Boston cab drivers spent May 22nd protesting, rather than making their service better. I’ve taken a lot of cabs here in my time, and the story is the same every time: Rude drivers. Crazy drivers. Unsafe drivers. Drivers with gross, unclean cars. Drivers whose credit-card machines mysteriously stop working right when you need them to work. Drivers who won’t take you from Boston to Cambridge, or vice versa, out of the legitimate fear that they’ll have to deadhead (i.e., that when they take someone from Boston to Cambridge, they can’t then pick someone up in Cambridge and return them to Boston, because Boston cab laws are stupid).
I’m no expert, but this system doesn’t seem to benefit the cabbies. Medallions, 20% of which are in the hands of a single company (Boston Cab) cost $625,000. It’s a giant scam benefiting only a few people.
Uber, on the other hand, has been almost unfailingly great. I’ve taken both the black cars and the cheaper UberX; under the latter scheme, Joe Schmoe can pick you up in his ordinary car, provided it passes certain tests: it has to be reasonably new, and apparently Uber gets on the drivers about keeping their cars in shape or getting new ones. And apparently the company has very low tolerance for poor drivers. Tonight I had my first unsatisfactory experience with an UberX or black-car driver; within a few minutes of submitting the review, I’d received a personal, apologetic email from Uber, assuring me that they’d contact the driver and tell him to clean up his act. Otherwise the batting average has been 1.000.
Markets don’t always work. But in this case we have every reason to believe that they will: there’s a nimble entrant up against an underperforming monopolist. Let Uber continue to be Uber, and maybe cab companies will get it together. Or maybe they won’t, in which case the Boston cab industry should go away.