Transportation vs. Technology
If you put two limousine people in a room together anywhere in the world, my guess is that it would take about ten minutes for one of them to bring up the subject of “Uber”, the technology company that pretends to be a limousine service…while pretending to be a technology company…that is pretending to be…whatever. As mentioned in a few of my previous blog posts, Uber is the “boogeyman” of the limousine industry, keeping operators up at night and striking fear in even the most hearty of limo company owners.
Uber is well funded, and is making many rich people richer, raking in billions in revenue worldwide. It also received a well-documented infusion of cash from Google, a company that seemingly can’t get any richer. However, the best guess is that Google isn’t in it to become a limousine company. Rather, Google is curious as to where Uber clients are traveling, what they are spending their money on and…in an Orwellian sense…wanting to be their “Big Brother”. Now, if that doesn’t make you nervous (and it should), keep in mind that Uber famously dismisses customer service – at least as far as the transportation component is concerned. While their application is user-friendly, their “street operation” is unsupervised and self-managed; meaning that you are basically at the mercy of who or whatever shows up.
What Uber Means to You
To review; Uber is a smart phone app that allows you to summon a vehicle with a tap of the screen. In Chicago, there are literally hundreds of cars operating with Uber. There are a few minor hoops to jump through, but basically…not much is required to sign-on with them. Once “accepted”, the operator is given a device that allows them to tap in to the multitudes of Uber users throughout the city. Then, all one needs to do is cruise around the “hot zones” and wait for something to pop up on the screen. This is an oversimplification, but gives the essential elements of how the system works.
Uber currently has a pretty good reputation, since many of the vehicles operating within their system are attached to real limousine services, and supply services to Uber during slow periods. However, there are “gypsy” operators affiliated as well, barely legal vehicles and drivers that are scouring the city in hopes of turning a few quick bucks. These should be items of concern not only for travelers, but for legitimate limousine services as well. After all, any infraction committed by an Uber car and driver will reflect negatively on the limousine industry – and not the tech industry – which is a fact that I’m sure has not been missed by the legal overlords at Uber’s worldwide fortress of solitude. In fact, in a somewhat recent occurrence involving a pedestrian fatality caused by a vehicle operating with Uber, the corporate response was something along the lines; Hey…we just supply the technology. We don’t drive the cars. That sort of response can be expected from a multi-billion dollar corporation that is only interested in harvesting money and information.
There is no Substitute for Service
Somewhere along the way, the battle over just what Uber is will end with a decision that will ultimately have an impact on the limousine industry. A multitude of lawsuits have been filed to determine whether they can continue being just a tech company, or if they are in reality a limousine service, which then forces them to be regulated for the good of the public (and the not-so-good of their investors). Either way it goes, the path will be opened for real limo companies to know which way they should look as far as employing technology that is rapidly becoming available. In the meantime, the traveling public needs to be aware that – if quality and safety are a consideration – a reputable limousine company is probably your best bet. If you don’t want to be bogged down with pre-arranged transportation, can’t stand the idea of getting in a taxi, or are intrigued by the novelty of seeing your car as a blip on a map as it marches toward you, using an unregulated service with low or non-existent service level expectations, then Uber is what you’re looking for. Just keep in mind that cheap novelties are only great when you’re at a carnival.