The Herald of Everett, Washington
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up  Green editions icon Green editions

Calendar


HeraldNet Headlines
HeraldNet Newsletter Delivered to your inbox each week.


Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Uber offers good-old, traditional competition

As dawn creeps over New York's Jamaica Bay, flocks of wide-bodied red-eyes — overnight flights from the West Coast — land at JFK International Airport. The minute the wheels touch, cellphones click into action.
Mine shows a message (now lost) going something like this: Avoid the taxi lines. Use Uber instead.
Though I'd signed up for Uber, a smartphone app that can call up a ride, I scoffed at the message. How bad could the wait be at 6:45 on a Sunday morning? I soon found out.
Easily 100 travelers were inching around a maze of ropes under a cheerful yellow New York taxi sign. Welcome to New York. And welcome to the reason a company that efficiently connects passengers with drivers is threatening the pick-'em-up-at-the-curb taxi business all over the world.
Investors are now valuing Uber at over $18 billion, a figure some see as extravagant. But Uber's undeniable success has highlighted the prospects for this business model, whereby customers and providers link up online, bypassing regulated industries.
The traditional taxi drivers are not happy about this. After all, they must buy permits and follow a bunch of rules the freelancers don't need to. Many see Uber as an unlicensed cab or limo service.
Uber insists it's not a transportation provider — it doesn't own the cars — but a “platform.” (It does handle the credit card payments.)
Anyhow, Uber has faced resistance in Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, Berlin, London and elsewhere. In Paris, taxi drivers physically attacked its cars.
Uber started off as a premium car service, sending out Cadillac Escalades or the like and charging more than a city cab would. Then came UberX, where users could request a lesser vehicle at a lower price. Then came its ride-sharing service, connecting people in their own cars with strangers needing a lift.
Uber has run into controversy over its “surge pricing” policy. In periods of high demand — say, during a snowstorm or on New Year's Eve — it may multiply the price of a ride. That doesn't happen with metered city cabs.
Some customers complain bitterly about this, but I think it makes great sense. As Uber argues, the higher prices bring more drivers out at busy times.
Using the app one morning in Hermosa Beach, California, I was offered the option of paying extra for a fast pickup. It was totally upfront and therefore fair. And I wonder how many travelers begging for a cab at JFK's Terminal 4 would have happily paid an extra $10 or $20 to trim a half-hour off their wait.
Uber's service is not perfect. In Providence, Rhode Island, an UberX driver couldn't find my address, despite the large numbers nailed on the door. I had to run after the car, stopped a block away. Then I had to give the driver directions to the destination.
One does feel for the traditional taxi owners paying large sums for their medallions and permits. But if their industry were on the ball, it would make darn sure that the hordes of beat passengers seeking taxi transport out of JFK have yellow cabs there to serve them.
Also, it would do something about the dumpiness of the cabs, made dumpier by back-seat screens blasting ads and messages about how exciting New York is. And it would discipline drivers who stick their heads out of the window to ask where you're going and then drive off if they don't like the answer. They're not supposed to do that, but they do.
Technology is clearly disrupting another traditional business. But when it disrupts in the service of better service, that's OK with me.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus
digital subscription promo

Subscribe now

Unlimited digital access starting at 99 cents, or included with any print subscription.

loading...

Herald Editorial Board

Jon Bauer, Opinion Editor: jbauer@heraldnet.com

Carol MacPherson, Editorial Writer: cmacpherson@heraldnet.com

Neal Pattison, Executive Editor: npattison@heraldnet.com

Josh O'Connor, Publisher: joconnor@heraldnet.com

Have your say

Feel strongly about something? Share it with the community by writing a letter to the editor. Send letters by e-mail to letters@heraldnet.com, by fax to 425-339-3458 or mail to The Herald - Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We'll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 250 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it. If your letter is published, please wait 30 days before submitting another. Have a question about letters? Contact Carol MacPherson at cmacpherson@heraldnet.com or 425-339-3472.

HeraldNet highlights

Picture of progress
Picture of progress: Marysville photo business rewarded for its story
Tree harvest held up
Tree harvest held up: Conservation dispute delays logging near Wallace Falls
Plan now for summer
Plan now for summer: It's time to make reservations at popular parks
Tips for clamming with kids
Tips for clamming with kids: Digging razor clams is a lot of fun for all ages
SnoCoSocial