Uber Has Gone Public, When Will Its Tech Go Global?
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As a perpetual international traveler, I want to firmly say that I will always support Uber. The company went public earlier this year, and its IPO raised around $8 billion U.S., in spite of a somewhat bad reputation in the U.S. (and the perception that its rival Lyft is the good guy of ride-sharing companies).
I know Uber gets a lot of shit for a variety of reasons, but I don't care what the company does. I care about getting where I want to go safely, conveniently, and getting a fair price. Besides, Lyft operates in two countries, the U.S. and Canada. Uber operates in about 65 countries so if we’re having this conversation from the perspective of someone who travels a lot (as I do), then you don’t really have the luxury of being picky between the two providers. From my perspective, the real challenge to Uber isn't Lyft – it's taxi drivers.
Taxis are Outdated
Let's take a minute to talk about how fucked up and antiquated the taxi system is in most places. I was just in Novi Sad, Serbia and had trouble calling a cab. I finally had to have my hotel call a taxi for me. They tried three companies before someone picked up. It’s so inefficient! It’s an outdated system that isn’t really working anymore. What Lyft and Uber have done is revolutionary because they just make the process faster and easier. They offer a more standardized service than taxis and ensure fair pricing for everyone.
Last summer I was traveling in Mexico with Hacker Paradise. In Mexico City, Uber was widely available and very cheap. It was great. But in Playa Del Carmen, Uber wasn't available at all! Local taxi drivers had a monopoly on the service there. You had to negotiate a price beforehand, and if you put your luggage in the car before your price was agreed to, you could get stuck paying a ridiculous amount. That’s some shady shit.
When traveling in Europe over the last few years, I've seen the rise and fall of companies like Bolt and Cargo try to start up ride-sharing. They eventually failed in certain cities because the taxi mafia lobbied against them and had enough leverage over politicians to block them.
Ride-Sharing Tech is Just Better …
With ride-sharing apps, you get a price quote upfront and it is based on the distance you travel, not subjective things like the mood of the driver or if they think they can get a more-than-fair price out of you. This is good for the driver, too – it protects them from having to take a less-than-fair price from a rider who just wants to see how low they can negotiate.
Ride-sharing is one of the biggest disruptors in consumer services in the last decade. When you call a taxi, if you can even get a hold of the company, you may have to wait a long time and sometimes they don't even come at all. When you call an Uber, they show up at the specified time. And even if they don't, you have a way to communicate with the driver or the company via the app. It's all very easy, and when customers are trying to get from Point A to Point B they don't want to worry about how long it will take, how much it will cost, and whether it will be a huge hassle. Ride-sharing solves all of those problems for consumers.
… So Why Aren't Taxis Using It?
I think it's an interesting question: can taxis use the same technology as Uber to stay competitive? Uber and Lyft are first and foremost tech companies, and they have received billions of dollars in funding to develop the apps that power their services. I'm not surprised that Serbian taxi drivers haven't done the same thing – they just don't have the resources.
Someone needs to develop an app that functions like Uber, but can be used by taxi drivers. If they had the ability to scale internationally the impact could be huge. Imagine if you could use the same app to hire and pay for taxis all over the world. I wouldn't even care if taxi companies had a monopoly in that case because I would be able to get where I want to go in a reasonable amount of time, for a reasonable price.
I know of at least one company that is doing this – Flywheel. But they are growing slowly and are only in the U.S. We'll see what happens in the future. Flywheel, if you are reading this, please expand abroad – I think international travelers would really benefit.
Monopoly Versus Consumer Experience
I understand that taxi companies want to maintain their monopoly. When taxi drivers push out Uber they may be benefitting their own business, but they are doing a disservice to their customers. And I just don't think that's a sustainable way of doing business. If you force customers to pay for your service but do it badly, you are asking for some kind of backlash.
In a way, you could say the first backlash was the rise of ride-sharing services. Consumers have abandoned taxis in favor of Uber, Lyft, and Bolt because their service is just so much better. If taxi drivers continue to try for a monopoly and push out ride-sharing, I don't think the results will be good for them.
I can’t believe we are still having this conversation in 2019, but here we are. Technology is changing the world at a rapid pace, and I don't think consumers will accept monopolies that refuse to get on board much longer.
What do you think about ride-sharing versus taxis? Would you use taxis more if there was an app for it? Let me know what you think in the comments!