THE taxi booking app Uber has been blamed for – and credited with – all kinds of dramatic effects since its launch in the United States six years ago.
The biggest cab firm in its home city of San Fransisco has gone bust and New York’s famously rude cabbies have supposedly got nicer – and that, apparently, is all down to competition from the online booking service. It is too early to tell what impact Uber will have in Edinburgh but the experience over Hogmanay offers the clearest sign yet of what we can expect.
The biggest appeal of the app – which puts customers in touch with the nearest registered private hire car – is that on most nights of the year it undercuts the Capital’s black cabs. Yet, as passengers at Hogmanay discovered, Uber’s dynamic pricing structure – which sees fares fluctuate according to demand – means prices go up as well as down. That means that Uber might be cheaper at quieter times, but on a busy Saturday night they will charge perhaps several times as much, or even more on nights like Hogmanay.
The established cab companies might accuse Uber of profiteering, but anyone who uses the service is warned in advance what their fare is likely to be. Ultimately, Uber is offering customers more choice, and that has to be a good thing. At least it is clear now what that choice amounts to – at the busiest times, paying through the nose for a quicker lift home, or joining the queue at the black cab rank.
The city’s established cabbies offer an excellent standard of service, with meticulously maintained vehicles, strictly regulated fares, unparalleled disabled access and, in general, extremely helpful drivers. As they cannot compete on price, that quality of service is the only way they can beat their new rivals.
With online cab tracking of their own, they are already raising their game too. They will have to, as, judging by the experience elsewhere, the new kids on the block are here to stay.