy cabs, not providing sufficient places for black taxi ranks etc, and generally allowing VC backed services, such as uber, to basically ignore the regulations in place that are meant to improve passenger safety.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:17 AM on June 13 [10 favorites]


Really surprised nobody's having the conversation about the really interesting competitive environment that's likely only a few years away: between crowdsourced "sharing economy" middlemen and an army of independent contractors, and centralized highly-capitalized Google car taxi services (the long-vaunted PRT). Who needs a driver with a smartphone when the car is the driver and the smartphone? I suppose there's actually a sort of anarchic mid-level disruption here as well which would be the independent Google car owners, but they would probably resemble the former to the drivers (rent your car when you're not using it) and the latter to the customers (you call/text/app one number, you get a car, you don't care).

Especially after the Tracy Morgan incident, I think we're going to see computer drivers even sooner now, if there's any possibility of tightened regulation with teeth.
posted by dhartung at 12:38 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


It sounds like most of America has had a terrible taxi experience, which is what paved the way for Uber et al. How did the situation get that bad? How will the future of taxi hiring be any better once the market settles down? Is the rating system the only difference? Do you get marked down for not tipping? Not chatting? Chatting too much? It seems like it could be a bit arbitrary.

Where I live in the UK all the taxi companies log your pick ups and drop off addresses, so if you call them they will ask if you are at home or one of your regular pick up points. Cars are all on GPS and the computer tells the nearest drivers to pick you up. If you have any complaints the office can look at the journey in question.

One of the private hire companies (liveried) has an app and automated phone line as well as hundreds of cars. They will normally arrive in less than two minutes. I have spoken to drivers about how much they pay for the cars vs. driving their own car. £90/week for the computer that connects you to the office and you pay for your own car maintenance vs. £150/week for a car for 12 hours a day. That company has at least 300 cars running 24 hours a day and 200 owner drivers, so that is £108k per week income for the business. The business owner also owns the building that the office is in (when they employed people they had 10 minimum wage people on the phone and three managers) and the garage where the cars are serviced (staffed entirely by Polish men other than the manager and the secretary). They can take card payments over the phone if necessary, but in the UK taxis take cash usually. I estimate he is making at least £70k per week as he is the sole owner, having bought out the previous owner who built the business up. He only directly employs white people and is a notorious racist and all round asshole, so I don't use his service.

tl;dr There is a lot of money in running a taxi service, but it is not the drivers who make it. I would prefer to use a good local company than pass money through a third party such as Uber.

GPS is no substitute for local knowledge, even with traffic information.
posted by asok at 2:43 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


These reviews on Yelp of our Yellow Cab company are mostly pretty spot on. It just doesn't function as a mode of transportation that any sane person would rely on.
posted by octothorpe at 4:55 AM on June 13


Here in Boston, getting into a regular cab means risking life and limb and getting yelled at by the driver for your trouble. Fuck that. Uber has been a complete game changer because, while slightly more expensive, it provides a dramatically safer, more pleasant, and convenient service.

I've been out of Boston for a couple years (moved out of the city), but yeah, getting a cab was always a major pain in the ass. I lived in Dorchester for many years, and I pretty much gave up on trying to arrange for a cab to take me anywhere. Invariably, I'd be promised they'd show up on time, and most of the time they would simply never show (even after calling the dispatcher back repeatedly, and waiting for hours). My success rate hovered around 25%.

The cab companies in the Boston area made it pretty clear that they weren't particularly interested in my business. If I was still there, I'd be using Uber, and I'd have no qualms about it.
posted by tocts at 5:35 AM on June 13


Did anyone link to this yet?
London Taxi Challenge on WSJ comparing black cab (via Hailo), private hire (Addison Lee), and uber for a single journey in central London.
posted by like_neon at 5:45 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Cabs in Atlanta are a strange bird. We have local cabs, mostly Spanish speaking drivers, for Spanish speaking customers who give rides from apartment complexes to the Super Wal-Mart or the Kroger. They may congregate at MARTA stations, as the 'last-mile' conveyance from the train to your house.

We also have secondary bus service, it goes up and down Buford Highway, one of the US's most dangerous streets, (seven lanes, 55 mile speed limit, traffic lights miles apart.)

The point being that if there's a void in the market, someone will pop up to fill it. If they do a better job than the established vendor, then people will use the new services, and either the established vendor has to up service, or lower prices or do something to establish value in the mind of the consumer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:48 AM on June 13


In Baltimore there are plenty of women UberX drivers and the rates are typically LESS expensive than a traditional cab. It's a no brainer for me.
posted by josher71 at 6:07 AM on June 13


No one is saying fuck taxi drivers

I am. You know how many times I asked my partner, "did you get his cab license number?" after being sexually harassed by a cabbie? How many times I've been cheated out of money? How many times they've told me their card reader is broken? How many times I've waited for a cab and they never come?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:16 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


It sounds like most of America has had a terrible taxi experience, which is what paved the way for Uber et al. How did the situation get that bad?

In my experience, it comes from passive or active unwillingness of governments to enforce the law. Cabs are supposed to be required to pick you up anywhere in the city and drop you off anywhere in the city. In practice, cabbies like to stick around the core of the city where most of the fares are and will be unwilling to take people to outlying areas where it won't be as easy to find another passenger to take back to the central city, unless it's the airport. Dispatch services become unreliable, and the government doesn't crack down on bad actors and enforce consistent services for people calling to be picked up.

Cabs are supposed to be a privately-run leg of the public transit system, but they tend to provide consistent service to only a select group of the public (those living in the center city rather than the outlying areas). Also, cabs were reluctant to adopt modern payment systems (the screaming that went up in DC when cabs were required to install card readers still goes on today) with, once again, an unwillingness of government to enforce universal compliance, and both conspired to create an opening for players like Uber.

I never considered using a livery service before, but when Uber made it easy to do so, bypassing the taxi system, suddenly it became an attractive option.
posted by deanc at 6:28 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


It sounds like most of America has had a terrible taxi experience ... How did the situation get that bad?

My guess is corruption. I alluded to this above, but local taxi commissions in American cities are often notoriously corrupt. Also organized crime often has a hand in the taxi business. I'm just saying this without citation though, so maybe I'm wrong. The other half is that taxis operate as a city-sponsored monopoly in most American cities, but then the city does very little to regulate the service provided.

The biggest difference between American taxis and European taxis I've regularly experienced is American taxis are not dispatched. In Paris if I want a cab at my hotel, I call a cab company and they say "Certainly; Marcel will be there in 8 minutes in a black Mercedes". The company picks a specific driver and sends him to me. In San Francisco I call and they say "ok whatever" and hang up on me. Then if I'm lucky the "dispatcher" puts a call out on the radio saying "someone at this address wants a cab". At that moment any of the cabs in earshot can choose to come pick me up if they feel like it, but it's entirely voluntary. Frequently they find a fare on the street before they get to the address, or no one feels like going to that part of town, or whatever else. The end result is a cab might show up anywhere between 2 and 30 minutes and you have no way of knowing. I'm told this has something to do with employment law; the cab drivers are technically independent contractors, not company employees, and so can't be told where to go. So perhaps there's some deeper scam involved in the shoddy service.

There's no reason American cab companies couldn't provide an Uber-like app which showed customers where the cabs are and helped you get a specific one to come pick you up. But with the monopoly on car service they've enjoyed for so long there was no reason to do that. Apparently there are some exceptions, also third party apps like TaxiMagic. But in every US city I've been in other than Manhattan, taxis don't work out very well. Uber works great.
posted by Nelson at 6:54 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Has anyone mentioned Hailo in this thread yet? I live in London, and though I don't catch cabs very often, when I do, I use the Hailo app to summon a black cab. The app works very much like the Uber one, though in my opinion it's much better. I choose to support black cabs and cabbies who've completed the Knowledge.

John Worboys had the knowledge and drove a black cab and is suspected of sexually assaulting over a hundred women (convicted of 12) .
posted by srboisvert at 7:02 AM on June 13


Ayn Rand worshipping ideologues are better company and better people than mob-linked medallion owning rentiers.

When the two groups come into conflict, I side with the Randroids (and the popcorn vendors).
posted by ocschwar at 7:54 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


But we're playing with fire here, demolishing a semi-public transportation infrastructure like taxis in favor of a libertarian wet-dream private company like Uber.

Semi-public? For who? Not black people, or people who live in the "wrong" neighborhoods, or, on one memorable occasion, me, when I wanted to go from LaGuardia to Brooklyn. The guy just yelled "too far!" at me and drove off.

Also, I know natives and frequent visitors claim to understand it, but I found the "zones" thing with DC cabs to be utterly incomprehensible, in terms of getting from one place in the city to another and deciding how much that should cost. It was ridiculous. Uber didn't exist then, but I would have been happy if it had.
posted by emjaybee at 8:14 AM on June 13


DC got rid of taxi zones a few years ago, so that cabs here now have meters. Also, they now wear illuminated rooftop signs with meaningful information like NYC, instead of the old signs that said "call 911" (!). And they must accept credit cards. I haven't tried calling a dispatcher for one in years, but I imagine that remains an exercise in futility.
posted by exogenous at 8:36 AM on June 13


> John Worboys had the knowledge and drove a black cab and is suspected of sexually assaulting over a hundred women (convicted of 12) .

Not sure why you've you've put this is an apparent rebuttal to my comment about the Hailo app. Committed sexual predators exist in all sorts of organisations; if you want to convince me an Uber cab is safer than a black cab you'll have to do it with data, not with a single example.

ArkhanJG describes London's different cab categories very well here, and I know which category I support: the one that is better regulated and provides better service. And as like-neon's link shows, black cabs are often cheaper than both Addison Lee and Uber cabs. That has certainly been my experience—I tried Uber for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was charged £20 for a journey that would have been £12-14 in a black cab. On top of which, the driver had never heard of Old Compton Street in Soho and had to be fed directions throughout the journey.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:40 AM on June 13


I think it's "semi-public" in the sense that in most areas, "permission" to operate cabs is purchased from the city/county/state, which has a nominal say in how the cab companies have to operate. As opposed to fully public transportation like a bus or rail system.

The basic problem with taxi companies is that they are operated solely for profit (unlike a real public system like a bus, which may have to earn its own budget but isn't aiming any higher than that). The only way to maximize profits is to minimize expenses as much as humanly possible, so what you get at the other end of the operation are drivers who are being nickel-and-dimed to the point that they work 16-18 hours a day and they still have to maximize every trip to make any money themselves.

They do that by refusing trips, blowing off dispatched trips for a better offer, and refusing to use their meters, instead extorting a higher fare from the captive passenger in return for not being dumped in the middle of nowhere, or raped and/or killed (as I said in another thread, cab death threats that ultimately required the police happened to two of my friends, one in DC, in the past couple of weeks). They also refuse to use credit card readers (they're always "broken") so they can pocket the cash and not report it for taxes. They don't want their trips measured by GPS, they don't want any paper trail at all, and as long as this is how they operate Uber will be safer by design.

So pretty much the only people who drive cabs now are people who are willing to do business that way, or are so desperate that they have to. In other words, the cars are being driven by dangerous criminals.

This all holds together because the taxi companies are paying the city for a certain amount of exclusivity, so that there's not any competitors who aren't scraping the bottom. They can all suck, because they all suck.

A lot of times, the only reliable cab ride you can get in a city is from the airport, as that is the only type of trip that is regulated and specially tariffed by the licensing body - usually the city, in a split agreement with the airport. Getting back to the airport is your own problem mostly, as the cab drivers do not necessarily want to go there and aren't allowed to scam you as overtly, but I think they all have to do it occasionally as a pretense to not being dangerous criminals.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:49 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


The DC cab credit card reader fight seems to be over, the last few times I've been in a cab the card readers have been working. It's awkward and I still prefer to use cash, but I haven't had one "not working" recently. I've never had a huge problem with DC cabs, (I'm a white guy usually trying to get from downtown or Dupont to Columbia Heights so it's not shocking), but they also seem to be getting affirmatively better recently.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:56 AM on June 13


How did the situation get that bad?

In my city the number of taxi licenses is capped, fares are regulated, and demand is always going to be there, so there's no motivation for anyone to improve service. Associated Cab isn't going to get a larger share of the market by investing in a new dispatch system; they're just going to be spending more than Checker Yellow Cab.

And since you can't hurt their reputation, you need your municipality to help keep the companies in line when there are complaints. Obviously that isn't working well everywhere (where I live the city has been getting better at enforcing regulations).
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:48 AM on June 13


Since the new DC cab regs passed I haven't seen any cabs with the card readers off, but I have seen handmade signs asking passengers not to use them because "the fees are too high" (which I take as half intransigence and half a symptom of how slim the drivers' margins already are). I've also never been outright denied a ride, but again, white guy going to/from the capitol. That's easy mode with cheat codes.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:41 AM on June 13


So once Uber and Lyft and the others push the awful taxi companies out of business, what are people with no smartphone supposed to do? How are you going to call a cab with a payphone? Hail one on the street? When the affluent stop using the same services that the less well off rely on, those services become replaced by things that are out of reach for the poor (either by price of the service, or external barriers such as needing a smartphone). Uber has no phone you can call to hail a cab. There's no way to wave one down on the street. You can't take one from the taxi line at the airport. You can't pay cash for one. For the people locked out of the banking system, that kills it dead in the water.

Uber is for people like "us" - people with smartphones who can't imagine needing to take a $60 ride without the resources to have a smartphone all the time. By saying that we don't care that it's destroying a common good for something that's selfishly better, we're not improving the world. Uber is extreme privatization that makes it harder for the least-well-off when something goes wrong. Unintended consequences of just looking out for ourselves.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:18 PM on June 13 [7 favorites]


The only way to maximize profits is to minimize expenses as much as humanly possible

The world's tiniest yet most complete edition of The Quotable Capitalist.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:02 PM on June 13


Uber is extreme privatization that makes it harder for the least-well-off when something goes wrong.

No. Wrong. Cabs are extreme privatization that makes it harder for the least-well-off when something goes wrong. Ridesharing is competition.

Are you honestly opposed to competition? Do you have any concept of the fact that cabs operate as a monopoly? Do you need to read a history of monopolies to understand how much they fuck over the least-well-off?

Seriously. Be black in Chicago and just try to take a cab home. I mean, I'm not, but my coworkers are, and boy they've got some stories about cabs... and they aren't even poor. Living as a white dude in a Mexican/black border neighborhood, it's hard enough getting a cab to take me home. My neighbors don't even try; if the pink line ain't running, they wait till 4:30am when it starts back up again. Cause cabs don't take black dudes to Lawndale.

The amount of ignorance people have about this topic is mindblowing. stoneweaver, you said it yourself, "Uber is for people like 'us'". The problem is, people like you don't actually understand how much cabs fuck over the marginalized. Ridesharing is for everyone. Cabs are for whites, going from one club downtown to another.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:59 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]


The disconnect is about HOW ridesharing works. If it's only available via smartphone with a data connection and credit card? That cuts a whole lot of people out. That's not me saying that the system works great now; it's clear from the comments in this thread that there are plenty of problems with cabs. I may have missed it (it's a long thread), it I don't see anyone saying that Uber or Lyft will take them to neighborhoods that cabs skip. If they do, that's great. I am all for it, and maybe it will make cabs change their tune.

Uber and Lyft are not just ride sharing. They're corporations with rent-seekers sitting in the middle taking money. They're not magically not private somehow. Especially the black car services - those are definitely not ride sharing. Clearly, reform needs to happen. But layering everything behind tech abstraction that's trotting around flaunting regulations? That's not a good long term solution at all.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:24 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


That's not a good long term solution at all.

Perhaps, but it's at least a solution where before there was none.
posted by josher71 at 6:07 AM on June 16


Uber and Lyft are not just ride sharing. They're corporations with rent-seekers sitting in the middle taking money. They're not magically not private somehow.

You seem to be missing the point, which is that your own words describe exactly the problem with cabs. They're not public. They're not (in reality) semi-public. They're private enterprises, given government-sanctioned monopolies that come with often minimal oversight. They are rife with middle-men (e.g. medallion owners) who take the majority of the profits, while providing a minimum of service.
posted by tocts at 6:29 AM on June 16


The only public part of the existing cab companies is that they've managed to convince the governments into giving them a monopoly. They don't server the public in any useful way and they're certainly not answerable to any kind of public complaints.
posted by octothorpe at 7:12 AM on June 16


Seattle removes its 150-driver limit on UberX and Lyft and imposes new insurance & licensing requirements on them instead. To placate the taxi and limo drivers, the city will also increase the number of taxi licenses by 200, make them transferable, and allow "for hire drivers" (e.g. limos) to pick up passengers hailing them on the street.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:39 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I misinterpreted the news from Seattle. The changes I mentioned above are part of a proposal worked out by the mayor, but won't take effect unless approved by the city council.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:00 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Excellent article looking at the medallions and Uber.

Also I have to say that I love London black cabs, they provide a great service and are worth the price. Almost all my US cab experiences have been shitty and I welcome Uber here with open arms.
posted by Joh at 9:38 PM on June 21


DC cab protest
posted by psoas at 1:46 PM on June 25


Uber and the cost of racism. "However, most analysis of Uber’s costs and benefits leave out one huge piece of the appeal: the premium car service removes the racism factor when you need a ride."
posted by jeather at 10:14 AM on June 26


Pittsburgh tells Lyft and Uber to stop operating in Pittsburgh until their licenses go through, Uber announces intention to defy law. Of course it's the drivers who will be arrested, ticketed, impounded, etc.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:44 AM on July 2


You've got that exactly backward. It's Pennsylvania, not the city, telling Lyft and Uber to stop. Pittsburgh is seriously pissed-off about that fact, especially because it happens to be right before a big holiday weekend.
posted by octothorpe at 4:53 AM on July 2


Oh, well, that's okay then.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:52 AM on July 2


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