Standing out in the street frantically waving your arm to flag down a taxi. A chatty driver with the radio on far too loud. And perhaps a tear in the vinyl bench seat with the stuffing popping out. Let’s face it — the taxicab customer experience hasn’t changed significantly over the past 30 years. Only recently have taxicab companies been forced to up their game or risk losing their share of rides to disruptive technologies, such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft.
Uber, an app that connects riders and private drivers based on proximity and availability, is considered the leader of new age transportation — and it’s credited for disrupting the industry. Founded in 2009, Uber has expanded to 70 cities globally and continues to grow its network and services to meet increasing demand. Sidecar and Lyft are hot on Uber’s heels, offering similar services, but differentiating themselves with unique customer experiences. Uber is known for its upscale cars and professionalism, while Lyft boasts a more informal and warm experience.
As the aforementioned transportation networks grow rapidly and exponentially throughout the world, taxicab companies are noticing that their dispatchers spend more time playing CandyCrush than taking calls, and there are far fewer of us frantically waving our arms to hail cabs in the city streets. Their industry is being threatened by a growing army of private drivers, and companies are taking steps to regain their rideshare.
In San Francisco, a mobile technology company has developed an app to satisfy customer desires for on-demand transportation by building a network of traditional taxicabs and enabling users to hail a cab, track your ride and pay from your smartphone. Flywheel’s secret weapon is centralized dispatch. Instead of passengers calling a specific company and being limited to its available cabs, the app finds the nearest cab among all participating drivers regardless of taxi company.
In addition to Flywheel, taxis are trying legislative and investigative tactics to combat the new companies’ incursion on their turf. Jim Gillespie, president of the Taxicab Paratransit Association of California, said it has lined up state lawmakers to introduce a bill this month requiring the transportation network company vehicles to carry more insurance, register cars as commercial vehicles, undergo car inspections and use public-agency background checks for drivers.
There is no doubt that the battle for share of rides has only just begun. And regardless of the ultimate winner, it is exciting to imagine the possibilities with regards to the customer experience. I personally hope that when my ride arrives, a steaming latte will be awaiting me in the heated cupholder and my favorite music will be playing in the car. What is your vision for the ultimate taxi experience?