Uber messaging and the myth of  Uber’s “competitiveness”

Who ever knew “compete” meant ignoring every law and not paying taxes?

Over the past year, I’ve read untold numbers of media stories and politicians’ enthusiastic quotes extolling Uber for its competitiveness. The taxi industry needs to be more like Uber! Taxis need to compete! Taxis are VHS machines, and Uber is Netflix!

“But, drunk young women don’t pour themselves into the backseat of a VHS machine at closing time,” I pointed out to a friend who used this analogy. “Whether to watch a movie on a VHS machine or streaming on Netflix is hardly a decision which impacts personal safety. We’re comparing apples and oranges.”

“The taxi industry needs to come out of the 12th century,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said, in all seriousness, on a one-hour special he did for Newstalk 1010 last summer. The Mayor of Toronto – no longer a radio host – hosting a one-hour radio special extolling the virtues of a single private company, Uber. (Wow. How does the taxi industry compete with that? Please let us know.)

In addition to offering taxi service at about half the price legal taxis are required by law to charge, Uber succeeds hugely with its exhausting, fast-paced messaging strategy.  Inaccurate, unsupportable claims are made quickly and in rapid-fire succession – and then it’s on to the next big thing! Uber is delivering puppies! Uber is delivering sexy bras! Uber drivers earn $90,000 per year! The pace is breath taking.

But wait – you don’t keep the puppies, just pet them. The bras are a one-time Valentine’s Day stunt –  in New York City – in a select area.  $90,000 per year? Try less than minimum wage

Uber is creating jobs! Oh, wait, half of all Uber drivers drive less than 10 hours per week, and the average driver lasts for less than 3 months.  That doesn’t really qualify as a “job” now, does it?

Uber is the safest ride on the road! Whoops, Uber just admitted in court there is no basis for this claim, and the “safety fee” it tacks on to riders’ credit cards is actually just a booking charge. This epic exaggeration cost Uber $28 million in court on February 11th.

Uber’s ultimate goal is to protect the environment by reducing the number of cars on the road. Except, in cities where Uber actually buys and leases vehicles to drivers at exorbitant rates.

Of all the myths that Uber propagates, that media too often pick up without challenging, and that politicians repeat obsessively, one of the most odious is that the taxi industry is suffering because it can’t compete with Uber. Uber is just so NEW and ADVANCED and EFFICIENT, the stodgy old taxi industry can’t keep up. We have to compete or die, we are being told.

“But we have all the same technology Uber does,” we point out repeatedly. “Every big taxi company in Toronto has an app that lets you order a car by smartphone and pay by credit card.” Beck Taxi lets you rate its drivers; drivers, however, do not rate fares.

“’Compete’?” one of our fleet managers snorted in disgust recently. “We can’t compete? Who ever knew ‘compete’ meant ignoring every law and not paying taxes?

“If that’s what ‘competitive’ means now, I can be competitive. I’ll just stop paying fees to the City, lie to my insurance company, and stop paying taxes. I won’t need to have my cars inspected twice a year, and I won’t need to put on snow tires.

“The $1200 security camera? I can compete without it! Forget the meter, I’m more competitive without it – we’ll offer discounts in the dead hours, and triple the price when the bars close. I can compete; the taxi industry can compete.

“We just never knew anyone wanted us to do these things.”

Meanwhile, over in Alberta, Calgary has released its draft requirements for Uber including insurance, police background checks and vehicle inspections. Uber responded immediately: “No ride sharing service could operate under rules like these,” Uber’s spokesperson wailed, just before threatening to pull up stakes and leave town.

C’mon Uber; where’s your competitive spirit?