Uber vs Cabcharge – isn’t it time to put the customer first? – EFTM

Uber vs Cabcharge – isn’t it time to put the customer first?

quit arguing and do something

The debate about the legality and regulation of Uber just goes on and on and on, while Uber itself keeps growing and growing and growing. Kinda proves a couple of marketing theories – There’s no such thing as bad publicity, and word of mouth is a powerful thing.

Here’s a company that does nothing more than advertise for drivers via social channels in terms of marketing, yet they would be one of the most recognised brands in Sydney at the moment given the amount of discussion about them.  The problem is – almost everyone has got the discussion wrong.

The concept of using an App to book a taxi – not new, and not exclusive to Uber.  The concept of paying for a taxi using something other than a CabCharge machine, not at all new.  What is new is the concept of average people using their own car to give lifts to people and make money from it.

Uber would argue that “ridesharing” is a way for people to utilise their own car to sell a ride to people when they have some spare time.  In reality, there are people who are actively using Uber X driving to create an income for themselves and have the independence to work when they want.

Anyone associated with Taxi’s is freaking out.

The two key issues are the huge investment that has been made by some people into their taxi plates, many of which are an investment for the owners.  And secondly the potential for this booming new industry to damage the taxi industry because people might opt to use an Uber X instead of a Taxi.

It’s interesting really, because the Taxi Plate investment is a really tough one.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars in value, slowly being wiped away by a new and emerging industry that is devaluing that investment.  But – isn’t that the risk with any investment?  Aren’t there hundreds of former corner store owners who thought they had a great investment in their business only to be hacked away at by supermarkets opening up left right and centre all over the place?  The times they are a changing.  Should we stop a new industry from growing just to protect the few who are heavily invested in it?

And let’s be honest, an overwhelming majority of plates are not owned by drivers.  They are owned by huge companies that are big enough to afford to buy them up, but clearly not smart enough to see this writing on the wall.  The mum and dad owners of taxi plates should in some way be compensated by any government changes that deflate the value of their plates.  A billion dollar company – perhaps not (but we all know that any “compensation” will flow to them as a massive windfall won’t it?)

As for the reduction in taxi usage because of these apps, well – get smart folks.  The smartest cabbies around are using two or three apps already, they’re taking work wherever and however they can – that’s smart, and those drivers will do well for as long as they are passionate about providing a service.

My local MP Matt Kean put it right out there last week – writing an Op Ed in the Telegraph calling for his fellow MPs to support regulation of Uber.

In reality, he didn’t run to the side of Uber, but he certainly didn’t sit on the fence.  He is simply advocating the inevitable.  The NSW government “must take strong action to legalise ride-sharing.”

Uber argues they aren’t doing anything illegal.  And in fact that’s an interesting point, because how many people have been prosecuted?  None.  Because it is such a grey area of law there is no definition or precedent showing that it is illegal.

It is, without question unregulated.  But Uber themselves are calling for regulation, they welcome it.  The ACT has already regulated Uber – and they won’t be the last.

Matt Kean argues that the taxi industry has “refused to engage with modern technology — and may now have sown the seeds of its own destruction.”  Pretty spot on.  Sure they have tap and go CabCharge dockets, sure they have in-car EFTPOS machines, but these are not innovations.  Yes some cab companies have Apps, but if you’ve tried any – and then tried Uber, you’ll see why consumers are flocking to Uber.

Today, the CEO of CabCharge Andrew Skelton hit back with his own opinion piece in the Telegraph.

Unfortunately, Mr Skelton seems to live in a parallel universe where a whole range of other issues are at play.  Twice he mentions passenger safety.

why the regulation exists — which is to make catching a taxi as safe as possible.” and “The longer that ride sharing continues to operate illegally and without regulation, the longer passengers are vulnerable to risk.”

What exactly is the issue here?

I applied to be an Uber X driver a while back – thought I’d see what was required.   They don’t just let you sign up and drive.

Here’s what I had to supply:


The Criminal background check and RMS driving history check should demonstrate immediately that there aren’t rapists and murderers out there driving Uber X.  There is as much risk of my next cabbie attacking or abducting me as there is with an Uber X driver.

Interestingly though, Uber offers a greater level of protection and safety to passengers who might be concerned.  If the Uber driver was to turn off their phone which ran the Uber app you’d think they’re off the grid.  Nope, the passengers phone is also tracking.

If an Uber passenger wants to share their exact location with friends or family, they can do that from the app.

In a cab, you would need to keep a record of the driver number and or car number to track down a wallet you left let alone to report any form of personal harm or abuse. With Uber there is a direct connection between each ride and each driver – Uber knows exactly who drove you, and where they are now. Taxis can’t do that.

Then there is insurance. Taxi advocates will tell you Uber drivers operate without insurance, this isn’t true.  Uber tell EFTM “As a minimum, all ridesharing partners must have a current policy of compulsory third party (CTP) and third party property insurance. In addition, every trip is covered by a US $5m contingent liability insurance policy.” Plus we have already seen insurance companies start to offer specific insurance for Uber X drivers.

CabCharge CEO goes on to say of Matt Kean “His very own government is in the midst of a review of the industry. Do we need to remind this MP of the role of government?”

Who’s going to be the one to call Mr Skelton and remind him the role of an MP is to represent the people? Funny that.

Perhaps Mr Skelton should be reminded of the old addage that “the customer is always right”.

Ask around, taxi passenger satisfaction levels aren’t exactly high.  The convenience of Uber, the interaction with Uber, the tracking and reporting with Uber – it’s sensational.

When I have a bad experience with an Uber driver, I rank them 3 stars or less.  At the time I do that I am required to give feedback as to why.  Have you ever tried ringing a cab company to complain?  First you’ve got to remember the cab number of the car you were in, then you’ve gotta get through to the complaints team and then I’ve got no idea if they ever follow it up with the driver.

If a driver continues to get poor ratings they are kicked off the system, plus they don’t get first dibs on the jobs that are going.

But here’s the best part.  If I’m a crappy passenger, my rating goes down.  And the best passengers get the cars faster.  Try booking an Uber with a 3.9 rating while 50 people around you with 4.5+ ratings are doing the same thing – you’ll be waiting a while.

Uber is great for passengers, it’s great for consumers, sadly, despite there being a bunch of great taxi drivers out there, that’s not something people often say about Cabs.

I love Uber, but I’ve never used Uber X.  Because I am a bit of a stickler for the law, and frankly would prefer to know it’s regulated – it’s the lover of Big Brother in me:)  But I use cabs a lot.  And my preference is to use Uber Taxi. Payment is simple (pull up, get out, no transaction required), the drivers know who I am, they know where I’m going, I get a receipt emailed to me with a map of the journey, I can rate them or complain if there is an issue – it’s an overall excellent customer experience.

Sadly, when you get in a random cab these days, it’s hit and miss.  The presentation, the driving style, the overall experience waiting for the Cabcharge machine to boot up or whatever the case might be – it’s just not great.  This is where the Taxi Council and others need to focus their attention. And it’s not – but only just – too late.

The real worry for the Taxi industry?  Right now I can book a cab using Uber.  It’s called Uber Taxi.

If the Taxi industry want’s to survive long-term outside of airport and cab-rank pickups as well as timed bookings, they need to be on Uber’s side.  Uber can with the flick of a button remove “Uber Taxi” as an option for their users.  Doing that will immediately move customers to Uber X.  If they want to avoid that, they should embrace the future.

As soon as its regulated I’ll be using Uber X – lower my costs and improve my own accounting.  Let’s hope the Uber X drivers don’t rank me down a few stars because I’m not one who’s big on conversation:) 



Trevor produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He has a weekly radio show on 2UE, as well as appearances across the country and regularly provides Technology Commentary to Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
3 Comments on this post.
  • Jez
    6 November 2015 at 10:24 am
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    UberX all the way!! Good article. Cabcharge has been ripping off consumers for years. I use Uber Business for work, we now save a fortune on travel.

  • Kosta
    6 November 2015 at 12:38 pm
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    Hi there Mr. Trevor Long, I am a Taxi driver and a son of a Taxi driver who is also a owner of one taxi plate. I have been reading and listening about Uber and the Taxi Industry debate for months now and I would like to contribute a few points from my side of things. I don’t really have a problem with Uber, they are cheaper and it’s a new fun thing so people want to give it a go and use them. I wish the taxi was cheaper and then more people would use them like in the old days. When I started driving 15 years ago the taxi was very affordable and everybody used a taxi to get around, but everything was also cheaper then too, rent, electricity, food and going out i.e. restaurants and drinks. Back then I would do say 20-30 trips a evening on a weekday and now 10-15 hence making similar money even though the cost of living has increased substantially. Who I feel sorry and a little worried for is my father, he purchased his plates 20years ago not as an investment but as to have a job, the whole thing about renting vs owning debate. Now as a person who is nearing retirement age he was not going to sell his plates but he was going to rent them out to me at market value and use that money to be a self funded retiree. If the plate prices come down, which they already are, then that won’t be able happen and he and my mother will have to get a government pension. The fact is there a people out there in the taxi industry who are in a similar situtaion and although we don’t think so it will cost us more in the long run through taxes to pay for these peoples retirement. Not all plates are owned my big company’s who care about profit, there are a lot of mom and pop types of people who own these plates. I have done what you wrote and joined Uber as a Uber Taxi driver and I do think that the app is great and the passengers are generally better behaved because of the rating system, I just think it’s a shame that an app is the reason why the people and drivers are much better behaved in a taxi. I’ll tell you that on the weekend without the app the people are not that nice or well behaved if the fare was not acquired through Uber. People say they Uber is cheaper and I would say that’s true most of the time but there are times when they are not as they use surge pricing and that’s the time when I get my fares through Uber Taxi as we are the cheaper option then. But that is also the time when Taxis are busy also and then you don’t need to use the app to get fares. The app for payment is great as when you are dropping off you don’t have to fiddle around with the EFTPOS machine but going back to the whole Uber being cheaper I found that when I would put in a say $10 trip the app would tack on another $2.50 up to $4.50 for the fee, that is quite an Uber mark up. It did I not matter on the price of the fare but every time it would add that amount to the total, so would get the say $10 and Uber would get $2.50 up to $4.50 in fees. With those kind of fees the prices are close to if not the same as in a Taxi, it’s funny how people complain about the price of a Taxi but expect to be paid top dollar for whatever they do for a job. I have not had a raise in close to two years where as most people get a yearly increase. On the weekend people want a very cheap ride so they can go to a restaurant and pay $20-$30 for a main meal plus drinks then go spend some more money drinks somewhere else and after all that they want a very cheap ride home in the middle of the night/morning. Like I wrote before I do think that Taxis are not cheap but there is a fine line at having something worthwhile doing. All these years I only ever drove a Taxi and even though I knew I was not going to make a million dollars a year I did it because I love the job and I love doing it with my father but I am more then a little worried what the future holds. I find it concerning that I who has done this job as a full time driver is going to get impacted by someone who is doing it part time or casually as means to make some extra money. Passengers sometimes would ask me if driving a Taxi is my only job and I always said yes but maybe, depending what happen, I will need to go and find a second job for some extra money. Interesting times are ahead….

  • Leo Perkins
    12 November 2015 at 8:00 am
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    Trevor, I think you have really hit the spot on this. There is another factor that I cannot see covered. The environmental factor of better using existing consumer vehicles vs dedicated vehicles. Dedicated vehicles require the building of new vehicles that otherwise wouldn’t have been created in the retail consumer market, this verses the better and more fuller utilisation of existing vehicles from the retail consumer market that would have been purchases anyway. Additionally with the use of retail consumer vehicles it provides a larger pool of vehicles to better respond to peak demands without the purchase of additional dedicated vehicles.

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