Last summer for close to five weeks I traveled with the family– it’s the “big trip” for my daughter’s graduation from high school, her eighteenth and my special birthday. When she was just a tiny tot in primary school I remember saying to her in passing. “You are growing up fast – all too soon I will be taking you to Paris when you finish high school.” And here we are – already.
Travel is completely different to what it was when I promised the trip. Everything is so accessible as long as you have a WiFi connection, though data roaming charges are astronomically expensive. We can plan our trip and find “where things are at” when we arrive in a town. TripAdvisor and Yelp have become invaluable in working out what to do and where to go – and finding things that really interest us rather than doing the tourist sites.
In the last three weeks I have been to New York, Paris and London. When I arrived in Paris we took a taxi from the airport. It was filthy dirty and stank of cigarette smoke, and when we arrived at our destination I discovered that I could not pay by credit card. We had just arrived in Europe and I had not yet converted currency – there was that horrible circumstance of then having to find a cash machine.
The very next day the taxi drivers of Paris staged a blockade of the airport and you could not get a cab anywhere in the city. They were protesting against Uber, the mobile booking engine for hired cars.
Amazingly customer responsive
When we flew to Paris from New York, I had booked a car transfer from Soho to JFK airport online to pick us up at 3pm, 4 hours before our flight. When the car was 10 minutes late I called, only to discover that the car was stuck in traffic and did not know when it could get there. My stress levels escalated: traveling with family and loads of luggage, we are more than a cab load. I quickly turned on roaming data, logged on to Uber and found a van 2 minutes away. I booked it, I watched it approach on my mobile, we loaded in and we were on our way. The traffic was heavy. Without Uber we would have missed our flight.
Fantastic customer care
A few weeks later, whilst staying in London during its wettest month on record, we found that the drinking water was really not good. We went to Tesco’s to get bottled water and they were all out. Clearly everyone in London knew before we did not to drink the tap water. Gastro hit our family group terribly. In fact I was so bad I had to get to hospital – Yelp to the rescue recommending a private hospital with casualty facilities not far away. Straight on to Uber and a car was at the front door in minutes, taking me safely and cleanly to the hospital – no fussing around looking for currency or credit cards, no waiting in the street under the rain trying to hail a cab.
Seamless customer experience
The week earlier in Paris, I was exhausted trying to catch the metro with loads of luggage. I needed to get to Gare de Nord for the Eurostar to London. I had given the last of my Euro to my daughter and didn’t really want to change more money. Again Uber to the rescue – quick, fast and efficient – and the payment straight on to my account with the receipt emailed directly to me.
In Australia for years we have had to pay the ransom of a 10% surcharge to use a credit card in a taxi – this is daylight robbery in the days of instant electronic transfers. This has gone on for years. Back in 2001 during the Olympics in Sydney Visa attempted to break the Cab Charge monopoly to force the reduction of the surcharge by pulling out of taxis – that is, you could not use a Visa card in a cab. Cab Charge won, insisting that people pay cash or use another card.
Fast forward 13 years and finally there is a glimmer of hope that the ridiculous 10% surcharge monopoly by Cab Charge may go away. Simply because now – finally – customers have an alternative. Uber is quickly increasing its network of regular cabs not just black cars.
In December, Isabelle Roughol wrote a post entitled Uber vs the World: When You Can’t Innovate, Regulate. Isabelle makes a great analogy with Napster: the music industry rallied to protect itself, as taxis are doing now in Paris, but innovation continued until the distribution of music was fundamentally changed forever.
At the moment there are more taxis than Uber cars and there are competitors to Uber such a GoCatch. And so there should be – we don’t want to move from one monopoly to another. But the customer experience is so overwhelmingly great – we have had a taste of good service at an affordable price. At some point customer demand will win over protectionism – it just could take a while.
Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
This article first appeared as part of my LinkedIn collection

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