Lyft

St. Louis Sucks When It Comes To Cabs

Lyft has launched in St. Louis. (UPDATE: And already has a court order to shut down.)

And we’re going to talk about rideharing services. But if you need a primer on what ridesharing services are, how they work and what some advantages and disadvantages when using them are, I’ve made a little 101 section at the end of this article.

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Clayton M. Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and author of the book ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’.

In it, he discusses the ‘Technology Mudslide Hypothesis’ or how some current businesses can’t keep up with the rapidly changing technological environment because any pause in movement going forward will get them caught in the mudslide, taking them backwards.

He disproves this theory. And shows that most businesses are aware of innovations within their industry, but because they’re not profitable when they first come out or because they don’t have the resources (i.e. money) to commit to them, they take other routes to profitability and sustainability.

Sound like taxicabs in St. Louis?

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St. Louis does many things well. Cabs aren’t one of them.

I can only write from the perspective of ‘me’ when it comes to cabs in St. Louis. As a city resident for almost 10 years, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on cab fares. It’s a personal choice and something I never have minded doing. Maybe other people have opinions on how they’ve been treated in St. Louis cabs, but here’s what I’ve experienced:

1) Ordering a cab is a hit/miss proposition. Most (but not every time) when you call, you’ll have to tell the operator where you’re at and where you’re going. That person will inform you that a cab will be there as soon as it can. In my experience, using the phone will get a cab to come to you about 7-8 times out of 10 calls. The other 2-3 times you will have to call back.

2) You can use an app (like Taxi Magic) or text your address to dedicated numbers for pickup. The reliability of these are very similar to calling in.

3) It usually takes about 15 minutes for a the cab to show up at your pick up point if you’re in the City of St. Louis. If you’re out in St. Louis County, it will be longer.

4) Most drivers know where they are going. They don’t often offer an option of route, but you can request one if you feel like you’re being taken a way you don’t prefer.

5) Most times the driver will be talking on the phone. Not every time, but more often than not. Texting is also something that St. Louis cabdrivers will do.

6) About every 3/4 cabs are equipped with credit card machines. About 1/10 cabs are equipped with machines that don’t require a signature after transaction.

7) St. Louis cabs love picking up and taking people from the Airport. Regrettably, I have lied and told dispatchers I was going to the airport in order to get a cab to pick me up quickly. I didn’t do this often, but each time I did do this, the cab arrived in under 10 minutes.

8) About 1/3 of the times you hand your credit card to a driver, he’ll ask if you have cash instead. This reaction has lessened with the adoption of more  credit card machines in the backseat. But it still happens regularly.

Perhaps someone reading this has had a different experience. And perhaps my estimates aren’t accurate representations of what really happens. But again, I wasn’t an occasional user of cabs in St. Louis. I used them multiple times per week on average for years.

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I now live in a city (Chicago) that has exponentially more cabs. And I prefer using Uber.

Why?

1) They come when you press the app and request a ride. You’re connected with a driver and can see where he or she is. It tells you when they’ll be at your location. If it’s going to be a few minutes, you can use that time more productively than waiting on a corner.

2) You rate each other. It’s the driver’s responsibility to be a good driver. It’s my responsibility to be a good passenger. They also don’t talk on the phone, ask you if you’d like the radio on or off and in some cases, will offer you bottled water.

3) When the ride is over, you get out and get on with your day or night. No requests for cash instead of a card. No thought about what to tip. It’s all on file and handled instantly.

It’s a MUCH better experience than riding in a STL cab.

Not a little better. Not somewhat better. It’s MUCH better. And that’s the reason that the STL Metropolitan Taxicab Commission is fighting this so hard. Eventually, this will be the way that transportation is handled.

Not if, but when.

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Some common talking points that people against ridesharing services like to talk about:

1) “Safety first, St. Louis.”

What happens if you’re in an accident. Good question. Here’s one account. I’d be curious to know if this would happen if you or I got in an accident while riding in a STL cab. Luckily I don’t know firsthand. But if I were to have to bet a dollar, that wouldn’t be my experience.

2) “Hard working people are getting screwed.”

That’s what this STL cabbie posited on the Huffington Post in an Op-Ed.

I don’t like the fact that these new services would be getting hard working St. Louisan’s like Mr. Lee less work. But at the same time, just because people are comfortable in the way things are now, doesn’t mean that change shouldn’t happen.

3) “Ridesharing services should have to follow the same rules and regulations that cabs do.”

Because the government and the Taxicab Commission have created such a wonderful experience already, why would we want to change a thing?

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Somethings don’t need to be improved.

Gus, don’t change a thing about your pretzels. Pappy? Do what you do. It’s perfect. Keep winning those playoff games, Redbirds.

But when it comes to cabs in St. Louis, the system isn’t good. For being an almost top 20 market (21st), the cab system is borderline embarrassing. I’ve been fortunate to be in many cities across this country that are bigger and smaller.

St. Louis – candidly – sucks when it comes to cabs.

And now Lyft is in town. Uber will be coming soon. I’d encourage you to try both when you can. And decide for yourself what system is better.

It bothers me that these companies are getting push back from the city and the police, considering they’ve been created to make the city better by making all of our lives a bit easier.

Don’t be fooled. They’re trying to protect the gravy train instead of looking out for something that can help the city become what we know it can be.

It’s gross.

If the St. Louis Metropolitian Taxicab Commission has a great system that works, these companies will fail in the city. But it’s easier to point finger and engender fear than it is to look in the mirror and make yourself better.

Encourage them not to be scared to try and improve.

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RIDESHARING 101

The players: Uber | Lyft | Sidecar

I’ve tried to be objective as possible about the Good and the Bad of ridesharing services, in case you want to try it.

GOOD:

  • Ride share systems fully utilize technology. You can see where the cars are at in the area you are in, how long it will take one to get to you. And watch the progress all the way until the driver picks you up. Even if you know it will take 10-15 minutes to get your ride, because you can see where your driver is at, you can feel fee to hang out with your friends/family for a bit longer.
  • It’s a duel rating system. The driver rates you. You rate the driver. If the driver gets enough bad reviews, he’s re-trained and or terminated. If you’re a terrible passenger, you’ll eventually not get picked up. Both sides have an incentive to make the experience positive.
  • The fare is handled. You pull up to your destination and get out. No need for any exchange of money or credit cards. There is no tip. You’ll be emailed your receipt as soon as you exit the car.

BAD:

  • Often times the driver will not know your destination. You need to be prepared with an exact address so they can punch it into a GPS or phone they’re using to navigate your ride.
  • Since drivers are mostly part-time, they don’t know the ebbs and flows of a city. For instance, while a route might look good on the GPS, a sporting event or concert might make a route substantially longer than what a GPS considers optimal.
  • Surge pricing. Economically it’s fair, but it’s a change from what you’re used to with taxis who can’t increase fares when demand is high.

Photo: Fearless Dollar

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