Why You Can’t Get a Taxi (And How An Upstart Company May Change That)
Like most urbanites, I’ve spent a lot of time voicing the standard complaints: Why are taxis dirty and uncomfortable and never there when you need them? Why is it that half the time, they don’t show up for those 6 a.m. airport runs? How come they all seem to disappear when you most need them—on New Year’s Eve, or during a rainy rush hour? Why must cabbies drive like PCP addicts? Women complain about scary drivers. Black men complain about drivers who won’t stop to pick them up.
The cabdrivers have their own litany. They drive long hours for little money: the average cabdriver earns $27,060 a year, before expenses. They are at high risk for traffic accidents and, because they carry a lot of cash, for robbery. When drivers turn down fares to neighborhoods like mine, it’s not because they don’t want to miss a second of The Diane Rehm Show while they take my cash and make change. Those trips, where they probably won’t get a return fare, and must instead burn time and gas while the meter’s off, can mean the difference between profit and loss for the day; cabbies can’t afford too many of them.
What I’m describing is a classic market failure: people who are willing to do business together can’t make it happen. If taxis and passengers only knew how to find each other, and could strike deals that would appeal to both, everyone would be better off. Why can’t we fix this?
As it turns out, a small but rapidly growing business is trying. One Friday night in December, my husband and I drove over to Adams Morgan for some karaoke with friends. “You drove?” a friend who lives near us asked incredulously. “I just used Uber.”
Travis Kalanick, who co-founded Uber, told me that he and his partner “wanted to be able to push a button and get a ride.” That’s a fair enough description of the service that they launched in San Francisco in 2010, and that is now available in nine major cities—including New York, Boston, and Paris—with plans for expansion to at least 25 more. Set up an account, plug in your credit-card number, and in less than five minutes Uber’s smartphone app will be showing you a map of your location, the nearest available cars, and how soon one can get to you. Click the screen a couple of times, and a sleek black sedan is on its way.
Read more. [Image: Zohar Lazar]
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