Do you remember Rickrolling? Who would have ever guessed back in 1987 that Rick Astley’s #1 hit (in 25 countries) would become a prank phenomenon reaching 18 million American adults 20 years later?[i]
For those of you that missed the sensation, it was classic bait and switch. Thinking you were reading a relevant reply in some email string, you would click on a masked hyperlink. It would instantly take you to a video of Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. In that moment, you would have been successfully rickrolled. From laptops, to Mets’ games and even the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – people were getting rickrolledall over.
So there you have it. A new word. A new noun changed into a verb. So what does rickrolling have to do with taxi-cabs (besides that Rick Astley’s hit was released while people were still enjoying Danny DeVito on Taxi reruns)? Well, I would like to suggest another verbification that describes a current phenomenon. It is using technology to be equally as disruptive as any rickroll. It is also rocking New York City more than Rick Astley’s surprise appearance in the Thanksgiving Day parade.
A Nice Ride
I don’t like Taxis. I never have. I’m not a big city guy. I still feel awkward hailing a cab on the side of a busy street. No doubt the natives dub me an outsider as I stick out my hand with a look that says, “am I doing this right?”.
When I get in the car, if I am greeted at all, it is with “Where are you going?” (or some variant thereof) in a less-than-warm fashion. We ride along either in silence, or while I hear the driver carry on a conversation on his personal cell phone. I’m sure many of the drivers are nice guys, but it is rarely a nice ride. And the customer-centric feeling we all want to get is noticeably absent.
Then one day in I heard about Uber. No more looking for empty taxis and stepping out to awkwardly wave my hand. I still use my hand, but I hail the ride on my iPhone. The ride usually costs no more than a taxi.
Not only can I find a ride on my iPhone, but I can even contact my driver directly. He can contact me. When the driver arrives, I am generally greeted in a courteous manner and at times with a complementary bottle of water. I get to where I want to go with a polite driver. I get a nice ride. When I have a choice, I use Uber. So do a lot of others. Check out these estimates:[ii]
- More than 8 million users
- Available in 250 cities, and 50 countries
- 140 million rides given in 2014
- About 50,000 new Uber drivers added monthly
Towards the end of last year it was estimated that the San Francisco-based company was valued at upwards of $40 billion.[iii]
This is wreaking havoc on the taxi monopolies. It is not just the service to the customers. It is also the pay for drivers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, New York cab drivers make about $32,000 a year. Uber claims the average salary for its drivers in the same city is above $90,000, presumably after the company takes its 20 percent cut from the driver’s total fares.[iv]
What is the reaction of the taxi monopoly worldwide? “Oh sovereign state, please save us!” European governments are feeling the heat. The Ministry of Home Affairs in India has advised all states to stop Uber operations.[v] Back here at home the battle is constant. Licensed taxis are unhappy with the flood of new competition.
Taxi medallions originated in New York in the 1930s. The cities dole out a fixed number of them. They were licenses aimed at safety and cleanliness. They were not aimed at true customer service. Uber is proof that the free market does a better job than mommy state.
The competition will soon extend beyond taxi service. There is now UberCARGO for moving and delivery convenience.
Back to Word Games
The state is overextended. It is too big. It is the proverbial fat kid on the playground and with the increase in technology, it is “easy pickins” for the free market. What we are witnessing with the taxi monopoly is happening all over. Technology and entrepreneurship are enabling the state to be undermined at every turn.
One behemoth in the crosshairs is public education. The state is losing control. This is a good thing. Last year in New Orleans, all traditional public schools closed down. Charter schools took over. This was a definitive move.
What about private schools and home school families? Eventually the public will wonder, “Why do I have they have to pay taxes for the state educate my child on their approved curriculum?” This is especially true as they can choose from a number of free curriculums online. The choices are only going to increase.
Public education, you’ve been ubered.
No large, state-subsidized industry is immune. In time, big medicine, insurance, big agriculture, airlines – any fat, stodgy, bureaucratic, non-customer-oriented, state-dependent juggernaut will get hammered.
Like being rickrolled during a quiet day on the job, they will all wake up one day to the same fate. “You’ve been ubered!”
In the meantime, taxi drivers won’t have to worry as much about abusive bosses like Louie DePalma (Danny DeVito) anymore. They now have the free market to worry about.