Admittedly, I don’t often take or use Uber or cabs to commute around. I generally use my feet, bike or utilize public transit. So my experience is likely limited but I ran into an egregiously different experience between that of using Uber and that of a traditional DC cab over the weekend. My experience, while anecdotal, gives strong evidence that the cab companies of yesterday probably wont be around much longer and really, after this experience, it couldn’t come quicker.
The Uber experience, consisted of, deciding, yes, Ill use Uber, placing the reservation and two minutes later I’m entering my Uber drivers car. It was a crossover vehicle with bucket seats. It was very clean and tidy inside with no loose items or worn seats. It felt very comfortable. The driver was pleasant and courteous and there wasn’t much conversation. At one point, the driver asked if I preferred an alternate route as we had run into traffic and he suggested a quicker way. Time was critical as I was attempting to catch a movie. Arriving at our destination was similarly pleasant and quick. In all, I would do it again. No complaints.
The cab experience was from the start, a little different. I walked three blocks before I was able to get the attention of a passing cab. Many cabs simply drove by, either ignoring me or legitimately not seeing me. Either way, I could see their cab light on and their seats were empty. Eventually though, I managed to grab one, asked if he could take me back home and he replied “hop in”. The car was a traditional Ford Crown Vic with old worn faux leather seats with very little leg room. The car was hot and the seats were hotter. To the cabs credit, the AC was working and on full blast. In front of me, along with the front passenger seat, was a small, about seven inch display panel hooked up to what appeared to be a local news feed. The sound was not on. It was attached to the back of the front passenger seat head rest. As the driver started off, the panel in front of me came alive. Sound blasting out, immediately advertising at me. For the duration home, I had to listen to and be subjective to various ads and promotions this cabbie or cab company had decided was in my interest? I’m sitting there, thinking to myself: Do the ads make the ride free? Who are the ads for? Did I sign up for this? Is this legal? Is this now a norm for traditional cabs?
To give the screen a fair assessment, it did seem like it doubled as a credit card processing unit.
As the cab arrived at my destination, we had to figure out the total cost and again the entire time this screen is blaring sound at me. There was no sense in any of it. I could barely hear the driver and he could barely hear me. At that point, it seemed more likely that this screen isn’t something the driver wanted. He seemed to almost ignore it. Reviewing the cab experience, I would not do that again. Not ever.
I cannot imagine a more harmful experience. Sitting in a cab, having a small, basically television, broadcasting advertisements at you as the meter spends your money away is a pretty awful way to get repeat customers. I don’t want to say you’re trapped, but its darn close. I think normally, the sound can be muted but it seemed this particular unit was not capable of doing this. My options were, bail on the cab, having to pay the entrance fare and the few bucks already traveled or stay put enduring the ads. It amazed me to think this is what Uber is competing against. An old, tattered car, equipped with all the latest and greatest ways to keep your passengers entertained er informed. Uber was likely riding with a friend. The cab was like being trapped in a mall with a gaggle of teenagers whose only tone is shrill.
A quick online search found that NY has actually removed the screens from their cabs. Shocker, they were widely unpopular.