One evening this past spring I was leaving a Rotman School event at Liberty Grand on the west side of Toronto. There aren’t a lot of taxis coming through this part of the city, so I figured I was going to have to wait while I hailed one from my phone. But as luck would have it, one happened to be pulling up just as I walked out of the hall.
As he drove up and rolled down the window, I told him that I was going to the St. Lawrence Market area and that I needed to pay by credit card (I was trying to be a nice guy and avoid the inevitable fight when he was dropping me off). He responded by saying, “My machine is broken. Can’t you pay with cash?” I told him, “No, unfortunately I don’t have any cash on me. I need to pay with credit card.” He then rolled up his window and drove up closer to the entrance of the hall.
Faced with this scenario, I did what most people would probably do nowadays: I pulled out my phone so that I could hail either an Uber or a Hailo cab (I’m sad that Hailo has since left the North American market). I decided on Hailo (it was cheaper until UberX came along) and ordered a car.
But within a few minutes, the same taxi with the broken credit card machine circled back around, rolled down his window, and told me that his machine was now working and he would take me to the St. Lawrence Market. Knowing exactly what had happened, I said to him, “Wooooow, that’s funny that within the span of a few minutes your machine has magically started working again.” He wasn’t happy with that response.
Now, we all know why he didn’t want to take my credit card. He didn’t want to pay the fees and he wanted the cold hard cash. And who can really blame him for wanting to maximize his profits. But for the end user, this experience sucks. When it’s 2 in the morning and all you want to do is go home to bed, you don’t care about the few dollars he’s trying to save. You just, want, to go, home.
And that’s one of the reasons why Uber (and previously Hailo) is having such a huge impact on the market. Even before UberX arrived (the cheaper alternative), lots of people were more than willing to pay the Uber premium. And they continue to pay their controversial surge prices. But that’s because the experience is so much better than what’s offered today.
We all know that Uber is under a lot of fire for what they do, but Toronto mayor Tory is 100% right in saying that ridesharing and peer-to-peer taxis are here to stay. Toronto may be seeking a court injunction to stop the service in this city, but I would agree that it’s likely going to be a big waste of money. The cat is already out of the bag.
What’s happening here is no dissimilar to what happened with Napster. A court order may have forced the company to shut down, but it didn’t maintain the status quo for the music industry. That industry went, and continues to go through, a lot of change. So a better option, would be for everyone to sit down together and figure out what the future of the taxi industry is going to look like. Because I can guarantee you that it’ll continue to change.
Image: Anti-Uber protest in London (Flickr)