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Uberification or Taxi Pac-Man…You Choose!

A friend and temporary resident of Paris headlined an email to me, “No More Taxis.” She’s converted to Uber because one night in a Paris taxi, she explained to the driver that the taxi couldn’t access her street from the boulevard (due to a staircase). The driver got angry, ‘blew past her street.’ She jumped out when he finally stopped, and inadvertently dropped her wallet or left it in the car, then spent the night on the phone replacing her credit cards, etc.

In typical fashion, calling the lost-and-found service had a charge per minute as is ordering a taxi charged, leaving her with this message to me: “Insane and the best marketing for Uber.”

Uber is yet another San Francisco-based creative entrepreneurial idea launched in 2009 that is giving the taxi industry a run for it’s proverbial money. It’s already in 55 countries and more than 200 cities worldwide, including Paris and Nice. So many companies are now copycatting Uber that the business model is being called “Uberification.”

In mid March, Paris police raided Uber’s offices as part of an investigation into what the press has coined “its controversial ride-sharing service.” At jeopardy is the Uber smartphone app that connects non-professional drivers with their own cars in touch with passengers for rides at budget rates, “alleging that its use of unlicensed, crowd-sourced drivers was unsafe or illegal”  — great for us consumers, but bad for the highly regulated and licensed taxi industry.

Uber isn’t happy, naturally, and accuses the French government of attempted intimidation, citing that dozens of drivers have been fined since the beginning of the year. Taxis aren’t happy, either, as Uber is eating into their business big time. When the taxi drivers went on strike earlier that month in Belgium and France against the unregulated car service, guess what happened? It backfired as Uber saw a big boost because passengers sought out an alternative!

Technically, UberPop has been illegal in France, but it appealed its huge fine of 100,000€ it received in 2014, and defends itself by explaining that it will create 50,000 new jobs in Europe this year while taking 400,000 cars off the road by encouraging use of taxis vs driving your own vehicle.

Personally, I love Uber. They outsmarted the taxi industry and provided an easier, less expensive, friendlier service that is tough to compete with. The smartphone app does it all: tracks the car to arrival, shows you a photo of the driver, provides his name, description of the car and license plate number, estimates the fare, and unlike the taxis, doesn’t charge you for making the booking!

The Taxi G7 app, which also works fairly well to call up a car quickly, has a premium cost to it (2€ per booking) and the ride could cost way more depending on the driver’s skill to get you from point A to point B in a “B-line” by avoiding traffic that slows you down increasing the fare. On top of that, the Uber drivers ‘aim to please’ and make every effort to make you comfortable, offering a bottle of water and sometimes other goodies to enhance the experience. There’s no tipping and no exchange of money, as it’s charged directly to your credit or debit card and by email you get a receipt you can write-off as a business expense or keep track for your credit card statement.

Being a basic proponent of free enterprise, it does my heart good to see the competition, considered unfair or not. Since Uber, I’ve noticed that the taxi drivers are generally more pleasant, that often now there’s a bottle of water available as they try to win back the consumer. This is contrary to the experience my friend had, but clearly not all taxi drivers are alike!

As aren’t Uber drivers. There have been a few allegations of rapes of women by Uber drivers (in New Delhi and Chicago) and the U.S. The Better Business Bureau gave Uber an F rating citing “over 100 complaints about the company’s surge-pricing strategy, and other issues, lead to the bad review.” I doubt that taxi drivers have any different a record, however, so it appears it’s mostly the lack of regulation that opens up Uber to the bad press. It hasn’t dampened my own spirits towards Uber…yet.

Early this month, the courts gave UberPop the legal right to operate for the time being — until a final ruling takes place later this year. In an article by the blog, Best of Nice, Nice taxis are enraged at the ‘unfair’ competition and are threatening to create havoc during upcoming major festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival, the Monaco Grand Prix, etc. I expect this will backfire as other strikes against Uber, to increase Uber’s business as passengers seek an alternative.

The blog credits Jeff Steiner’s Paris-based Americans in France site for a way to “mentally prepare yourself for the coming May traffic hell” by trying out a new Google Maps feature to play Pac-man in the streets of Nice! “Just click the Pac-man button and then pretend that you are the Uber car, and Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde are the angry taxis!”

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds

Editor, Parler Paris

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