To Uber or Not to Uber?
I’ve only been in the country a few days in the past few weeks, so I’ve observed from a distance the complaints by taxi drivers against Uber. However, I feel it be useless because of the human drama created by the lack of knowledge and the useless effort it would take five or ten thousand people to try to stop a tsunami with their hands.
The world has changed, and that change has become etched into our way of life. Today, those of us who use taxis, make hotel reservations, book plane or train tickets, live under conditions that are different and better. Where before we could only access these services by calling radio-taxi, a pager, or a traditional travel agency, today most services are a click away on our mobile device. Costa Rica will not be the exception in the course of evolution, despite the taxi drivers and their unions, the strikes, and the aggression. It is an irreversible process, though I believe the two can coexist for many years to come, hopefully with respect and harmony.
As a consequence of the change, I find it outdated to travel in an old, poorly maintained taxi, in red or orange colors, with signage on the doors, a meter, and requiring cash payment after a utilitarian transport from point A to point B. It is obsolete to have to call them over the phone or hail them on the street without ever knowing beforehand who is driving you. In addition, the fact that there is no service rating system which could be made accessible to future users is also aggravating.
A Technological Solution for Transportation
Also, as a natural consequence of the times, I can do no less than celebrating Uber’s presence in Costa Rica, and especially its wish to invest and create new job sources. Keep in mind that Uber is not a transportation company, as it is not the proprietor of any vehicles. It is a technological solution that allows me to make an arrangement with a citizen providing a service, through a private agreement involving him or her as a driver and myself as a user. Just as I can sell a chair to a neighbor or a knick-knack to any friend, this transaction doesn’t break any laws. Or is it illegal to offer piano, yoga, or math classes?
If the government of Luis Guillermo Solís was current and up-to-date, they would have realized how the traditional taxi business model has been broken by one that is more appropriate for the times. We’ve gone from advantageous protectionism to the rupture of a model which, like many others, has fallen and where technology is an overwhelming force that forges new paths.
Therefore, President Solís, do not expose yourself, do not take on the traits of populism, turn the page and protect our freedom and our market. Regulation through protectionism is a thing of the past. Not being straightforward with the taxi drivers, leads them into the denial and self-delusion that this technological tsunami doesn’t exist.
I don’t recall travel agencies ever attacking Expedia, AA.com, kayak.com, among many others, when they became competition creating online airplane ticket purchases. I have yet to see those in the hotel industry throwing eggs due to the arrival of Airbnb, whose model currently threatens their hospitality business. This remains true despite the fact that this company has already reported over 300 different offers within the country, and despite it being the most valuable “lodging source” in the world without holding any actual rooms. The sectors that best understand the times we live in don’t waste their efforts opposing technology and its benefits. Instead, they adapt, just as the ICE (Costa Rican Electricity Institute) did when they received Skype as a foreign competitor and perceived some losses in the long-distance phone market.
For these reasons and to summarize, we have to Uberize our businesses, or soon we will see them Kodakized. Either we move with the flow of transformation of our times or we will be like the telegraph, fax, Walkman, or horse and buggy. The traditional taxi is a business model that has been disrupted by technology. The force and power of technological progress are unstoppable, especially when it brings with it opportunity, balance, and a direct connection between people.
A Timely and Proper Service
Personally, I hope to hire an Uber or BlackLane when I arrive at the Juan Santamaría airport, instead of being forced to take an orange taxi belonging to one of the few 12 or 15 transportation license holders, awarded under outdated privileged concessions. On the contrary, I would like to obtain the service from one of these other drivers, many of whom provide timely and proper service, as independent go-getters without the presence of privileged groups or clubs, and instead as self-generators of their honest and courteous work.
Let’s open up spaces and allow self-starters to have more opportunities and follow the example of work displayed by the taxi driver. Let’s avoid the traps that lead to corruption, clientelism and undeserved privileges, and instead prioritize the advantages brought on by technology. Taxi drivers simply must work to reinvent themselves, maintain their relevance and fight for their livelihood through constant adaptation. It would also be beneficial to create new values, services, and benefits. Through competition, the users will be fairly benefited.
Welcome Uber, and more so may they be further welcome with the 300 employment opportunities brought to Costa Rica through their service center. Welcome change and the benefits that technology brings us.