The Taxi Industry Needs a History Lesson
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
The first industry to feel the effects of the digital revolution was the music industry. It was feltl the effects because the product could be packaged into a 3 to 5 MB mp3; perfect for peer-to-peer exchange. Napster became the conduit and what transpired became the text book for how an industry should not react to a digital disruption.
I remember those heady days of 2000 when Metallica's contribution to the Mission Impossible soundtrack made its way across Napster before the record company could service it. Once I saw a handful of stations jump on the song, I didn't hesitate to play it on my afternoon show I was doing at 100.3 The Bear in Edmonton. On February 12, 2000, I had Art Alexakis of Everclear on my show and we had it out on air about the effects of Napster. The conversation was not unlike this skit from the 2000 VMA's.
Art's argument was very clear: "If I rent a car from Hertz, should I tell them to give it to me for free because it happens to say Hertz on the side?"
The comment is ironic that so much content online today is provided for free. (Like this column for example)
All that is beside the point. The music industry's reaction to Napster is what killed the business. They were so hellbent on putting Shawn Fanning's Napster out of business, that they overlooked the obvious which was to buy Napster outright rather than do a deal with the devil. (The devil in this case being Apple) What ensued was a commodity that cost $1.29 a song, relinquished control of distribution. Others have argued that the music business could have salvaged their losses simply by getting a financial piece of the iPod.
The lesson here: Don't jump over a twenty dollar bill to get a five.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana (1952)
Some Canadian cities like Winnipeg that have yet to be invaded by the alleged ride sharing app Uber. (It's not "ride sharing" if one of you is charging money) The Winnipeg Taxi Alliance has an opportunity to keep them out for good by incorporating the things Uber does well, rather than wasting time arguing over the ethics, regulations and legality of Uber. You know, that opportunity to just do better.
I love Uber. I love the record keeping, rating drivers, the fare estimates and competitive rates.
I love that I can account for my employees whereabouts and that I can justify their expense reports. (Try doing that with those poorly scribbled receipts you get from Duffy's.
I love that there is no mysterious $1.50 charge for using a debit card, like the one Unicity served me up last month. In fact, there are no cards or cash at all because Uber is cashless. I also love having the option of using UberPool at a 30% where other riders get picked up along your route. I do not even mind when there are price surges because they have the decency to warn me that there are price surges.
My advice for politicians, the Winnipeg Taxi Alliance and their coalition spokes person, Luc Lewandoski: Get your house in order. Get innovative and get ahead of this. The recent Unicity App is about 50% of the way there, but it still needs a number of add-ons.
Take the best parts of Uber and give yourself to the end of the year to institute it.
Get a cashless method where my Paypal or credit card works. Let me rate the drivers and let them rate me as a passenger. (Maybe drivers won't be so hesitant of those late night pick ups where there is an identity behind the passenger)
E-mail me a receipt of the route the way Uber does and reimburse me when the driver takes a wrong turn.
Allow me a few buddies to split the fare to the Jets game on the app.
Let me order the car I want on the App. Something that works for the number of people traveling with me.
See above where I wrote about what "I love" about Uber? What do people "love" about Unicity or Duffy's? Are the things you are fighting for the things your customers love? Every time I ask someone what they love about taxis in Winnipeg, I get a horror story about poor service. Go ahead - ask someone. My story will check out.
Maybe in the end you will find the way to keep Uber out of Winnipeg the way the music industry took down Napster. However, if you remember what happened next, there was Limewire and Kazaa, and the commodity that was once $21.99 at HMV become $1.29 on Itunes. Lyft is already outperforming Uber in some Asian markets and Kangaride is already up and running on long distance hauls to and from Winnipeg.
Uber has effectively given you the play book; all you have to do is execute it.