Taxis vs UberPOP: When Dinosaurs try to fight against Darwin

Recently, relationship between taxi drivers and UberPOP users has clearly deteriorated in France: Some UpberPOP drivers have been assaulted in different cities where they operate, like in Strasbourg or in Paris. Even an UberPOP customer has been subject of violent attack by taxi drivers in Lyon. And this is not only a French issue since we could already notice similar reports in the area of Amsterdam or in The Hague some weeks ago.

To justify such behaviour, Taxi drivers claims that they are facing an unfair situation where Uber is stealing their business with much less constraints than them to operate it. Seeing their business decreasing very quickly, they feel high pressure and react to it in such (very bad) manner.

Since Uber, like AirBnB or Amazon, are to me very good examples of the new digital era, I was asking myself if Taxi were right in their complain and if they are handling the issue the right way. I’d like to share my views on it since this may be applied to any business facing Today a digital transformation.First of all, I want to mention that UberPOP services are actually illegal in France since 1st of January 2015. As a consequence, any UberPOP driver could be subject of arrest by the Police, which has the job in all civilized countries to guarante peace and order. But, beyond this, I’d like to explore the topic from a pure business management point of view.

To me (I may be wrong), there are three factors that may help us to analyse the situation:

  • Do UberPOP drivers have same skills than Taxi drivers?
  • Are UberPOP drivers subject of the same legal constraints than Taxi drivers?
  • What does the customer want?

Do UberPOP drivers have same skills than Taxi drivers?

Most of UberPOP drivers are actually private people executing their business as side activity few hours a day to add-on some money to their usual salary. Some, nevertheless, do it as their main business although then they would rather move to the usual Uber classic offer. Taxi drivers use to argue that these people may not deliver the same level of service, with the same level of probity that they, Taxis, are expected to bring.

I use to take taxis a lot because of my job, and in the whole Europe. A big change I noticed already few years ago is that Taxis’ first action when you ask them to drive you is to enter the address of your destination in their GPS. Don’t they know their city? One could say that this is executed in order to avoid traffic jams or because the location you are asking for is very peculiar, which may be right. But I noticed such systematic action not only during activity peaks but also in the night, when there is no traffic at all, and sometimes even to reach for very well-known hotels in the area. What I mean by this is that Taxis Today are maybe not that professionals, compared to the stereotype of the parisian cab knowing every street of his city by heart, and of course every shortcut he could use to make you arriving in the quickest way.

We could also consider the feeling of safety aspect. Taxi drivers have a number which is always very well displayed so that a customer can always complain at a later stage if anything happens. At UberPOP, people are private persons you have never met before who are just registered to the connection platform and offer their service through it. The concept is actually very close to e-carpooling offerings you may find on other platforms like the famous french blablacar. Drivers gets their reputation from comments and ratings they receive from their previous “customers” and that’s it. So, yes, there is probably an higher risk through such service but that is known and accepted by the customer who therefore pays less than by using a taxi.

So, my point here is that Taxis, being very well established in their business, not seeing a strong competition since amount of taxis (at least in France) and pricing are limited by law, have started already to get asleep for already some years ago. Instead of claiming that these services are unprofessionals, they may first use the same arguments to do some positive marketing on what they indeed have more or better. Moreover, they could start reflect on themselves and do their business the way they indeed SHOULD do.

Are UberPOP drivers subject of the same legal constraints than Taxi drivers?

Clearly not.

A Taxi driver (at least in France) needs to get a licence which is subject of a serious training followed by an exam, and costs a lot of money. Moreover, they are paying for a parking spot to which they are authorised to stay while waiting for customers. Airport or train station spots are of course attractive but also expensive. If a UberPOP (or even a Uber) driver stands there and get customer, he’ll indeed “steal” business from people who had paid for it. That is indeed a real difference. And for this we have law which, by the way, has forbidden UberPOP in France in January 2015.

But if your only way to protect your business is to hope the state will do it for you, you maybe have missed something.

Of course competition needs to be regulated so that it is developped in a fair environment. Only, the approach is maybe not to limit business opportunities but better to see how to give the right frame to new options made possible by (in our case) technology.

What does the customer want?

Finally we come to the only important question.

Digital customer want a quick and efficient access to a certain service for the best price possible.

Not that far actually to what was said 40 years ago while supermaket were starting to offer a new way to buy goods, making grocery business becoming (more or less) useless.

Everybody on Earth know what a taxi is. Everybody should therefore think of them when they need to go from point A to point B while their own car or public transport doesn’t allow them to do so. So why such newcomer can so quickly take over big (? I don’t have figures) market share?

Because supply doesn’t fit anymore to demand…

That is the key point where all of us should learn from: If Taxi drivers would be really aware of their market and take it in account, they would have been the best candidates to setup their own digital business like you may for instance find it in other countries like in Germany. And they still can do and react by investing together in this direction. That requires investment; that requires efforts and that requires acceptance of the change, but that is most probably the only way to survive from the new actors “POPing up” with a digital approach.

As a conclusion, I would recommend to read this book “Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life” from Spencer Johnson which may open your mind on the way

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