All The Ways Taxis Could Improve And Reduce The Threat From Uber

One of Uber's most appealing features is that it isn't providing taxis. So what should taxi services implement to fight off Uber's customer-snaffling ways?

The war between registered taxi services and Uber is a particularly nasty one, with all sorts of accusations, counter-accusations and anecdotal evidence thrown around to show one side or another in a good light.

The reality here is that it's not a fight that we as consumers should view as being between the "good" and "bad" guys, because, like most businesses, each has its own rather repellant habits. For all the cheerleading that goes on around Uber, it has been guilty of some pretty serious issues when it comes to fair dealing with customers, and it's certainly not as though taxis are beyond criticism either.

Still, it's widely viewed that Uber is eating the regular taxi service's lunch on a wide scale. So what could taxi companies do to fight back?

Price war

Taxi fares are highly regulated, whereas Uber's on-demand "surge" pricing model isn't. This has led many to declare taxis as "too expensive" compared to some Uber fares. A good old-fashioned price war would be one way to take the battle direct to Uber, because if you could point to fares being markedly cheaper in a taxi rather than an Uber, customers should flock back. Uber is already varying its fares so this almost seems inevitable.

This wouldn't be an easy proposition, however, as taxi fares are very highly regulated by the taxi commisions in each state and territory, which means a lot of the bargaining power around fares isn't in the hands of individual taxi companies or drivers. It's a prospect that the industry may have to face, and that could include the kinds of variable pricing that Uber currently offers, which could have the obvious downside of higher fares at some time, as distinct from the general two-tier timed system that taxis use right now.

Better Taxis

Nobody likes getting into a grubby, poorly maintained taxi that reeks of the last passenger and his half-eaten kebab. Absolutely nobody. But again, it's something that Uber sells itself on, and it's again an issue that taxis could address on a rather larger scale.

The downside here — and at least part of the reason why some taxis can appear quite grubby — is that taking the time to clean would reduce the amount of time a taxi was on the road, lowering general availability. Part of the reason why a taxi can look worn out is that it has borne the backsides of hundreds of travellers in a given week. Cleaning it every time would make it nicer, but it would also keep it out of circulation for a while.

Get in there and break some kneecaps

Actually, no. This isn't a gritty 1930s crime drama here. Don't do this.

Get 'Appier

It's been a long, slow grind towards the kinds of features that Uber offers for taxi services, most of which still rely on phone centres and web sites that look like they fell off the back of Geocities circa 1998. Yes, there are taxi-specific apps available, but there's no one solution the way there is with Uber. Given Cabcharge is pretty much universal across taxis, why isn't there an Australian taxi app decked out with all the extras?

An app-based approach with some quality coding would go a long way to attracting customers, simply because it would make it a lot easier to work out where a nearby cab rank was with available cars, or make it clear where a booked cab was. There's even advertising potential in there, so taxis could spruik for additional business in quiet times.

Customer Guarantee

Ever had a taxi booked for a specific time, only to find it either turns up late, or never at all?

The chances are that if you've ever booked a taxi, this has happened to you. It has certainly happened to me more than once.

To get entirely anecdotal, one recent instance saw a taxi booked with a cabcharge that had been supplied to me, which meant that taxis were my sole option for this particular trip.

I'd booked the cab for 2:00pm, and when it rolled around, there was no cab to be seen. Or at 2:05, 2:10 or 2:15. At that point I hightailed it via a lift to a nearby train station where there was a cab rank and got into the first available taxi, only just making it to my appointment on time. En route, around 2:35, I got a call from the cab company I'd booked through to say the driver was now waiting outside my office.

Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled with this, and told them I'd already got myself into a cab, and if they wanted my business, perhaps turning up on time would have been appropriate. As per the terms of my booking, it's feasible the next time that I have to book a cab, they may refuse to take my booking because I didn't "take" that one.

Sorry, but that's consumer-antagonistic garbage, and it should be thrown out entirely.

The comparison with Uber, where I'd have been able to track the progress of an incoming car, isn't one that favours taxis.

I do get that mistakes happen, and roads get busy, so here's how the taxi companies could solve this and gain significant consumer traction along the way.

Adopt the clichéd pizza delivery model with regards to late bookings. Not necessarily a free trip per se, but if you've made a booking with a reasonable amount of upfront time — say, an hour or two — there's really no reason why that booking couldn't be tracked in real time and discounts offered by way of apology. That doesn't affect walk-up traffic or surge periods, but ensures that the customers who have specifically decided to use your services would continue to do so. If costed as a shared aspect of taxi income, it's not even something that should require changes to taxi fare structures, as simple verified discount certificates could be emailed out and checked in via Cabcharge's existing IT infrastructure.

Stop taxi drivers from refusing fares around shift change

Again, this is a pet peeve of mine, and the rules do seem to vary from state to state. But there's little worse than getting into a cab that peels away from the kerb, stating your destination and being told "Oh, no, I'm on the end of my shift. I'm not going there."

The only obvious solution to this would be external signalling, similar to the existing lighting that shows whether a taxi's available for flagging down in the first place. Show clearly and distinctly that you'll only do local area only, and this problem disappears entirely, as long as the drivers remember to put the light on. Fail to do so if such a scheme were adopted, and I'd say it's fair that the driver has to accept any and all fares.

What do you think? Are there steps that taxis could or should undertake to take on Uber? Have your say below!

Lifehacker Australia contributor Alex Kidman usually tries to catch trains. The Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    Glad to hear someone talking about this, I hear lots of people complaining about Uber but my experience with them is that they are vastly more 'professional' than the taxis.

    My personal peeves with taxis are:

    1. Fees - the rate for a taxi isn't bad generally its the fees on top that bug me $1.50 for booking through their app, $3-4 for paying by card $8 for picking me up from the airport. I often look at the meter at the end of a ride and think, hmm thats not that bad, reach for my wallet and its gone from $18 to $25. Argh.

    2. Taking the wrong route - I have repeatedly caught taxis where the driver has set off after I give him the destination only for me to realise after a couple of minutes that he is going the wrong way, one time there was $15 bucks rung up on the meter by the time he got back to where we started and he said it was my fault and I should have told him we were going the wrong way. No mate I'm working back here, you are the professional, it's your job.

    3. Knowing your destination - this is a bit like the last one - 'Novotel please' "wheres that?' 'The novotel in the CBD' 'How do I get there?"

    Really? You don't know where a major hotel in the CBD is, I'm paying for this goddamit.

    4. Their apps - It always says the next cab is 2 mins away, but you know as soon as you hit book it'll jump to a completely different number, add on to that the booking code they send you. You have to have it and give it to the driver to be able to pay by card but not only do they not explain that but once the dialog box has been dismissed there is no way to get the number back, why on earth would you design it like that?

    Uber isn't perfect but it least it doesn't drive me crazy everytime I try to use it and leave me with the feeling that I've just been ripped off.

    Another thing which I feel is serious hypocrisy is that taxis play the whole professional driver/security vetted for safety card. Well in my town most of the drivers are from overseas, particularly the punjab and are here on student visas (responding to ads placed in their local newspapers by the taxi companies here) but basically spend the whole time working, they are usually very friendly and polite people, In my experience there are good and bad people everywhere and that has nothing to do with race, religion or nationality but I seriously question how rigorous a background check can be conducted in such circumstances.

    No no no. Crying to the government is much easier than actually changing their business.

    Consumers are happy to pay for a dirty, overpriced, unreliable service that might not even stop for you. Hell, I even had one taxi driver try and convert my wife and I to his religion. You just wouldn't get that type of service with Uber.

    Last edited 20/04/15 12:33 pm

    "I’d already got myself into a cab, and if they wanted my business, perhaps turning up on time would have been appropriate. As per the terms of my booking, it’s feasible the next time that I have to book a cab, they may refuse to take my booking because I didn’t “take” that one."

    Hey, Alex. I'm no fan of the cab companies, but when this happens, I strongly recommend following this one courtesy: call and cancel your booking when you secure a ride.

    You can flag down a cab when you already have one booked, you can make two bookings with different companies and see which turns up first, you can order for an address within a quick sprint from a rank and stand at the rank until you see your booked car… but whatever you do, once you climb inside, it’s polite to make a call to cancel your booking.

    You don’t have to say why, though you can cite a missed deadline if you feel snarky, but “I already have a booking, I just want to cancel it,” has worked for me plenty of times, and my number is recognized with them reading out my location, and I haven’t had any problems with refusals or some kind of discrimination in ordering at all.

      I do see where you're coming from, but courtesy is a two way street. They'd not communicated with me in any way whatsoever that my booked cab would be late (and I would have made arrangements had I known that) despite having contact details aplenty for me. They'd already wasted a large quantity of my time, and if I'm honest, I didn't particularly feel like wasting any more.

    Taxis can beat Uber by being more like Uber. It's that simple.
    See what your competition is going and copy/improve it.

    The problem here isn't actually taxi's themselves (well apart from clueless, rude drivers who smell and don't speak English), it's the taxi system.... the extremely expensive licenses and restrictive rules.

    My favorite part about Uber (apart from being cheaper) is the app integration. You get complete tracking, estimates, customer and driver ratings and cashless payment.

    The cashless bit is super important. It's safer for both passengers and drivers without this stupid pre-pay guessing game rubbish.

    The other important factor is ratings. It's probably not perfect but it goes a long way to identifying and removing bad drivers and customers from the pool. Yes customers could probably make a new account with a new credit card, but ultimately it's the drivers that the public has an issue with. Bad drivers who take the wrong way, don't know where they are going or are just plain rude, simply won't be working much longer.

    These are the two main things that taxi's are missing.

    Transparency.

    Transparency between driver and passenger, payment and fare estimates, feedback (Two way street between both passenger AND driver) is the thing I love about Uber. Taxi companies response to competition is to complain but not improve. Competition is healthy, they have to face that times are changing so it's time to adapt and evolve.

    Punctuality - plain and simple.

    Alex, your experience is almost the norm. Anything upwards of 20 or 30 minutes late is typical. And it's bloody annoying if on a deadline (e.g. catching a flight).

    I'm not hip enough to use Uber. Instead we switched over a few years ago to private hire cars. The many advantages (punctuality, cleanliness, comfort, etc) mean we'll never go back. And the kicker is they're not that much more expensive vs a taxi. I'm surprised that more people don't use them ... and grateful in a way since it means I can always get a booking.

    My biggest recommendations for taxis - fix the lighting on the roof. The current lights suck when you compare them to what you see in SIngapore.

    In Singapore, the lights on top of taxis are bright, LED message boards that say "VACANT" in green if they are vacant, or "OCCUPIED" in red if they are not. Additionally, if you've called for a cab, the displays show a reference number that the phone operator gives you so you know which taxi is yours.

    I always get taxis, and have not yet used Uber, but I will probably switch because the majority of taxi drivers have zero customer service skills. I feel sorry for the very few taxi drivers who are amazing and hard working, but they are hard to find. I've heard great things about Uber from family and friends.

    Being someone who works late there aren't very many alternatives to get home sometimes. I use to get taxis twice a week. Safe to say I've seen them at their best, and absolute worst.

    Most taxis I get into are talking on their phones like you aren't there, speeding, swearing, ripping you off by not turning the meter on because they are "giving you a discount", rude, with bad presentation, bad english skills, and are even agressive.

    Here are some experiences of my own:
    Not long ago there was a taxi pulled over picking up a few customers, and we tried to merge into the lane in front of him, so we indicated, then he intentionally hit our car, just because he wanted to be first.

    On NYE I got into a taxi with my partner and the taxi driver said "you can do things to her in the back if you want".

    Once a driver refused to pick me up whilst parked at the taxi rank, and said he had a booking after he asked where I was heading. They do this a lot, although they aren't allowed to.

    I once called to complain that a driver refused to give me change back and had the meter covered by his jacket, during my normal trip home, and the operator told me "he's been with us for this many years, he wouldn't do that".

    Once I shared a taxi with two teenage girls as they had no money to get home so I said I could drop them at a station, which was ON MY WAY HOME, and the taxi driver got angry and wanted me to pay double for it, yelling at the poor kids to pay as they got out.

    The other week I gave a driver $100 to take my friend home because she was intoxicated, and after asking him to pull over because she felt unwell, he left her on the side of the road and took the money about 10 mins from where she got in. Her next taxi trip then cost her $80 from where he left her.

    Taxi companies need to wake up and invest and improve their drivers and operators customer service skills. Look for the problem drivers and stop them. The only reason people were still using taxis before was there was no other alternative except public transport. Now there's Uber. I don't know if these companies (notably Premier Cabs) knows how bad some of their drivers really are. They should have a feedback app that has the driver number, trip details, etc, that allows consumers to fill in once they get out. This at least might encourage the drivers to be better knowing they will be reviewed.

    I am a cab driver in Denver, CO, USA, and actually found this website by googling "why do people hate cab drivers?" I for one, have appreciated the input from both the author and comments. I love my job! I love driving, and I thoroughly enjoy the people that I get to meet - people that I wouldn't speak to on the street, because I am actually very introverted/shy.
    I think I take care of the basics fairly well...i.e. clean cab, good hygiene, and knowledge of how to get from A to B...but there is always room to improve, of which I am taking the strides to do.

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