It seems that Dublin taxi drivers are not alone when it comes to fuming to whoever is stuck in the back seat or anyone else about whatever comes to mind. This time, though, they have something in common with their driving peers in other cities worldwide when it comes to grouching. Enter Uber.
You can graph the geographical spread of Uber on a country by country basis by the protests and opposition from the taxi sector to the rise in use by customers of the app. Cab operators have tried to direct Uber into a regulatory cul-de-sac in various cities in the United States, while those looking for cabs in London, Barcelona and other European cities in recent weeks have found themselves taxi-less because of Uber-related strikes.
Taxi drivers may have adopted Hailo and similar tools (there are 7,000 signed up for Hailo in Dublin, for example), but Uber is a call too far because they see the service as something which is eating their lunch.
I’m reminded of Uber when the time comes for one of those regular early morning airport runs or any trip to the other side of the city which requires a cab. We’re probably prime candidates for Uber or Hailo use in our gaff and yet we just call a local taxi company. It’s the same company every time, the same company who’ve been sending cabs around to us for as long as we’ve lived in the area.
So why the inertia, you’re probably wondering? Why don’t you stick-in-the-muds move with the times and get on the Uber bandwagon? Get with the program, daddio, and churn, churn, churn!
But, why? The service provides everything you’d get from an Uber or Hailo booking. The cab turns up when it’s supposed to turn up, unlike the days of old when a cab might or might not arrive, depending on the day of the week and the colour of the car and the mood of the driver or despatcher. If you want a cab right away, it’s there within minutes. The drivers are friendly, polite and know that you usually don’t want to engage in a chat about sports or the state of the political parties in Australia at 4.30am. It’s a reliable, exemplary service. And there's an app too but, as with 99 per cent of the apps on your phone, it's just as easy to make that 10 second call.
What we get from our local company is what people want from Uber or Hailo. The company are providing a great service and there’s no reliance on or need for technology to deliver this. It's simply about providing the customer with what they want: in this case, a taxi to get them quickly and easily from A to B. If all existing taxi drivers provided a similar service and gave the customer what they wanted, there would have been not such a rush to embrace Uber et al.
Leaving aside price, the means to compete with the new service has been with the incumbents all along and yet the vast majority of them didn’t deliver. No wonder people have flocked to embrace the new arrivals.
No doubt there are or will be Uber and Hailo horror stories just as you’d get with any taxi hire over time, but they’ll still get customers and grow their market share because they’re better than (or perceived to be better than) many of the current incumbents. You can always deal with competition by calling in your legal eagles or throwing a hissy fit by calling a strike, but you can also look to your own backyard and improve your service. The former is easy, the latter is much harder.
The lesson from the taxi business is that if you have customers who are happy with your service, no amount of competition will shift them. But if you’ve allowed that service to become tarnished and stale, your business is prime picking for new, focused arrivals. Forget about technology and disruption, it all comes down to the spick and the span of that service.