If governments around the world really wanted to protect consumer interest, they would be supporting Uber, Grabtaxi, and other car-sharing apps, not trying to ban them or regulate them.
There is one fundamental reason why this is happening and brands like Airbnb are not being targeted. Governments own and regulate and therefore generate income from taxi firms. They don't own any hotels.
The customer experience is the last thing on their minds. This is all about control and taxes. Most taxi companies are vested industries, closed shops, monopolies. London, Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong, New York, Rio, Paris. The list of cities that generate income through this anti-competitive industry is immense.
Many claim to be banning or "regulating" Uber to protect the consumer but the consumer is voting with their fingers and saying "no, I want a better experience than you are offering me with your existing monopoly" and they're choosing Uber and other similar brands.
Governments need to accept change and progress and not try to control something they can't and try to turn back the hand of time. Uber gives passengers in these controlled arenas something they can't otherwise get, which is especially true in Singapore and Hong Kong where I have experienced both sides. So why do I use Uber all the time now in Singapore and everywhere I go in Asia Pacific?
Taxi drivers in Singapore generally don't know the way anywhere even though you have to be Singaporean to be a cab driver. Uber drivers, who are also generally Singaporean, not only appear to know the way but they all use the Uber GPS which, while not infallible, is much better than nothing which is what official taxi drivers use…
This is not a Singaporean thing; this is a technology and customer-focussed thing.
You can actually get an Uber driver when it's busy and at peak time. You can actually get an Uber driver when it's raining. Uber X is cheaper than Singaporean taxis. Uber Exec is breath of fresh air when going on a night-out or coming back from one.
In places like Hong Kong the taxi drivers not only drive without a care in the world (often counting their money while driving at 200KPH) but their cars are from the 1960's. I always get an Uber in Hong Kong where they don't have the X, they only have the Exec. It's a wonderful experience.
I even ordered an Uber in Hong Kong from my hotel to the airport as it turned out that the same high-end car would cost twice as much when ordered through the hotel as when ordered through Uber.
In a place like Singapore where taxi drivers don't know the way to go, being able to put your destination into the Uber app and not having to have an argument over where this place was or how to get there and being able to let the driver figure it out with the GPS saves so much time and hassle (and getting out of one cab and into another…)
There is no "shift change" -- this is the bizarre and illegal practice of taxi drivers in Singapore where they have a green light on and ride up to the taxi stop and say a destination like "Tampines" and only if you're actually going to Tampines will they take you.
This is because they are changing shift and wish to have a fare home. This not only exasperates normal customers but also bemuses tourists no end. I even live in East Coast and have tried taking this option as it's on the way but, no, because I am not going exactly to Tampines they won't take me!
What really impresses me with Uber drivers in Singapore is not only that they are generally all Singaporean (just like taxi drivers) but they are polite, ask about the aircon (have aircon which is a plus…), know where to go, help you with your luggage, tend to be more female and younger, and are all mini-entrepreneurs.
I not only admire this but wish to support fellow Singaporean entrepreneurs whether they are doing it full-time or part-time. Good for them.
There is a lot to be said with the fact that there are more female and younger Uber drivers compared to official taxi drivers who tend to be older and male. Maybe if Comfort Cabs and SMRT in Singapore offered the same working practices as Uber and the same app benefits to their customers, they would win back customers and attract these more "customer-friendly" and tech-savvy drivers.
While Singapore has announced a review of car-sharing apps, they have also complimented Uber and GrabTaxi. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said, "Our instinct must be to flow with the time, keep an open mind to innovations," and also said how Uber and Grabtaxi had "made it easier for commuters to call a taxi, leading to better resource utilisation and consumer welfare."
However, he also said, "We need to be fair to all players, incumbents and insurgents." Let's hope he focusses on what the customer wants and doesn't go down the route of other more protectionist cities.
Some of the absurd things that some cities like London are trying to do to stop progress and worsen the customer experience to protect their own interests and own income include:
Private hire vehicles having to wait five minutes before picking up a customer… why? How absurd. So you want the best for the customer but you're going to make them wait five minutes to be picked up? Not surprisingly in Paris this is 15 minutes…
Bizarrely other proposals in London have included a requirement to specify a fare and a destination… both of which you can already do on Uber. Can you do that on normal taxis? No.
Another one is that the Uber app map would not show vehicles available… why? So that customers can't see that there are no taxis available but loads of Ubers?
Another one is to add a fixed phone line in for customer service… why? Uber's email customer service responds in minutes, why do I need or even wish to call someone? And why a fixed phone, who has one of those these days anyway?
Another is that you should be able to book a cab a week in advance… why? This is aimed purely at the more flexible working Uber drivers rather than the fixed routine of taxi drivers. Who books a taxi a week in advance?
Many of these new regulations are allegedly being introduced "for the best interests of the passenger." If that was really true, governments and local authorities would be embracing Uber with open arms, not putting barriers in their way and making it harder for people to use their service. Mobile phone-centric services like Uber are the future, so why try to stop them?
The irony is that taxi drivers can use Uber too. There is an Uber taxi option in Singapore at least. The fact that you can never get one through Uber proves the point of why millions of people are turning away from taxis and towards Uber cars.
As one of many Uber customers said recently on Twitter, "Why are governments so anti-progress when it comes to disrupter tech companies like Uber?"
I would add the question, why aren't they going after Airbnb for disrupting the hotel industry? Simple answer is that there is no vested industry here and they don't own any hotels.
But more importantly the hotel industry has not been out there moaning about competition and raging against the dying of the light like a luddite dinosaur taxi driver in Paris, Rio, London, or New York have.
The hotel industry is actually having a booming time with room rates going through the roof and business brisk. Why is this happening? They have looked at Airbnb as offering something slightly different and have adapted and emphasised their product and brand differences and values to say why hotels are great for you.
Airbnb is complementary to hotels just like Uber is to taxi drivers. Why don't taxi companies take the same approach, positive rather than self-protection and negative? Embrace innovation and you'll succeed; try to stop it and you'll be extinct.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Chris Reed has 25 years of senior marketing experience on both the client and agency side in the UK and now in Asia Pacific. He is the CEO and founder of Black Marketing.