Uber is relatively new to Australia, but in the United States, where it all began, it’s a thriving competitor to the taxi industry. Now I know why.
At the recent Comic-Con in San Diego, my students and I caught a taxi back to our hostel. We had been queuing several hours for a bracelet to guarantee entry to the Supernatural panel scheduled for the next morning. It was now after 1am and all the buses to the Point Loma hostel had terminated for the night.
Our party consisted of two adults and five students and we could not fit into the same taxi, so we hired two. I’d been told by the hostel staff that the fare was around $20.00 and this was confirmed by the taxi drivers.
We split the group into one adult per several students to each taxi and hopped inside. This was a mistake.
I became aware that something was wrong when our cab driver, following the one in front, began to slow. The first taxi zoomed ahead and was quickly lost.
The driver then asked me if I recognised our location. I said he was going the wrong way and to check his GPS.
He said his GPS was broken and then conversed with someone on his mobile in another language. He terminated the call, said he was lost, and needed to stop and check where we were.
I requested he turn off his meter as it was unfair to charge us money when he couldn’t do his job properly. He responded by telling me that the address I’d given him was incorrect.
He then drove around Point Loma until we were completely disoriented.
I became increasingly worried. The streets were dark and by this time we were circling an empty parking lot. Fearing for the safety of my students, I accused the driver of deliberately losing us so that he could increase the fare. The meter was now at $35.00 and I said I was only going to pay him $20 and to stop fooling around.
He became irate, called me something nasty in another language and circled even more leisurely around dark streets.
Then, one of my students said he had GPS on his phone. The driver couldn’t argue and the student promptly gave directions and we arrived at the hostel five minutes later. The students and teacher in the other taxi appeared shortly after having experienced the same thing.
Needless to say we did not arrange for taxis to pick us up the next morning.
Instead, we downloaded the Uber app. Within five minutes a driver appeared and for $12 took us straight to the convention. He said that taxi drivers in San Diego were notorious for deliberately losing their way so that passengers would have to pay more.
After this nasty incident, I’m not surprised that cab drivers are going out of business. Unprofessional behaviour is stupid, particularly given the fierce competition Uber now offers.
Taxi drivers, you have been warned.
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