I visited the Bazaarvoice office in London last week and while there, I found myself in quite a few traditional “black cabs.” I asked every driver the same question—“so what’s the situation here between cabs and Uber?” While no taxi driver was thrilled to have Uber operating in London, every single one of them understood the economics of it. And with only one exception, ALL of the drivers I spoke with also drive for Uber. Since all of the “black cab” drivers are independent operators, they can decide whether they want to participate or not. And many of them do.
Across the English Channel, events unfolded in sharp contrast to the laissez-faire attitudes of English drivers. Paris cabbies staged a strike over the presence of Uber in the city. Drivers started tipping over the cars of Uber drivers, setting a few on fire, and generally making a mess of the city’s transportation.
And generally, they didn’t seem to get a lot of sympathy from Parisians (or the summer tourists either). They did, however, get plenty of sympathy from the French government, who reinforced that Uber drivers are illegal and asked police to enforce the law and arrest them.
Two cities, two very different responses.
Are the French more stubborn? Are the Brits more resigned? Perhaps a combination of the two, but the broader issue can be answered with economics—the Brits view Uber as the harsh reality of a free market. Uber readily acknowledges their drivers don’t have to carry the same insurances, and while the cab drivers don’t think that’s right, they also acknowledge that passengers don’t seem to care much about that. Most of the drivers I spoke with recognized that Uber is here to stay and while it creates competition, it also creates opportunity. It’s economics, pure and simple: Lean In, take advantage, and prosper.
Or, protest and hope it goes away.
The taxis have returned to work in Paris and apparently so has Uber. The French government acknowledges that enforcement of the ban will be difficult, though a court ruling on the ban is expected in September . In the meantime, British cabbies are figuring out how to peacefully coexist and making a few pounds in the process. French cab drivers, meanwhile, are irritating customers and putting a lot of wind in the sails of Uber drivers who say fares are up. These actions might lead one to conclude that you can’t legislate away a free market. The demand will keep Uber in business, and the French taxi drivers will continue to hope it goes away, leaning on government support to keep the competition out.
But where has this ever worked? Can you give me one example of a regulated industry that helped the industry, or better yet, helped consumers? Airlines? Telecommunications? Electric Utilities? All disasters—poor service, high prices, terrible customer experience. Regulating a free market is like sandbagging a low lying flood area—the water will flow where the water will flow and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Competition must be allowed to exist to benefit the greater good. Without competition there is no innovation. And without innovation there is no change. To the taxi drivers in Paris, I say embrace the change. Figure out how to peacefully coexist in the new order and challenge yourself to provide a better service, a better price, and a better experience. You want to put Uber out of business in Paris? Help customers to see the value you deliver and they will stop going to the competition.
Many of our customers ask us what they can do to deliver top ratings and reviews. The answer is alarmingly simple. You want a five-star review? Deliver a five-star product. You want to beat the competition? Develop the best product or service you can—ask customers why they buy elsewhere and then step up your game. There’s no magic here. It’s just hard work. The taxis drivers in Paris want the fact that they have a license to be enough. It isn’t, and it never will be—just because you have a fishing license doesn’t entitle you to all the fish in the stream. You still have to be a better fisherman. Legislating Uber out of Paris will only create a new void that some other enterprising capitalist will fill. The government may buy the taxi drivers some time, but the water will flow where the water will flow. Companies must realize that if they stop the flow of progress, they run the risk of being washed away.