I had a 24 year old kid in my taxi this weekend who asked me the same question I get asked all the fucking time: “Ever thought about driving for Uber or Lyft?”
I always respond the same way, as I try to deflect the question and change the subject: “Don’t own a car.”
Further inquiry usually ends there, although some people know it’s possible to easily acquire a car to drive for Uber and Lyft, as these companies continue to make it incredibly simple for anyone with a pulse and halfway decent background history to drive for hire.
Well, this kid didn’t know about leasing options that Uber provide, thankfully, but he went on to tell me, in his opinion as a resident of Concord, how the San Francisco taxi industry failed and how, if they’d had an app early on, Uber and Lyft wouldn’t have bankrupted the cab companies.
I point out that Cabulous, which became Flywheel, predates UberX, which didn’t launch until Summer 2012. So, yes, taxis had apps even before Uber.
“Think about it…” I say to the guy. “Everyone’s trying to come up with ideas for apps… hailing a cab isn’t that original, especially in a city like San Francisco, where, as any longtime resident can tell you ad nauseam, it was next to impossible to get a cab. So coming up with an app to summon a taxi in San Francisco is kind of a no-brainer, right?”
The argument that taxis have failed to adopt to technology is crap. It was the cab companies who resisted both centralized dispatching and app-based dispatching out of pure greed and lack of foresight.
The drivers themselves, obviously determined to maximize their profits, have been experimenting with apps from the beginning.
Drivers use every ride-hailing app available, to varying degrees of happiness, and will no doubt praise and criticize any others that come down the road.
Drivers who don’t want to use their cab company’s Veriphone credit card processing get Square instead.
Drivers are also so determined to cross color schemes, several hundred us use the GroupMe app to communicate with each other in real time. Throughout our shifts, we post updates on when events are breaking and to let each other know where demand is high, which is similar to Uber’s heat maps or Lyft’s weekly email of upcoming events, except the information in the SF Hackers group is based on actual eyes-on-the-street reports and an actual comprehensive listing of all concerts and events provided by one of the members, who also happens to be a dispatcher.
Undeterred, to prove that taxis are the cause of their own demise, he brings up the price difference between taxis and Uber/Lyft, even though I immediately counter with the fact that when UberX and Lyft both started, they cost more than taxis and have only lowered prices to compete in a race to the bottom. And anyway, in the end, we all know Uber is only interested in logistics.
“But…” he goes on.
The issue is moot.
I guess Cabulous/Flywheel, Taxi Magic, Summon and all the other taxi-hailing apps, which could have provided San Francisco’s much needed centralized dispatch, just weren’t as sexy as the “Uber-iquitous” U symbol everyone has come to love and/or hate.
Anyway, this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about centralized dispatching.
Read it here.
Photos by Trevor Johnson.