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StreetCars, Blame, Decriers.
by Kerry Hallard, CEO, National Outsourcing Association
Thursday, June 12, 2014

From the wheel onwards, many technologies have come along and turned the world upside down. The electric light bulb, for example, completely changed people’s perception of when to go to sleep, giving them more choice and leading to the 24-hour culture that prevails across much of the world today.

The latest in the long line of ‘progressive’ technologies is Uber, the taxicab app that allows smartphone users to hook their nearest minicab and run their own handheld meter throughout the journey. Every black cab driver in London is crying foul play, that only they can use a meter to judge the cost of the journey, that being hailed by Uber is effectively picking up fares at the roadside, which only they can do…I think London cabbies would do well to remember that the black cab was itself a disruptive technology once. The first combustion-engine cab hit the streets in 1903. What would all the horsemen have said? They’d decry unfair competition, of course, but to little avail. The last horse-drawn Hackney Carriage was withdrawn in 1947.

Technological advances take no prisoners; cabbies must have been worried when SatNav was first unveiled, even more so when Steve Jobs put SatNav in people’s pockets. And now those concepts have been bundled together, they’re in dead schtuck, guv. I don’t think Luddite protests are the answer, because their arguments seem flimsy, monopolistic and anti-consumer choice.

Is a black cab ride worth twice an Uber cab ride? To be widely perceived as the premium service that their pricing structure currently positions them as, the cabbies will have to take a unified approach. They’ve never really marketed themselves before; now some real competition has arrived, black cab cabbies need to become a brand in themselves. And a brand is only as good as its points of contact, so grunting at punters and barking into bluetooth headsets while they drive will no longer be all part of the service.

The Knowledge in its current form might have a falling market value but that superior memory-power and wealth of experience should be put to good work to provide a more interesting, entertaining service than the competition. Pulling together to build a rep on TripAdvisor as an authentic cornerstone and commentator of London culture, different every time and not to be missed, would be a good start. As would loyalty cards. Discounts for taxi purists. One thing’s for sure, if they don’t differentiate as value-added, they’ll have to price-match the Uber rate-card, and none of them will want to do that.

And never forget, one technological advance is only ever a stepping stone to the next: a quick look at who is backing Uber suggests the current row is a warm-up for a bigger, more controversial one: SatNav-enabled Google cabs that don’t even need a driver.

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