“I just tried Uber/Lyft for the first time and I’ll never take another cab again!”
–Pretty much everybody in 2015
The Facebook post detailing the startled conversion from cabs to Uber or Lyft has become the most clichéd of 2015. But things become clichéd for a reason: because they reach so advanced a level of prevalence as to no longer warrant mention. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t come away from their first experience using these services who can help themselves from raving about how much better the experience is than taking a cab. Whole orders of magnitude better. I myself had just such an experience earlier this year, and I finally understood why taxi lobbyists in major cities are so frantically appealing to lawmakers to intervene to save their profession from obsolescence.
All things being equal, I’d bet on taxis to be extinct within ten years.
All things being equal.
It would appear that taxis in at least one city are finally abiding by the survival of the fittest strictures of free enterprise, and taking steps to adapt to their changing environment. According to the LA Times, Long Beach Yellow Cab (the city’s only permitted cab company…and don’t get me started on how ridiculous and conducive to poor service such an arrangement is) are reducing their fares in an effort to compete with Uber and Lyft. This means discounted rates, free rides and no more minimum fares.
I doubt this will fix the deeper issues cabs have to deal with, such as old and filthy cars, surly and disrespectful drivers, inconsistent and unreliable payment options, opaque and random dispatching practices, and on and on. But when you can’t compete on quality, you have one option remaining: price. Drop fares enough and eventually the list of things consumers will endure begins to grow. And if you can’t drop them low enough to make up the difference and still remain in business, well, that’s a sure sign that the market has no more need for you.
In addition to tinkering with fares, Long Beach Yellow Cab is expanding its fleet, adopting a hipper, more modern brand and introducing a mobile app. Again, adapting to the new environment. All of this could have been done years ago, but the competitive realities didn’t demand it. Suddenly, everything’s different. Amazing how a couple of startups can show up out of nowhere, attract throngs of adoring supporters, command valuations of scores of billions of dollars and completely disrupt an entire industry.
All hail the Uber Effect.