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 figured 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.
Many 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?