It was 4:00 pm in New York on a muggy August Friday afternoon in 2014. I had a flight to catch later that evening from JFK back to San Francisco after spending a week at our NYC offices.
I was standing in front of Chelsea Market amidst a sea of yellow cabs in Brownian motion across my field of view, trying to hail one of them to drive me over to JFK. 50 minutes later, I had had about ten ignored drive-by’s when they slowed down enough to spot my carry on luggage, and about six 1-minute conversations with excuses ranging from “I am off duty” to simple “I just got back from there”, a blatant “I don’t want to go there”, or simply, a shake of the head.
I had heard about Uber from a lot of users, and how convenient things were with the app, but I just wasn’t into the game – for reasons I don’t understand now. After 50 minutes of rejection, my ego bruised, I stood at 9th and 16th and downloaded the Uber app right there. Within the next 10 minutes, I was on my way to JFK.
This was an industry ripe for disruption. It’s not about the cheap fares, nor should it be about the sharing economy. It’s all about customer service, and the notion that has crept up within the cab industry over decades of rude behavior and getting away with it, that they are indispensable.
Fast forward 3 years, and one continent. We had just wrapped up our trip across the Balkans – a smooth 2 week drive through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Our last stop was spectacular Dubrovnik where we stayed within the city walls. On our last day, lugging 4 suitcases and 2 kids, we inched our way to the West gate of the city at a simmering 105+ degrees (F), only to find a cab strike. Why? Because Uber exists.
But surprise of surprises, there was a line of taxi drivers just standing in front of the city gate, almost mockingly staring at the helpless tourists. Another group of tourists were struggling, haggling, arguing in the heat with a set of taxi drivers who were either trying to gouge out the maximum profit from this situation, or simply sadistically enjoying their plight. If this is the customer service that they were on “strike” for, this industry deserves to be disrupted.
In a panic, we walked a few more steps away from the chaos next to the taxi stand, and on a whim, launched the Uber app. 5 mins to the nearest car. Peter (identity hidden) drives up, asks us to hurry up, afraid of the reaction from the taxi stand, and gets us to the airport in 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to remove the man (Travis), and the culture he has built, from the service that is being offered. I wish we could, and with the new changes in the company, I hope things improve. Or Lyft conquers the world. Or someone else does. But taxis, as defined by our experiences in NYC and Dubrovnik, cannot exist in that shape and form.