Uber Wants Every Taxi Fare For Themselves

Let's not pretend I don't have an inherent dislike for the start-up Uber, because I do.  Their promotions are awful, the Town Car-first transit offering always struck me as an arrogant flaunting of tech wealth, and their name is just douchie.  But this isn't about that.

Yesterday, Uber unveiled their new “Uber TAXI” service.  No, they're not rolling out their own yellow cabs on the city streets, rather turning our existing unreliable cabs into Uber-powered taxis.  Uber explains:

  • Drivers will continue to use the meter in their taxis and will input the fare into their Uber iPhones at the end of the trip. This will include all tolls and out-of-city surcharges that would normally apply for any SF taxi ride
  • A 20% gratuity will be added to your fare, plus a $1 booking fee. This will be done automatically and charged to your credit card, exactly like a standard Uber ride

They go to point out that it isn't a dispatch service, but rather an “electronic hail” that goes out to pre-approved, city-licensed taxi drivers, much like Taxi Magic.  The critical difference is that they work with all cab companies, as long as the individual driver is up to Uber snuff, and payment is done in-app.  As they say, “Because CHOICE is a beautiful thing.”

But is this really giving us a choice, or taking more cabs off the streets and into a private network?

It's highly unlikely cabbies today receive a 20% tip on every fare they pick up, so Uber's pricing model creates this vicious, market-cornering cycle.  Considering flagging down a cab in this city is as difficult as finding a decent slice of pizza, Uber will find customers willing to put up with the inflated $1 + 20% price for a more reliable ride.  Drivers will clearly prioritize Uber's customers over the dumb slobs waiving their hands on the corner because of said 20% gratuity, taking even more available cabs off the streets and thus creating more demand for Uber's “hailing” services.

The net effect isn't we have more cabs or a more reliable service (Uber themselves admit they cannot “fix” the number of taxis on the streets, as the city only has “about 1,500” medallions available), but rather we have to pay more money for the same, lousy taxi services we already have kinda available today.  Brilliant business, yes, but undeniably evil.

Anyway, I'm glad I own I bike.

[Photo by Ian Fuller]

Comments (12)

20% by 2020.

Not that I like the centralizing effect Uber has, but wandering around and hoping I stumble into a cab, while, somewhere else in the city, a cabbie is wandering around, hoping he stumbles into me, is a really, really broken way of doing things here in the 21st century. If fixing that isn’t “providing more reliable service” I don’t know what is.

So kudos to Uber for actually trying to fix the problem; hopefully someone else will step up to do the same so we can have a little competition. (In a sane world, the cab companies would be doing it themselves, but since they’re protected from competition - that capped 1,500 number - I’m not holding my breath- they’re equally happy to just keep giving the same mediocre service they always have.)

It’s actually “douchy” (adjective) not “douchie” (noun).

I agree with you, but at the same time I’d pay the extra 20% knowing the cab will actually show up (until the time when the city issues more medallions and I ain’t holding my breath).

The taxi lobby in this town is strong, so expect this to be killed shortly, like recently happened in NYC


I get your complaints with their marketing and the towncar aspect; and I have always felt a little self-conscious getting out of one in front of like, Pi Bar, but in the end, it WORKS. Right this second, I can have a taxi-priced UberX, expensive Uber, or more-expensive SUV sent to my door within 10 minutes (2 minutes for the regular Uber). Whereas we’ve all experienced (or heard of) cabs that were called but never showed up.

Uber’s not perfect by any means, but man, they will get you from point A to point B. It’s a good start, IMO.

I have this image of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand sharing a ride in one of these. Am I totally wrong?

Had no idea those town cars were organized under Uber. I never heard of Uber to be honest. Those drivers are beyond aggressive and veer into endangering the passenger in my opinion.

I like: ” arrogant flaunting of tech wealth” in your piece. How about adding that these are relative gas guzzlers. And when not being used, they roam the streets like cabs and so are filling the streets with more vehicles. These are not sustainable solutions just because smart phones are utilized for the transactions.
Use MUNI, your bike or walk instead.

I don’t understand how we don’t have an already established town car system like New York has. I mean, actually we do, not every town car you see on the road is über, it’s just under the radar of most people I know. I used über once when it was my best option (early morning ride to OAK) and I was surprised how much I liked it despite how much I hated their marketing. At least I know the cab is coming, unlike the more traditional cab companies. You have no idea if yellow cab or anyone else will actually show up. Why doesn’t one of the regular cabs introduce a reliable web hailing service? The taxi situation here is so fucked I think every opportunity to fuck/fix the current circumstances is necessary. But in the end, I’m happy I have a bike.

I love Uber. On many occasions I’ve used it to get home when it’s too late for Muni & I don’t feel like walking through questionable neighborhoods late at night. Whenever I need to get somewhere, I can usually get an Uber in 10 minutes or less wherever I am (except in Berkeley). Whenever I’ve tried to use Lyft, no drivers are available, although when I don’t want one I see one of their pink mustache cars.

Good thing that the SFMTA is issuing up to 200 more taxi medallions in order to increase the supply of taxis.

I find the blog post arrogant in the I’m-too-cool-to-enjoy convenience, fuck-good-ideas kind of way.

I agree that public transport or cycling is the better on all counts (except for convenience).
But sometimes, you just need a car service. When you do, the system in SF doesn’t work, because of artificially limited supply (I won’t speculate on the alleged racket that keeps it this way).
What Uber is, however, is a solution to a problem, even if that solution doesn’t have its faults. Its created accountability. And it works. For consumers. That’s what matters – it works (reliable, clean, safe, etc.). Trying to do it for taxis is a great thing for users of taxis (and yes, benefiting those taxi consumers in the know and who have a mobile phone). I’m not sure it’s going to work as well as uber, but hey, SOMEONE is trying to fix the problem.

So my applause to smart people trying to solve touch problems in an innovative way. Despite its critics, it’s adding value, even if it isn’t perfect.

I’ll carpool, walk to take public transport if it makes sense. Sometimes, taking an uber is the best solution.