One night in 2011, I was out with my wife in Melbourne. We’d been to see a show and wanted to go home so we called a taxi. A lot of taxis were flying past that night, but all were taken.
A vacant taxi pulled up down the street next to a couple of guys trying to get home. They leaned into the window, said something, then the taxi suddenly pulled away, leaving them standing there.
“Ah, that must be ours.” I thought, assuming he’d asked the two guys if they’d booked the taxi over the phone. The vacant taxi then pulled up in front of my wife and I. I stepped forward and leaned in asking “Are you booked for ‘Chatfield’?” he leaned across and looked up at me as he hadn’t heard me and I asked again “Chatfield? Are you booked for Chatfield?”
“Waryougo?” he leaned over and said. I didn’t hear what he said, so I leaned in to the window and asked “What’s that?” “Where. You. Going?” He replied tersely.
I asked again “Are you booked for Chatfield? We made a booking on the phone. We’re going to East Melbourne.” — “Not far enough!” he balked.
The next thing I remember is waking up on the sidewalk in excruciating pain, having a seizure and passing out.
According to my wife, who was standing behind me, the taxi driver had hit the accelerator while I was leaned in to talk to him. My watch band had caught on the inside of the door and I was dragged along the road as the taxi only got faster. She tells me I yelled for him to stop because I was caught on the door. It only made him drive faster.
My jeans dragged along the bitumen, tearing open and shredding the skin on my leg, my body narrowly missing the back tyres. Mercifully, my watch band snapped and I was thrown onto the road. My head hit the ground hard — my wife heard a sickening thud before she ran onto the street and dragged me onto the sidewalk, seconds before another car sped past.
My head was throbbing in pain, my shoulder, arm and legs were badly torn up by the road. It wasn’t pretty.
An ambulance arrived and I was taken to the Emergency room. Tests were done. An MRI to check the damage to my head. Bandages and treatment of my arms and legs. My drawing arm was damaged and the shoulder would require physiotherapy to get it back in working order. I was lucky to have survived.
The next morning I was wheeled out the front door; I was free to go home.
They booked me a cab.
The long and short of the story is: They didn’t catch the guy.
They never found him. In fact in the following months, it happened dozens more times to various people, in slightly different ways. They were driven into by cabs, dragged along, abused and assaulted. The police, despite working hard to locate the guy couldn’t get any evidence. Not one sliver.
The cab company I called said that the guy who accepted my booking arrived to find us on the ground. It wasn’t him who had pulled up.
We know the exact time of the incident as when my watch snapped and I was thrown onto the road, my watch was smashed to peices and stopped at that exact moment. It was 3:20am. The GPS on taxis, however, don’t activate until the meter starts, I was told.
The cameras were all facing the wrong way and didn’t turn towards us until it was all over.
In an act of desperation, I posted on my blog, asking anyone who may have seen anything, or been in the area at the time and seen the cab speeding off to call the police and give them any evidence. It was shared around Melbourne but alas, the crook got away and I was left with months of physiotherapy and healing.
The policewoman literally said “You’ve got a better chance of winning the lottery than finding him.”
I was understandably reluctant to take taxis for a while after that. I lived in the middle of the city for the following years and didn’t need a car; trams and trains did just fine.
The following years were spent assisting Alan Fells’ Taxi Industry Reform Commission, but unfortunately for the Taxi Industry, something even more powerful was underway, plotting to overthrow their little cartel-structured monopoly.
The following week, I found out about a driver service called Uber.
I had to do a TV job for the ABC early one morning. The studio booked it for me and right on time, the driver arrived at my apartment in a black car and took me to the ABC. It was too easy.
They could track where I was on their phone, and knew the drivers name, his contact number and exactly what the number plate and license number was. They would rate his service at the conclusion of the ride, and he would rate me as a passenger. We would both try and keep our 5 star ratings to ensure fast and easy bookings in the future.
My mind exploded. This was the perfect app. (The the nauseating point that every subsequent successful app was referred to as “The Uber of _____”).
Needless to say, I never took another taxi in Melbourne again.
Fast forward to 2015:
There are now more Ubers in New York City than there are yellow cabs.
A casual knowledge of the sheer volume of the iconic yellow cabs in New York will give you an idea of just how insane that is…
This is the number of taxicab licenses, known as medallions, that are in circulation in New York. Unlike with Uber cars, yellow cabs can pick up pedestrians using their old-fashioned hands to hail on the streets. Because the medallion supply is limited, they fetch high prices. Winning bidders for a batch of medallions sold in 2014 paid as much as $965,000.
The number of Ubers. Including taxi drivers who have resigned themselves to the fact that they can no longer make a living as just taxi drivers and that they can make more money, easier, driving Uber.
There’s also UberShower, UberPoop, UberUber… (Okay, those might not be real...)
New York now even enjoys UberEats, where you can order gourmet chef-prepared food delivered to your door.
One of the great things about living in a city like New York is you get to try out all the new things first. Outside of San Francisco, it’s a great incubator for new services like AirBnB and Tinder.
There will always be the regulatory reactions, like the Taxi and Limousine commission (with the backing of the Mayor, Bill deBlasio) lobbying to ban the entire fleet of Uber cars in New York if even one of their cars isn’t up to regulation.
There’s another service that popped up when that happened. Unofficially… UberLobby. With millions of users now, Uber is in the pockets of an army of happy customers, and they will protest to protect that happiness when asked to.
Uber beat the Mayor. They beat the taxi industry. The fight is over*.
Ubers in NYC also just won the right to pick people up from the airport, which was the Taxi Industry’s last stronghold.
The once unchecked kings of car transport, the cowboys of the road who pick and choose their fares and literally nearly kill you if it isn’t far enough for them, are now, rightfully, fucked.
It serves them right.
People deserve better. They deserve to be safe, to have a reliable service and most importantly- an accountable one.
*Doesn’t mean they’re not going to keep struggling, kicking and screaming into oblivion.
Someone argued to me that we need taxis to stay around to make sure Uber don’t monopolise the market and hold us all for ransom. It’s a dumb argument, and it holds no water. Here’s why.
I now have 3 driver apps on my phone, and two taxi-pay apps.
Apart from Uber, I have Gett, which takes you anywhere in Manhattan for $10 flat.
They have an existing fleet of driver cars on salary, so they don’t care. They just want to skim some of that sweet Uber cash.
(Gett is only available in these cities for the moment.)
I also have Lyft, which is Uber’s chilled out stoner brother. They fist-bump you when you get in the car, and they insist you sit up front with them for a chat.
They also insist on putting a big pink moustache on their bumper or dash to really drive home their branding.
This service works better out West than in New York, but they’re still very popular.
Too Little Too Late.
The taxi industry clocked on to the ease and popularity of the Uber model and only just last week (Think about that, they waited 6 years) came out with a new version of their mobile pay app, “Way2Ride” where you can hail a taxi. (Previously you would only use it to pay.)
In New York, to pay for your cab you just log in on your phone using RideLinq or Way2Ride so you can just get out when you arrive at your destination. Saves a lot of screwing around with cash and credit card payments. (Which are still available if you don’t have the apps.)
You punch in the code on the screen at the top and it pairs your account with the taxi. This took them way too long to implement, and by the time it was done it was way too late.
We could easily survive without yellow cabs in New York.
Can things still go wrong with Uber? Of course. They’re not perfect.
But I can guarantee you one thing: I will never get an Uber driver telling me my fare isn’t far enough, or dragging me along the road because they can get away without being caught by the police.
In fact, if you can give me your license, photo id, name, license plate number, a picture of your car and specific GPS location and time of the journey and still get away with it; you’re a genius.
I heard today that there are protests from the Taxi industry in Melbourne and Sydney against Uber. They’re bleating mindlessly into the void, striking and refusing to take passengers as the Uber drivers pick up all the slack and further eat into their ageing business model.
Give up, guys. You lost.
The internet isn’t going away, nor is Uber. People want it.
No matter how much you protest, they’ll find a way to keep it.
Either get on board and ride, or turn off the meter and go home.
More idiocy on Twitter at @jason_chatfield