Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Trouble with Taxis

I've recently been introduced to über, a car service that is obliterating all the worst aspects of taxis. It works like this:

  1. Send a request for a cab via iPhone app/Android app, which includes location
  2. See the car moving on a map and get a message saying the car has arrived
  3. Don't worry about cash or tip, because that's built into the cost, which is billed to your credit card on file

The Troubles

I'd almost always rather walk or take public transit when I need to be somewhere. Occasionally that just isn't fast enough. Chicago is largely immune to this first problem mentioned below, but San Francisco certainly is not

Impossible to find

You can mostly walk out to any main road in Chicago and within minutes cabs will be stopped on both sides of the street vying for your fare with their horns. Not so in San Francisco, where one can expect to stand on the busiest of streets for 15 minutes without an empty cab passing by.

Exhibiting poor customer service

I've taken cabs a handful of times here in SF, and perhaps it's just my luck...but I'm a perfect 5 for 5. No matter what side of Market Street I get in the cab on, the driver informs me I should have gotten in on the other side. I must be missing why it's such a disaster to have to go one more or fewer block before turning, particularly when you're charging by the distance you've driven.


I wish I never had to carry cash again. I used to be able to put a $10 in my wallet and make it 6 months, because virtually no business requires cash anymore. It was all around better. I spent the same amount of money, got a rewards percentage from American Express, and could easily track where my spending was going.

Dealing with cabs on a weekly basis actually brought me to the point of choosing a bank that doesn't charge ATM fees. The constant disappointment and barrage of "I'll take you to your bank for free. What's your bank? Where is it?" is exhausting.

In fairness to the cab drivers, they're dealing with an outdated model that needs to change. I asked one time what the big deal was. Drivers lease their cabs from a company for something like $700/week. Drivers cover gas. Cash, obviously, goes directly into their pockets. Credit is processed and held by the cab company, and then deducted from the next week's leasing cost.

über to the rescue

Obviously, über takes care of all of these (admittedly minor) problems. Payments are the biggest one. I love not having to carry around cash and fuddle with the awkwardness of a tip.


I have a hunch virtually every consumer-driven market is ripe with opportunities to strip the nonsensical payment systems.

A competitor solving only the problem of locating cabs is the also-excellent cab-finding app Cabulous.

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