About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

31 May 2016

Uber Wars

I am an occasional user of Uber, although this past weekend, I ended up using it three times - probably more than the rest of the year combined. Uber has revolutionised personal transport; and its costs are not significantly higher than alternatives; especially when used in more off peak times.

I got talking to all three drivers this weekend - and one thing stood out - their stories with dealing with the traditional metered taxi competition. I have seen some reports on the news; but their stories are far more personal and eye-opening. Whether it is one driver, whose car was scratched by a metered taxi driver taking a plank to his car (he was the lucky one - the other Uber driver had a smashed windscreen) or the other driver who covers his phone and doesn't openly display the operating permit to avoid detection - there is clearly far more opposition than I initially believed.

What is interesting however, is that I would not really consider using metered taxis in most situations (in contrast to the Uber). I have taken a few - especially from the Gautrain station when travelling - but in most cases they are a pain. Metered taxis are difficult to get hold off; their quality of cars are usually inferior; and their rates are usually higher. If I consider my three trips this weekend, I would only consider doing one of them using a metered taxi - but even then, it would have been unlikely. I wonder how many Uber users would use metered taxis instead.

Clearly metered taxis are feeling the pinch - but I am surprised by their reaction in most cases. The vast majority of Uber drivers I have talked to are employed drivers - the cars are owned by someone else (sometimes a family member) and the drivers are employed to drive and take a cut as salary (around 20 - 25% seems to be the norm). And Uber is not that different to metered taxis - except that they regulate fares. Surely, it would make more sense for the metered taxi owners to join the Uber brigade instead of trying to compete on a largely ineffective service offering. Heck - there is nothing that is truly stopping them to run both modes - in fact some Uber drivers seem to do this also (one driver mentioned dropping of a customer in Magaliesberg for the weekend and then fetching them at a pre-determined time). 

Overall, the anger of metered taxis, in South Africa and elsewhere, is just a sign of what to expect from other disruptive economic models. From AirBnB to self driving cars; existing business models will feel the pinch and may make their anger felt.

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