Why Uber: A London Story

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Uber (or Lyft, etc.) is generally not my primary choice.

The existing taxi companies where I live in Prague long ago embraced mobile apps, transparent pricing, ease of ordering and so on. Taking credit cards is not an issue. I use Uber about 20% of the time.

But recently in London, I regretted my choice of taking a traditional Black Cab instead of Uber.

It was a walkable distance, but with a colleague and luggage it was simpler after a long day, and the cab was waiting in front of our hotel.

I told the driver at the beginning that it would be just a short ride to Paddington station. So short, in fact, that I couldn’t see any reason why he couldn’t be back right where he was within 10 or 15 minutes.

Maybe that’s a big deal to a taxi driver; of that, I can’t be sure. Perhaps Brexit and the falling pound is having a dire effect. Anyway…

We arrived — £5 later — and explained that I didn’t have any cash and needed to pay with a card, which is company policy for tracking etc.

The driver huffed audibly.

“Jesus, and with a card too. For a fiver. Do you know I have to pay 4% for that?”

I asked if the machine would allow me to add a tip. He didn’t respond. Eventually I found that I could add a tip. I chose 15%, shut the door, and walked on.

I was thinking that was generous, for the attitude I received. The bitterness in *some* big city taxi drivers (in NYC I never even bothered with an alternative ride/taxi service, since the yellow cab drivers there are not only available on nearly every corner, but friendly to boot) is annoying.

And it’s working against them in ways perhaps they don’t consider.

For instance, I will be sure to use Uber next time I’m in London. These are drivers that understand a different model. I never hear a complaint personally, though I’m sure there is something to legitimately complain about. But they don’t make it the passenger’s fault.

The stresses of the traditional taxi industry are not invisible. There are many bizarre and archaic taxi rules from ancient times; the limited amount of legal taxi licenses in New York City (known as “medallions”, IIRC) go for $1 million or more when passed on, according to the driver of my last airport ride, and frequently require a mortgage-type loan for the driver to acquire it.

That just seems kinda harsh and crazily counter-productive. As autonomous/self-driving cars appear to be coming in the not-too-distant future, the best a human driver can do to stem this threat to their livelihood seems obvious: be a human.

Our machines, as connected and predictive as they are, still make terribly hilarious errors when it comes to genuine human interaction. Among those at the forefront of modern, distributed computing — Amazon.com — knows which authors I like to read, yet tries to sell me another wallet directly after buying a wallet from them. Um…

It would benefit traditional taxi drivers to make the most of their humanity. My grandchildren may interact with Commander Data-like androids, but I won’t.

So let’s consider dropping the punishment factor for giving traditional taxis custom. Like you, I’m a consumer who would certainly switch toothpaste if it started giving me shit. So I’ll say goodbye to London’s black cabs for a while. Can’t say I’m gonna miss much.

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