The numbers, as reported by JP Mangalindan for Fortune, are staggering:
The San Francisco Cab Drivers Association (SFCDA), an association for registered taxi drivers that promotes fair working conditions and business practice, reports that one-third of the 8,500 or so taxi drivers in San Francisco – over 2,800 – have ditched driving a registered cab in the last 12 months to drive for a private transportation startup like Uber, Lyft or Sidecar instead.
Read that again. One-third. Twelve months. We tend to throw around the term “disruption” way too often these days, basically stripping it of all meaning. But this is actual disruption. And it’s disruption in such a short amount of time that it can truly be felt by all.
So why is this happening so quickly? Technology is certainly a huge factor. But just as important of a factor is how incompetent the incumbents were (and are).
Anyone who either lived in or visited San Francisco in the era before Uber knows what a nightmare it was to get a cab. The SF bus system and Muni were not only cheaper options, they were actually far better options. 1
Yet San Francisco did nothing about it. While New York City was updating their insanely larger fleet to ensure that all could take credit cards, basically none in San Francisco would or could. It was like the city wasn’t just creating the conditions for these new car services to arise, they were almost begging for them to appear. And appear they did.
Now the city seems blindsided. Also from the article:
"We’re working to improve taxi service to better compete with ride share companies," explains Paul Rose, a spokesperson for the SFMTA. "That includes putting more taxis on the street." Rose says the SFMTA is also working on providing its own real-time data to third-parties to allow for more Flywheel-like apps, which Rose says such will arrive "soon."
This quote is about two years too late.
In tech, we often look at large companies like Microsoft and others and immediately mention The Innovator’s Dilemma that they will one day face, if they haven’t already. But it’s pretty easy to overlook other entities, like the taxi system in San Francisco, that are so much more out to lunch.
They’re not actually innovators. And there is no dilemma. All they’re doing is sitting around collecting money from increasingly unhappy customers and increasingly frustrated drivers under the blanket of bureaucracy. Their only hope for survival is some outdated regulation, but they can’t even be bothered to care.
It’s so great to see all these calcified systems gain competition. And it’s even better that it’s not happening “slowly but surely”, but rather quickly and completely. It’s as if they never saw it coming. Actually, they undoubtedly didn’t. True disruption.
And anyone who has ever dealt with Muni will know what an insult that is to the cabs. ↩