After a year of online protests and fierce political battles between the D.C. taxi commission and popular smartphone sedan service, Uber, a new technology may bring the two factions together: UberTaxi. “I love it,” gushes one D.C. cab driver, who says he feels safer and is making more money with Uber’s new smartphone-enabled service for licensed taxi drivers.
The taxi commission’s feud with Uber reached a boiling point last year after D.C. lawmakers nearly snuck through a minimum price for their smartphone car service. News outlets and an Internet flash lobby erupted in anger, ultimately stopping the bill and paving the way for a more collaborative solution. Rather than ram through more competition, Uber made the diplomatic move to offer a GPS-enabled smartphone option for D.C. cabs, which rolled out this month.
“It solved all the problems we had as drivers and as passengers,” says another driver, referencing the notoriously bad D.C. cab service. Whenever I visit our nation’s capital, it’s not uncommon for me to wait 10+ minutes as a series of cabs reject me for either paying with credit card or asking to be driven to a unprofitable location.
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Two of the four cab drivers we interviewed said they’re making more money as a result of the on-demand “e-hail” service. “We’ve always been friends of taxi drivers, because the drivers are making more pay,” said Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, in an interview with the chair of the Internet Caucus, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (who used Uber for the first time to get to the conference and is, apparently, now a fan).
More than the money, all four drivers liked the increased safety of an identifiable passenger. Just last November, a teenage passenger fatally shot a female cab driver. “As long as I’m safe, that’s what’s important,” says another driver.
The app is all sunshine and roses. The GPS, however, could use some fine-tuning. Earlier today, I mistakenly sent an UberTaxi across the street. While talking to me on the phone, he had to deal with angry, honking drivers as I scrambled to find out where he was (though, I’m told this was an exception).
Secondly, for now, Uber charges a mandatory 20 percent tip. One driver, disregarding his own self-interest argued that “it would benefit the passenger to pay whatever you’re satisfied with.”
Gripes aside, UberTaxi is a delightful solution to the nightmare that is cab service in D.C. In my experience, other smartphone solutions, such as TaxiMagic, have been more of headache than they’re worth.
Perhaps taxi organizations and Uber aren’t locked in an existential battle. All of the infighting may have been avoided if unions would have worked with startups to design them a technological solution to the problems we all recognize they have.