Uber vs Taxi Drivers: From the Taxi Driver Side

I like Uber. In fact, most people I know like Uber. Sure, many people can report a bad experience or two but anyone used to taxi drivers can say the same thing.

On a recent trip to a major city, I opted to use a taxi from my hotel to go back to the airport. It was a flat rate charge so I knew the fare before I left. Yes, I could have called Uber and made the same arrangements but the taxi was already at the hotel and I figuUberred the difference in fare would be minimal.

As I do in all cities I visit, I had a good conversation with the taxi driver on the 30-minute ride to the airport because I was curious how he felt about Uber. Not surprising really, his comments, coming from 25 years driving experience, were similar to what I have heard in other cities across the country.

The taxi drivers are frustrated by many things. Quite a few have told me about times when they sit outside a bar waiting for a fare but instead, customers call Uber and wait for them rather than jump into the available cab.

The drivers are also frustrated because they can not change their fares. They know that in many instances, the Uber fares are lower and of course, regularly do not get tips. Just a side note, some of this is changing with Uber’s “surge pricing” at high-demand times.

And the drivers are frustrated because of the requirements placed on them that are not shared by Uber drivers. They need near flawless driving records, their vehicles have to be inspected regularly, and there are those background checks, not to mention they can not refuse to pick up someone. Taxi drivers are also required to pay fees to the airport for the right to pick up and drop off passengers. In Orlando, they must pay the airport authority $2.65 for each passenger pickup and $3.15 per half hour of dwell time. And then there is the much greater fee paid monthly to the taxi company for the mere right to drive.

new york city taxiMany of the taxi drivers are independent, meaning they rent their vehicles and pay a fee to a taxi management company but drivers are not employees of the company. Whoa, this sounds almost like Uber, no?

But more than anything else, what frustrates these drivers is not Uber but their own management companies. Most of these taxi management companies are private businesses with city monopolies so they don’t share how much money they earn. From the driver perspective though, they are making way too much money at the expense of the drivers.

So why don’t these taxi drivers drive for Uber? Actually some do and there are these reports of Uber drivers earning nearly $75,000 in San Francisco and over $90,000 in New York. The problem is most taxi drivers are heavily invested in their businesses and their ability to sell their driving permits – sometimes called medallions – may be limited. While they do get to work their own hours and preferred locations, they are beset by rules far greater than Uber drivers. All they want to do is earn a living, support a family, and maybe retire one day. They are really no different than anyone else.

I understand wanting to save money, and I understand how Uber et al are so tech, but I do feel for the taxi drivers who are caught between a ‘tech company’ on one side and a management company intent on squeezing profits from drivers as well as customers on the other.

What are your thoughts?

 

Comments

  1. As part of a marketing tactic for my comedic self-help book, I drove a taxi in Phoenix for a few months. Even though it was only a marketing gimmick, I was working 12 hour shifts and had many interesting encounters as a cabbie.

    I completely appreciate the frustration of cab drivers who are annoyed at the influx of inexperienced uber drivers that take fares and thus money from hard working taxi drivers. However, based on my own experience from being tricked by taxi drivers worldwide, my advice to the taxi companies (more than the drivers) is to get with the times: Be better to your customers and stop exploiting your drivers.

  2. It’s a shame for the taxi drivers, but they can still switch to Uber or Lyft and be gainfully employed – and perhaps for more money. In most instances, when a business faces a major challenge from a more tech savvy competitor workers have zero options. Uber & Lyft provide taxi drivers with a safe landing spot – they should make the move now – it’s the only way taxi companies will adapt…or go the way of home milk delivery.

  3. “They can not refuse to pick up someone” – HA! I can’t count the times that I’ve had a taxi driver refuse to take me in their car (in NY and SF) because they didn’t want to drive me to that location or because I didn’t want to pay with cash. BTW, it’s amazing how the credit card machines in taxis miraculously started working perfectly as soon as Uber took over the market.

    Here’s a story from just last week about a couple friends in San Francisco. They were out late and their phones were dead so no Uber or Lyft. Fortunately they flagged down a taxi that happened to be outside at the time. They told him their destination and he started driving. At that point he asked if they would be paying in cash and they told him that they didn’t have any and would like to use a credit card. He turned the car around, drove the 2 to 3 blocks back to where he picked them up, told them to get out and said he was only taking cash fares. He didn’t even let them out the two blocks closer to home, he made a point to circle around the block to put them back where they started.

    This story, and many like it, are the reasons why people were so eager to have another option for transportation.

  4. Uh, look at the comments on that WaPo fluff piece you linked to. Every single Uber driver responds that those salary figures are insanely inflated; the real numbers are vastly lower and trending downward.

    Driving for Über will be a vaguely-decent job until the cab companies are defeated and the concomitant regulations successfully skirted. Three guesses as to what will happen to those “great salaries” after that!

    Uber is just another corporation figuring out how to enrich itself by impoverishing the middle class.

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