Monday, November 16, 2015

Baltimore Taxis becoming more like Uber?

The world of taxis is complicated and it isn't always a matter of entrenched old business interest versus disruptive innovation nor is it small local cabbies who fight for their livelihood and may have sunk a fortune into a "medallion" standing up to a corporate giant like Uber.

Just consider who owns the most taxis in Baltimore: A corporate giant owns the 600 Yellow and Checker cabs, the oldest taxi cab company in Baltimore, dating back to 1910.  The giant's name is Veolia and its subsidiary "Transdev". These same folks also run the city Circulator, some of MTA's mobility buses, Baltimore County mobility services; their 136,000 employees umbrella corporation Veolia energy provides transportation, water, wastewater and energy solutions around the globe. You get the picture. 
Baltimore's Checker fleet dominates at Penn Station

That giant's Vice President for all of its Mid Atlantic operations, Dwight Kines, a guy from Baltimore, just ascended to become the president of the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association.

According to a recent article in the BBJ, Kines is "not an Uber hater" but wants to "learn from Uber and Lyft" to make the old cab service more relevant again. This must be a fairly new insight, in December 2014 Kines still blogged under the title "Uber putting everyone at risk" and made slanderous pronouncements like this:
Across the country, we’ve seen disturbing reports of Uber drivers allegedly kidnapping, raping and physically and sexually assaulting passengers. Many believe the reason for these numerous assaults is that Uber conducts cheap and ineffective criminal background checks...
Kines then went on to demand:
Cities and states must recognize that Uber is providing for-hire vehicle services and therefore must adhere to local laws overseeing such activity. We in the taxi industry are not asking for special treatment. We are simply asking that Uber not be allowed to thumb its nose at the law while continuing to make victims of the public and place our community at risk. 
Kines' new stand of wanting to learn from Uber sounds like a smart insight since fighting Uber with bureaucracy won't go anywhere and just delay the adjustments the taxi industry needs to make to remain competitive. 

Of course the requirement of installing $1,200 a pop credit card readers isn't promising. It continues the trail of burdens put on cabbies when more elegant options like Square (the cube stuck into a smart phone) seem to work for taxis elsewhere for much less cost. 
View of the Uber app on a smartphone showing where nearby cars are and
what the expected wait time is.

"Our industry has a service problem and we need to take care of that", Kines now acknowledges.

Amen to that. At this point, the Uber and Lyft convenience is just so much better than that of a conventional taxis, from the method of ordering, to the wait time, to the transparency what is actually happening after the order was placed, to the predictability of the cost, to the quality of the ride itself ending with the convenience of payment at the end of the trip, Uber or Lyft win hands-down on any of those categories. So its seems quite obvious that taxis need to become more like Uber and not the other way round.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

corrected regarding Kines' new position 9:30am

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