Uber has seen its share of legal action lately. Recently, members of the Norwegian Taxi union have been ‘collecting evidence’ that Uber and its drivers provide personal transport in an illegal manner, and the recent decision of the UK courts in favour of more rights for Uber drivers has been well documented.
I’m not a legal expert, and want to sidestep the moral issues around employee’s rights and focus purely on what Uber have done to change the nature of a service that was in much need of an overhaul. Perhaps controversially, I’d like to thank Uber for creating a well-designed personal transportation service that challenges the dinosaurs of the taxi business to become slightly less annoying. By making a few simple changes to the taxi experience, Uber has become a massive success amongst their users.
First of all, they have taken a user-centric, human approach and understood that there are a few things that annoy us customers on a daily basis. Who amongst us hasn’t stood on a street corner in the pouring rain, wondering where the heck the cab we ordered via the call centre ten minutes ago is? We may also have been late to a meeting, stressed out in the back seat, while the driver slowly threads his way through the back streets of the city, while the meter’s running and the clock’s ticking. And when we’re finally at our destination, all that remains is to pay for the ride. It’s incredible how time flies, while your Visa card sits in the terminal and the 3G-connection is establishing contact with the bank’s payment systems. And don’t even get me started about London cabbies who won’t accept your Visa card…
All of these irritations were elegantly swept away when Uber launched their service: live-updates of the vehicle’s proximity on a map, upfront fixed pricing models, automatic settling of payments, digital invoices via email and estimated arrival times so you can let your colleague or spouse know that you’re literally just around the corner.
One by one, taxi companies around the world woke up and smelled the coffee, held a few board meetings and called their favourite IT company to develop an app. I find it somewhat charming how clumsy most of these apps are compared to Uber’s well-crafted design.
Many companies now show your taxi on a map, but most of these solutions are so slow and cumbersome, that they’re actually more annoying to use than standing in the rain scanning the horizon. Other companies have introduced fixed-rates and allow you to save your credit card in the app.
All of them have done these things simply because Uber paved the way and understood that it was something we, the users, needed and wanted. A well-designed, human, technology-enabled service.
The question I’m left with is why didn’t the taxi companies themselves bring about this change? Why did it have to take a technology company from California to move into the taxi markets for the local service providers to understand that they’ve been annoying their customers? Legal aspects and economic models aside, I’d like to say a big ‘Thank you, Uber!’ for improving the poor service we get from cab companies.