The PUCs whining after Uber and Flywheel became inclusive to cab drivers (and the SF-MTA’s expensive PR campaign against the TNCs), I felt had no merit. Mostly, because the TNC drivers are insured and do have their Chauffeur’s licenses. Moreso, because it’s been rare that I’ve ever had an SF cabbie who’s been polite, driven safely, not been gabbing on their phone the whole time, or an SF taxi dispatcher get me a car in less than 30min (or not hang-up on me, offer a way-off ETA, etc). Not to mention I have to actually pick-up a phone to call the dispatcher—who may not answer for a while—taxis frequently split if they have to wait more than a minute, etc…
So as the consumer, I gotta ask: what value do I get from the SF-MTA?
Forget that I’m a taxpayer, and look at me as I see myself when soliciting a cab: as a consumer. Brag all you want on those posters about the safety & regulatory assurances—accountability to some government office whose systems are opaque to me—but as the customer, I ain’t seeing that value. As a cyclist and as a fellow driver on the road, it’s also been my observation that SF cabbies are some of the most haphazardly aggressive jerks on the road. Since all the PR in the world can’t tone that one down, my question remains open to the SF-MTA: what value are you really providing?
Uber has built-in accountability: it shows the rider exactly where their dispatched car is in real-time, provides updated ETAs, allows the customers to rate their drivers, and the drivers to rate the customers. Accountability. It also lets customers know when the car has arrived, and offers text & phone options to communicate with the driver.
With the ubiquity of the social web and with exposed, living reputations tied to both businesses and customers, the game’s changed. Customer expectations have changed, and the consensus among most urbanites under 40 these days is that dammit, our experience matters. The soft-skills & experiental details that previously couldn’t be tracked or managed, now can be. Because those factors impact us far more often than the Steve McQueen style law-breaking antics that may or may not happen with the hypothetical rogue cabbie the SF-MTA could have saved us from—you get the idea. Value. Perception. Probability. Choices. Math. And on an aside: as mentioned above, many of the medallion-regulated SF-MTA cabbies still drive worse than an angry, jilted Steve McQueen on a bad hair day.
All that said, Uber is far from perfect. Far. And the key problem I’ve been seeing emerge with Uber, is that they’re following the “run before you can walk” growth model established as a status-quo by tech startups, without considering maturation of their product around live market needs that only become evident once you push a service live. Yes, I said service.
To date, the most noticeable changes in the Uber product have been pricing models. Oh, and you can now split the fare with other riders via the app, too. Nothing in its core product offering or passenger experience has been touched since the Uber Cab app was first launched ~2009, though. And despite what the lawyers have been vociferously arguing to PUCs nationwide: Guys, y’all do run a SERVICE.
Just as the SF-MTA needs to look in the face the reality of customer expectations & their onus to deliver, Uber needs to face the fact that yes, they are a SERVICE. Yet they claim to be a broker. But they‘re not “a Broker,” in the same way Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress got stained from a blow-job; and not from an act with lesser consequences than “Sexual Relations.”
“Sexual Relations” and “Broker” are legalese, not human mental models. Those matter, when managing user & customer expectations. Constituent expectations, too—hence the giggles “sexual relations” said in an authoritative voice, so easily commands on a dime.
Maybe though, that’s part of the problem. Survival-necessity for Uber to defend itself against PUCs worldwide and in a legally consistent narrative, could well have them avoiding any updates to their service that present themselves as more than a cold brokerage? Acknowledge the very human part of things?
Nobody calls Jewish Matchmakers “just a broker,” and Uber is to ridesharing about as much of a shadkhen bursting with naches as it gets. Which of course then amplifies the awful, when glitchy experiences happen. Most notably in my own experiences with Uber, when drivers have ditched on me late at night in hard to find areas. Because there’s no phone-available support, and “filing a help ticket” feels absurd when wanting to flag a problem, Twitter is then the only recourse. Which makes me feel like Linda Tripp’s nosejob. Or something.
The app does has a “help” section that loads a webpage, which can slide as an afterthought of a newish product. Live in over seventy metro-areas though, Uber: not acceptable. In a recent article that addresses the needs of riders in wheelchairs or otherwise physically impaired, the number of cabs in SF that do include lifts, was quantified at ~6%. In the CA-PUC’s criticism of TNCs not currently serving this population, five of the TNCs—including Uber—filed Disability Access Plans. A gem of a quote from the above linked article, states that: