The phrase “Boogeyman” has been around forever, and is used to describe things that scare us. It goes back in time and is one of those terms that has unknown origins, yet it is likely known to almost everyone alive and has been a weapon for controlling kids for hundreds of years.
In a business sense, a boogeyman can be a client or competitor, again, something that may be frightening to an organization or may cause it to move cautiously. Everyone has a boogyman…Apple, Google, and the United States Post Office have theirs, so why should anyone think the the limousine industry doesn’t have a boogeyman of their own?
Since I started in this business, I don’t think we’ve had a bigger boogeyman than Uber. Ironically, the reaction of people in the industry is almost as frightening. But allow me to take a step back, in the event you haven’t heard of Uber, because without a little of the back story, not much of this will make sense.
Uber was originally launched as UberTaxi, which really infuriated taxi companies because, quite frankly, they were NOT a taxi company. Uber is a technology company with a lot of significant backers that saw loopholes in many municipal codes, and exploited them (that may be paraphrasing…but you get where this is leading). Anyway, after some legal wrangling, Uber decided to dump the “taxi” portion of their name and become – simply – Uber. Taking advantage of some “soft targets”, they opened “offices” in several major cities, and represented themselves as an “on demand” car service.
The Uber model is quite brilliant, providing technology that allows you to summon a vehicle using your smartphone, and having your credit card billed instantly, thereby acting like a taxi service, but using “limo service” quality sedans instead. The flaw is in their misrepresentation…they pretend to be a real limo – or black car -service. In essence, the word service doesn’t remotely apply. The reality is that when a customer summons a car, their request is sent out to several of the “units” closest to the request. Then it becomes a matter of accepting or rejecting these requests on the part of the driver of said units. Sounds simple, and the idea has merit. But again, not without flaws. These independent operators that work “with” Uber have very little to prove to become available for work, usually some basic paperwork and proof they are insured. The insurance standards are well below the standards of legitimate black car services. However, there is a bigger issue at hand…regulation. Not only is no one at the municipal level regulating these operators like they do taxi and limo services, Uber themselves doesn’t regulate the vehicles operating with them. Once they issue their handheld “tracking device”, their work is finished, which is why a client may be expecting a three year-old Lincoln Town Car but may receive a ten year-old Dodge mini-van.
Uber may be the boogeyman as far as some limo services are concerned, but I would be more afraid of them for safety reasons. Maintenance and vehicle upkeep is enforced with legitimate limo companies, but not with on demand apps. O’Hare-Midway inspects vehicles on a weekly basis for everything from tire tread depth to windshield wipers. We also do background checks on our chauffeurs, and know who is being sent to each client. Once the Uber device leaves their office, it’s impossible to say whose hands it will end up in.
Am I afraid of Uber? Not at all. But until municipal agencies begin regulating drivers using the Uber platform the way they do to limo and taxi drivers, the traveling public should be.