The creation of any successful company or service is a direct result of several factors. When we look at the case of Uber, it has been incredibly successful because of technological advancements in terms of tracking and navigation, intrepid and aggressive entrepreneurship from the creators and investors and an existing mistrust between taxi drivers and the amounts they charge their customers.
I always remember my first few months in Prague, heading out to the center on a night out then trying to get a cab home as often I wasn’t too sure of the directions to the nearest night bus (still not always). So you get in the nearest taxi and ask how much to your address, which is usually only a few kilometers away, and the taxi driver then pulls his crystal ball from the glove compartment, looks into it and smiles: “Tonight, it will be 1000Kč only.”
In all seriousness, I have firsthand experience of the unreliability that exists in terms of pricing with taxi drivers here in Prague as I’ve often been charged wildly varying amounts for the same routes. It’s easy to suggest that the taxi driver hears my non-native accent and see the dollar signs flashing, but I do understand that it is not always the case. The majority of city regulated taxis have different charges per kilometer depending on the time of day or night and they are regulated by the meter which is, I am led to believe, tamper-proof.
But then we hear that a tourist was charged 650Kč For 3 Kilometer-Ride just last night, leading me to believe that not all of the taxi drivers are playing by the book and it does make us wonder just how strictly regulated the taxi drivers really are. The passenger in question, quite rightly, alerted police after the incident who are now investigating the driver for fraud.
Quite frankly I am pretty tired of tourists getting ripped off. It’s bad enough that they have to pay 150Kč for a beer in tourist hotspots when the same beer is a quarter of the price just down the road, but to then charge them extortionate amounts of money to get back to their hotel really tops it off. Prague certainly isn’t alone in this. Businesses across the world see tourists as a cash cow, illustrated recently by Venetian restaurants charging Japanese families thousands of euros for their meal. Now the tourist should be a little savvier and know roughly how much they will be paying from the menu, speaking to the manager if it doesn’t add up, but the city council and officials should also be protecting these tourists from rip-off merchants looking for a quick payday.
So then Uber came along and changed the game for taxi drivers and customers. Uber came and gave jobs to unregulated employees, told people pretty much the exact cost of the journey before it had even begun and it showed people the route so the taxi driver couldn’t add a few laps of the block. When Uber first started, I was so amazed at the price that I swore I’d never get a normal taxi ever again. I know when they will come, how much it will cost and what time I will arrive; often 3 things I never get from a standard taxi and it is about always cheaper in 95 from 100 cases.
Uber isn’t always so superb. I’ve had bad cases, where I’ve had a dodgy driver or a bad smelling car, but you can just give them a bad rating and others know to avoid. I also understand that these guys are unregulated and could indeed be nasty people, especially if a woman was travelling alone; you just never know. Although if anything did happen, the trip is recorded and the police should be easily able to trace the driver and make an appropriate arrest.
The taxi drivers in Prague are soon going on protest, again, at Uber undercutting them and unlocking their monopoly on the market. They are trying to cause chaos on the roads to make the government bow to them and ban Uber like the cowardly politicians of City hall in London have done recently.
“Beginning on February 8, licensed taxi carriers will take a protest action against Uber, Taxify, and how they work to help thousands of illegal drivers organize illegal activity in our country” – Prague Taxi Union
Pepsi didn’t protest and ask the government to ban Coca Cola when sales fell, so why should the government get involved? Shouldn’t the taxi drivers be concentrating on efforts to improve their own service and reputation after a competitor has overtaken them? Shouldn’t they try to enforce stricter price regulation and ensure passengers that they won’t be ripped off? Shouldn’t they try to move with the times, rather than protesting because the competition advanced and they didn’t?
The distrust between the public and taxi drivers is one of the contributing factors of Uber’s success, and the sooner the taxi industry understands this, the sooner they can learn how to move forward.
What would I do? I would look to the future. I would buy an electric car such as a Tesla and offer a green taxi service, charging a standard premium rate in the knowledge that the customer has the option to help the planet, or they can get a cheaper option and contribute to its destruction.