The Uber Troubles of Milan’s Cabbies

UberPop

Times are tough for Milan’s taxi drivers. In recent years Milan’s taxi service has faced increasing competition from more efficient and much cheaper public transport, short term car hire services, and even bicycle hire. Then Uber appeared on the scene and, as in other parts of the world, war broke out.

Milan’s taxi drivers are not too good at fighting wars though. Their answer to Uber, the car with driver service, largely seems to be to strike which is what is happening tomorrow in Milan.

When Milan’s taxis stop, Milan’s population turn to alternatives such as Uber and all the other services which didn’t exist until comparatively recently. Such strikes backfire though because they encourage people to discover taxi alternatives and this may well mean that once the strike is over, they won’t bother using taxis as much, if ever again. In other words, by striking, Milan’s taxi drivers are shooting themselves very firmly in both feet, or maybe that should be, in both front tyres.

The Uber pseudo taxi service is illegal claim Milan’s cabbies who point out that Uber’s service is not bound by the same rules which regulate public tax services in the city. Whereas licensed taxis are obliged to accept all those who call them, Uber cars are not.

From all the furore, one would imagine that there’s an army of Uber cars roaming the streets of Milan. Well, there isn’t. There are, according to an article in Il Fatto Quotidiano, a mere 10 Uber cars operating in Milan, which, as a council official mentioned, means the damage to the business of the city’s registered taxi drivers is minimal.

Why so much fuss? Fear of Uber expansion and competition, most probably, though the official objection to the Uber service it that its illegal. A taxi union representative has claimed Uber entered the market too aggressively, but there’s nothing illegal about being aggressive in business. As well as the Uber threat, as mentioned before, there are all the other alternatives to taxis which now exist in Milan, all of which will be chipping away at the income of Milan’s taxi services and drivers.

What Milan’s Cabbies Want

What Milan’s cabbies would like is for Italy, or Milan, to legislate Uber out of existence. This could happen though now Italy is no longer being run by a certain tanned old convict, palm greasing may not be available as a tool to help convince Italy’s parliament or local politicians to pass anti-Uber laws.

The Milan taxi driver lobby, however, is working hard to make life difficult for tiny, but growing, Uber. Roberto Maroni, the governor of the Lombardy region in which Milan is located plus Maurizio Lupi, Italy’s transport minister, both appear to be on the side of the taxi drivers. There have been discussions over the legality of the Uber app which is used to summon Uber cars too. The app which sits on my Blackberry is running though despite the support of the governor and the minister.  It is still possible to use Uber’s app or a computer to hail an Uber car though so the service has not been dispatched just yet.

Actually, seeing off the Uber threat will not be at all easy seeing as the company is awash with cash and has the means to defend itself by legal means if necessary, if indeed, it has not started.

Can Milan’s taxi service beat Uber? Yes, probably, but its got to move its mindset and service into the 21st century to do so.

Milan’s Taxis Need to Modernise

An easier way for Milan’s cabbies to regain fares lost to an expanded Uber operation would be to upgrade its antiquated standard of service.

For example, unlike London, New York and many other major cities around the world, taxis in Milan, and the rest of Italy, cannot be easily hailed directly from the street.

Instead, if you need a cab, you either have to make a call – if you have the number – or search for a taxi rank – if you know where to look. Both of these options are not convenient for those who don’t speak Italian, nor are they that advantageous for Italians who are not in their home towns or cities. Making it possible to hail cabs directly would make it even easier to find a taxi than using the Uber app.

Then there is the is the payment system, or rather, absence of it. Cash is very much king in the Milan and Italian taxi world. How much of the cash actually ends up being declared to Italy’s taxman is unclear –  receipts only appear upon request. While cabs equipped with credit card readers do exist, they have to be requested specifically at the time the taxi is called. If you don’t know Italian, this won’t be too easy.

On the other hand, the Uber service, which I have used in Milan, is entirely credit card payment based. This also makes life easier for Italy’s taxman as credit card receipts are harder to fiddle.

While Uber cars might cost bit more than Milan’s taxis – the trip I took cost €17 whereas the same trip in a taxi costs around €10 – the service is convenient and quick. Today, there’s the lower cost UberPop service which costs almost half as much as the UberBlack service which I used. The introduction of the UberPop service further raised the hackles of Milan’s already discontent cabbies and a strike was called – not the strike which will happen tomorrow, but one which happened in May.

UberPop
UberPop

Uber Easy Booking

Booking an Uber car takes place via an app on a smart phone and time between requesting a cab via the app and it arriving is comparable to that of Milan’s phone-a-cab system.

Uber cars are rather nice too whereas Milan taxis can be a mixed bag. In short, Uber is a 21 century taxi-type service and it is gaining business because it is simple and efficient even if it is not cheap, though with the UberPop service, the cost of using Uber is becoming lower.

Uber Transparent

Uber fares, or fees, or whatever you want to call them, are clear cut, whereas Milan’s taxi fares are far from it. Having personally been ripped off by taxi drivers here in Milan a few times, though not that often, a service like Uber which states what it charges clearly, does appeal. Being able to pay by credit card appeals too.

Yes, I know Uber can put its prices up at short notice and that this aspect of the service is a little unfair but rail services, hotels, and airlines have been tweaking their prices seasonally, or even weekly, for aeons so why shouldn’t Uber? And there’s nothing to stop Milan taxis from doing the same, or at least there would not be if, instead of striking, the taxi services negotiated a flexible charging arrangement.

Aside from copying Uber’s charging system, Milan’s taxis could also copy Uber’s app system.

Actually, Milan’s NCC car with driver system (not the same as a taxi!) has come up with something similar to the Uber app – EzDriver, is its name, but the service is more expensive and much less convenient than the Uber system. With EzDriver, cars have to be booked 20 minutes in advance.

It does look as if Uber’s existence is forcing Milan’s taxi and taxi equivalent operators into rethinking their service. This is one of the advantages of competition.

Milan’s unhappy cabbies weren’t planning to take to the streets until a court decision on the legality or otherwise of Uber type services appears on June 25. Seeing as a strike is to occur tomorrow in Milan, it sounds as if the court will decide in favour of Uber-like operations. More taxi driver strikes in Milan may follow until such time as the cabbies calm down and rethink their service. By allowing people to hail cabs and making credit card payment available in all of Milan’s taxis, the Uber threat could be countered.

Modernisation would be much more productive than consternation.

Of course, all these strikes and all the kerfuffle are generating plenty of publicity and income for Uber.

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