What Is Disrupting the Taxi Industry?

I’ve never quite understood the hype around Über and Lyft. It always struck me as a taxi service with a real good smartphone front-end. Apparently, I’m not the only one (boldface mine):

So the lesson—as true with car services as it is for public transit—is that people hate waiting for transportation. (About 30 percent of respondents in the present study chose “short wait time” as their main reason for using the ride service, second to “ease of payment,” at 35 percent.) And the source of ridesourcing’s advantage in this area is quite clear: the mobile system that connects drivers with the nearest passenger.

In other words, one might conclude based on this data that it’s the smartphone, more than any particular transportation service, that’s greatly disrupting city mobility. (That goes for transit riders using real-time apps, too.) The question then becomes: Why haven’t official taxi companies (if not cities themselves) invested more time and energy into developing smartphone-based services?

What’s weird is that there are plenty of taxi companies that use online booking (with mobile apps). The other advantage Über et alia (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) have is that they aren’t restricted to a particular location: Über cars can pick people up in Cambridge and Boston, while taxis can’t (I’ve witnessed police ticketing Cambridge cabs picking up passengers in Boston). In other words, you don’t need a ‘Cambridge app’ and a ‘Boston app’–one service will cover both. That said, there has to be a way cab companies could cooperate and build a service that solves that problem.

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