The Luddites and Bullies of the Taxi Industry

Two recent events have once again highlighted the bullying uncompetitive attitude of the South African Taxi industry. Firstly there was the shooting of a bus driver in Mamelodi together with the associated violence and then this week the harassing tactics against Uber drivers and passengers outside Sandton City confirming this attitude.

The use of “mini buses” – colloquially called black taxis – as the preferred method of transport for the lower classes in South Africa arose as a direct consequence of Apartheid. The use of these vehicles is an aberration as it is cheaper to use other modes of public transport such as buses and trains rather than these smaller vehicles. Moreover these vehicles were never designed to carry 18 passengers.

Firstly it was the decision by Putco Bus Company to relinquish various routes due to their unprofitability. They were replaced by AutoPax. In the usual inimitable South African tradition this led to attacks on the drivers, passengers and buses themselves. Resorting to violence as the first option has become the norm. The notion that if one’s opponent disagrees with one, one is entitled to smash up their property or injure them prevailed.

Violence has become the norm.

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Within the taxi – or more correctly the mini bus industry – the murder of one’s competitors in turf wars is now just one of the business risks. These skirmishes sporadically flare up killing a few people and then just as rapidly dissipate.

What was the ostensible cause of the mayhem in this case?

The drivers stipulated that they did not want the buses to operate on these routes in spite of their own poor customer services, decrepit unroadworthy vehicles and lackadaisical attitude to adherence of the rules of the road.

Then came the attacks on Uber drivers and passengers. The most widely reported instances where around Sandton City.

File illustration picture showing the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign

What is the attraction of Uber?

They are cheap, convenient and offer a better service.

What more does one want from any service provider!

Naturally the conventional metered taxi business does not view it in that light. Instead they view a shoddy expensive service as their god given right for which they will fight.

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Listening to a radio interview on Monday night the 6th July with Christene Walters, the MMC – Member of the Mayoral Committee – for Transport on the Metropolitan Council did not exactly fill me with glee. She announced that she was meeting members of the existing Metered Taxi Industry, as that segment of the market is called, to discuss the problem with Uber.

I have a huge problem with that proposal. Surely the views of the customer need to be heard in that forum. And what about Uber? The taxi industry’s passengers are voting with their wallets and using the smart, clean and efficient services of Uber for obvious reasons: they are providing the quality of service that the user requires.

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What Christene Walters was at pains to express was the ANC’s Development Agenda. This is code or cipher for ensuring that the previous disadvantaged people get a slice of the action and more sinisterly, to protect the existing industry which is totally black.

Instead of business efficient and customer satisfaction taking centre stage in the drama, it is the protection of an inefficient non-customer centric dinosaur.

Surely the views of the customer take precedence over that of the industry players themselves?

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What was also disturbing were some of the reasons given by the existing taxi industry why they don’t want Uber to operate in South Africa.

One reason given was that Uber expects the vehicles to be in working order, mechanically sound and in good condition. Of course this is a sine qua non!

Another reason provided was that Uber did not comply with safety regulations when the worst drivers on South African roads are the drivers of the existing decrepit vehicles. Then on the other hand, other drivers were complaining that Uber actually expected the vehicles to be in working order. In fact the gist of their argument was that Uber requirements were too rigorous for them to meet. Uber#3
If that is the case, why is one of their demands that the Joburg Metro checks whether Uber complies with the Metro’s safety regulations.

What these neo-Luddites and dinosaurs of the 21st century have to realise what Ned Ludd was forced to learn in the early 1800s: technological change is ineluctable. Did the smashing of the mechanical looms prevent their widespread adoption?

Maybe they impeded its adoption but nothing more drastic

Every technological change has its nay-sayer.

In the case of Uber, their technology – the Uber-App – has allowed the service provider and the user to deal seamlessly and directly with one another without the need for an intermediary – the employer

Crashed taxi
Tom Goodwin noted prophetically on technocrunch.com in March that:

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles

Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content

China’s Alibaba, the world’s most valuable retailer, has no inventory

Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate

Latest technologies
If these taxi drivers are fearful of the Uber-app how will they react when the next revolution gusts through the taxi industry: the autonomous taxi.

The rise of autonomous vehicles combined with the ability to order personal taxi rides – epitomised by the Uber app – could revolutionise personal transport and cut carbon emissions by more than 90 per cent, researchers have calculated. In the next couple of decades autonomous taxis could become cheaper and more efficient than privately owned vehicles, so bringing about the biggest change in personal transport since the invention of the internal-combustion engine, they opine.

Autonomous taxi

Will this become the axis of the new frontier not only as regards the taxi industry but the whole car owning philosophy itself?

I contend that it will.

Currently one’s vehicle purchase is based upon a small percentage of the vehicle’s intended usage such as the annual holiday or the annual off-road trip. Most of the time the vehicle only has one occupant but a more suitable two seater will not suffice for the weekend family trip to the friends.

Uber drivers

Based upon this model, one would “hire” a vehicle based upon one’s needs. Possibly in the transitional phase where one would even use a physical driver based on the Uber model but ultimately this could morph into a completely autonomously driven vehicle.

Would the Uber drivers then embark on a revengeful tirade and the creation of mayhem?

Probably.

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For in 20 years’ time they would have become the establishment at which point the next technological innovation would become threatening to them.

Ironic is it not!

 

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