A brief story:
A few weeks ago I had a physical therapy appointment at my doctor’s office but our car was going to be out of town due to a conflicting appointment my wife had. My appointment was at 1:30 in the afternoon, so I called the local Yellow Cab company first thing in the morning to schedule a pick-up an hour ahead of that time. (The doctor’s office is less than ten minutes away by car.) Long story short… despite multiple calls as the appointed time came and went and assurances that the cab was “on the way” a car never arrived. I missed the appointment and had to reschedule. On a later trip I actually managed to get a cab but there was a pillow and a bunch of empty cookie wrappers on the floor in the back seat with me, along with a rather funky odor. The driver apologized and said the other driver had been fighting with his spouse and had been sleeping in the car.
This is because I live in upstate New York and the government here has fought tooth and nail to make it illegal for either Uber or Lyft to operate outside of New York City. I’m a devoted Uber user when I travel to DC, Philadelphia and other places where my job takes me. The cars are always clean and the app allows me to track the progress of my driver on the way to pick me up right on my phone. I’ve also seen cab companies in those cities improving their service in response since they have compete with the new ride-sharing services.
Not so in New York. The cab service is awful because they don’t have to compete with anyone and people have been noticing. Businesses in the tourist industry in Buffalo have been getting complaints from people who describe the lack of Uber availability as something out of the stone age. (Buffalo News)
Officials including HarborCenter President Michael Gilbert and Hyatt Regency Buffalo owner Paul Snyder said they’ve heard complaints from event attendees and hotel guests about the difficulty of getting rides in Buffalo…
“They thought we were prehistoric because we didn’t have Uber,” said Gilbert, who is also vice president of administration for Pegula Sports & Entertainment’s Buffalo Sabres. “We’ve got people in that building almost every week. It’s laughable that we don’t have it. The single biggest complaint from the NHL draft was that we didn’t have Uber.”
One tech company CEO operating in Albany, New York described the situation as simply embarrassing. So are things finally going to change? While it’s a rare day when I find much good to say about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, even he came around last month and told voters to contact their representatives and urge them to amend the laws which were pushed through on behalf of the cab companies and taxi unions to keep out the competition.
But that may be easier said than done. The cab companies have deep pockets and they donate very heavily to the Democrats. (And even some Republicans upstate.) They’ve come up with every excuse under the sun, frequently warning of “dangers” to riders if they summon an Uber. All of it is designed to prevent them from having to compete with a superior service. And that’s happening all over the country, as the Washington Post recently reported.
Cabdrivers are joining labor unions, labor organizers and cab companies are lobbying jointly, and rival taxi executives are sharing notes and filing complaints and lawsuits. Collectively they are resisting an industry that they say threatens their livelihoods and the well-being of consumers.
“We are usually at each other’s throats,” said attorney John Lally, who represents the interests of cab companies in Prince George’s and has joined with competitor Veolia Transportation to lobby for regulation of ride-sharing. “You know, the old saying is, ‘The enemy of my enemy can be my friend.’ ”
Anyone who has traveled in places both with and without Uber or Lyft knows the difference. More competition means better service and lower prices. But as long as the cab companies can keep their hands in the pockets of state legislators we’re not going to make any progress. On this one rare occasion I’m going to agree with Governor Cuomo. If you live in an area where the state or municipal government is locking out ride-sharing, you need to be breathing down the necks of your elected officials and shame them into doing the right thing.