January 27, 2022

Sorry, taxis: you’re history

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Sunset_TaxiBy Chris Taylor From Mashable Op-Ed

This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Dear taxi driver: Am I talking to you? Yes, I’m talking to you.

Sorry, I bet you get that a lot. But a reference to a 1970s movie seems appropriate because that’s where the whole unaugmented cash-based taxi system will ultimately belong: in the past. Cashless, cardless, carefree ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft are the future, whether you like it or not, because they remove so much pain from what has long been a painful experience.

Your protests against the launch of these services in major European cities Wednesday, where you clogged major arteries like bad cholesterol, simply made you look more petulant, aggressive and luddite than you already appear to be. You’d think after reports of Lyft drivers being attacked by gangs of taxi drivers, you’d want to engage in some kinder, gentler protesting. Not exactly shedding the Travis Bickle stereotype, are we?

There are so many things wrong with the old-school taxi experience, I hardly know where to start. But since we’re talking classic 1970s movies, let’s take my favorite quote from Manhattan, where Woody Allen’s character pays his date this ultimate compliment in the back of a cab: “You look so beautiful, I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter.”

That line worked so well because that’s what so many of us are like in the backs of cabs: tense, hunched up, watching the meter like a hawk, wondering why it seems to tick over so fast, trying to make it not go past the next five-dollar increment by sheer force of will, silently dreading the moment where we have to calculate the tip. Was that driving worth three dollars? Five? 10? 20? Most of the time, who knows?

In a smartphone world, meters have no reason to exist. In a smartphone world, meters have no reason to exist. Here’s what I’m like in the back of an Uber X: relaxed, enjoying the ride, watching the world go by, enjoying a friendly chat with a friendly driver. Yes, I’m paying a slight premium (although on rides between my nearest transit station and my house, I haven’t been able to discern much of a difference in cost between Uber X and a taxi). But paying a few extra dollars is completely worth it for that joyous moment of getting out of the back of a car without having to figure out a tip, fiddle with a credit card, or take an utterly pointless, wasteful paper receipt.

My brain still isn’t quite used to it: Are you sure — it asks me at the end of every Uber trip — are you sure you shouldn’t be taking out your wallet right now? Are we getting away with something here? Shouldn’t we reward that nice driver?

By the way, I’m not saying I haven’t had friendly chats with friendly drivers in taxi cabs in my time. They just seem to be fewer and farther between. My Uber X rides are always pleasantly interactive. I learn something about the driver’s life — which, because of the nature of the ride-sharing economy, invariably revolves around more than driving. I’ve frequently fired up Shazam to make a note of their intriguing choice of music. Even more interestingly, the music sometimes turns out to be recordings of the driver’s own performance.

Are Uber and Lyft drivers nicer because they know their riders are going to rate them out of five stars? Perhaps. But there are other aspects of the app experience that nudge both of us into good behavior. Passengers have star ratings, too, which only drivers see; this means that when they pick you up, they invariably know you’re a good egg. Then there’s the fast-becoming-ritual courtesy of speaking each other’s name at the start of the journey — ostensibly to make sure you’re both in the right place, but it certainly makes conversation a natural result.

If taxis go the way of the dodo, there are an awful lot of things we won’t miss. If taxis go the way of the dodo, there are an awful lot of things we won’t miss. Shuffling forward in a long line at a taxicab stand. Getting splashed by passing cars on a rainy day, as you throw your arm up and yell for a cab. The shift changes, marked in New York by the annoying “off duty” lights that seem to proliferate at exactly the busiest possible moments.

Then there are the discriminations that should have been left behind with the 20th century: refusing to drive someone home based on where they live, and more troublingly, refusing to pick someone up on a street corner based on their skin color. No, dear taxi driver, we’re sure you’ve never done that, but you must know that a substantial chunk of your comrades have. (More than a decade after Danny Glover’s complaint, experiments have shown it’s a problem after dark.)

Are Uber and Lyft perfect? Of course not. Is surge pricing an abomination that favors wealthy users, and harms the reputation of the services? Absolutely. Could they do with a little more regulation? Certainly. Should they pay their fair share of local taxes? Right again. But the fact is that even with all these problems, the ride-sharing services are running rings around you.

One small example: The last time I flew to John F. Kennedy International Airport, I took one look at the taxi-stand line that stretched around the corner in the rain, fired up the Uber app and was picked up a minute later. We had to meet upstairs at departures, but it still saved me at least half an hour of wait time. A few weeks later, when an editor at another publication tweeted that she was in the same predicament, I told her of my experience. Two minutes later, she was taking her first Uber ride.

That’s how the ride-sharing apps are growing, by word of mouth, great painless experience by great painless experience. Honk and rant all you want — you can’t stop this process. The only thing you can do is meet the apps on their own turf: Band together, and create your own app. You have the advantage in numbers. Get on board with 21st-century technology, and you’ll win.

But in the meantime, get off the road, and let us through.


For more on this story go to: http://mashable.com/2014/06/11/sorry-taxis/?utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedburner&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher



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