About two years ago I stopped taking cabs from my home in the suburbs of Boston to Boston’s Logan airport. I wasn’t drawn away by uberX; my local cab company pushed me away with its awful customer experience.
Here’s what happened: When I first started using my local cab company years ago, I’d call for pick up and a clean cab that seemed well maintained would arrive at the requested time, driven by a polite, professional cabbie. The price of the ride seemed fair.
Over time the cabs that came to pick me up got dirtier and dirtier, and the drivers looked sketchier and sketchier – even as the price went up until it was close to that of a car service.
The last straw was when my driver – a woman of indeterminate age wearing cutoffs, sandals, and a tank top – showed up late in a filthy cab that I didn’t want to get into while wearing a suit (sadly, I didn’t have much choice at that point unless I wanted to miss my flight). All the way to the airport all she talked about was how she was qualified for better jobs than driving a cab but that she kept getting fired from those jobs unfairly.
Really? I’m paying you to drive me while you tell me how you’re too good to drive me? If you can’t take pride in your work – like a cabbie in London or Tokyo would, and cabbies in the US used to do – then at least spare me (your customer) the endless stream of complaints.
To be clear, I wasn’t expecting white glove service. My requirements were pretty minimal: Show up on time in a clean cab, don’t dress in a way that makes me wonder whether you stole the cab, get me to my destination without acting like a lunatic, and charge me a reasonable price for your services. That’s a pretty low bar.
Unfortunately, it’s not just my local suburban cab company that delivers a bad customer experience. Recently when I caught a cab at Logan airport, my driver kept drifting into the wrong lane and almost ran us head on into an enormous SUV. That's only happened to me once, but you know what happens all the time? Cabbies driving with one hand while holding a mobile phone in the other hand and having a loud, heated conversation. Cabbies not knowing where I want to go and expecting me to give them turn-by-turn directions even if I’m in a strange city. Cabbies trying to argue me into paying cash after they told me they’d take my credit card before I got into the cab.
I could keep going with the disastrous cab ride stories but I’m sure that you already get the point: If cab service in the US didn’t stink – and these examples come from a variety of US cities, not just Boston – I wouldn’t be turning to alternatives.
What might surprise you is that I want the cab industry to succeed. I don’t want to be forced to use uberX or Lyft, or to pay a premium for a limo service. And I’m sympathetic to the plight of drivers, who pay through the nose for their medallion, make little money, and have to work ridiculous hours. (My father was a truck driver, I know that driving for a living is no picnic.)
So I’d like to offer a few suggestions to cab drivers, suggestions that cost little or nothing yet might help them offset some of their competitive disadvantages:
- Clean the inside of your vehicles. I can’t afford to show up to a business meeting looking like I just dug a ditch; I know that Uber makes their drivers keep their vehicles clean. Guess which option I’ll choose if your back seat looks like someone just had a party back there?
- Take a little pride in yourself and your job. Dress and act like someone who needs your customers more than your customers need you. If you look too sketchy or scary for me to get into your vehicle, I can get an Uber driver and see his or her name, license plate number, photo, and customer rating in my app before he or she arrives.
- Learn the geography of the local areas (or at least learn how to use your GPS). The reason I’m in your vehicle is because I have to get someplace important, usually on a tight timeframe. If you seem really confused about where I want to go, I’m going to hop out of your vehicle and call an Uber driver, who I can be darn sure knows how to use a GPS.
- Hang up your phone and focus on driving. Are you trying to scare me by having a heated political debate or an argument with your significant other while driving in heavy traffic? Because that’s what you’re doing. If I instead opt for Uber, the driver will respect my wishes for a little peace of mind.
- Make it easy for customers to pay with credit cards. For really long rides I need to pay by credit card, and I know that with Uber, payment happens magically through the app – arguments about cash are a non-issue. Not to mention that you will get a bigger tip when the customer pays by credit card. So even though this suggestion does have a cost, that cost is more than offset by the benefits.