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Taxis drivers strike back!

Published: Friday, September 06, 2019

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Words by Peter Switzer

Digital disruption is delivering social changes many of us would have never imagined even a decade ago and the wide-ranging, life-altering implications of it were rammed home to me on Wednesday night as I spoke to a group of would-be taxi drivers.

The experience was personally and inspirationally exhilarating as I hung out with a group of largely aspirational ‘new’ Australians, who have the fire in their bellies to be in business for themselves. And they can thank a digital disrupter called Uber for their opportunity!

I have consistently argued that Uber was allowed to break the transport laws of Australia and the economies of the world because gutless politicians weren’t prepared to disappoint the consumers/voters who, in turn, had been consistently disappointed by the taxi industry worldwide!

Of course, there are great old world taxi drivers — I can talk because I use them in preference to Uber — but gee, there have been shockers out there. They were a product of the virtual monopoly (or oligopoly) within which the taxi industry existed and it led to a “who cares about the consumer” mentality.

The leadership of the industry pretty well showed the same “don’t care” attitude to a big chunk of their drivers and this was transmitted through to the poor saps called customers.

However, Uber changed all that and its early success has had serious implications on the taxi drivers who owned cabs and the once precious plates that gave them the right to run a cab and make a good living.

I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of Uber being able to illegally kill the businesses of many taxi drivers but I do want to look at the positives that have resulted.

I feel for those owners who had valuable taxi plates devalued because the government didn’t say “no” to Uber or simply put on them the same legal requirements as the incumbents in local cabs.

That said, there’s often a silver lining inside a black cloud, with the taxi industry reforming itself using the very visible 13 CABS strategy.

Because of the threat of Uber, we now see new taxis, new uniforms, greater tech solutions and many travellers who were knocked out by a new business called Uber are now starting to look at the new-look cab rivals, realising the choice for transport has got even better.

Uber not only brought a threat but has encouraged an old and tired business to embrace apps, automated taxi bookings, payments and bookings by apps. My driver this morning called me on approach to ask a question!

This is a new age partially defined by digital disruption and we, the travelling public, are the winners but we’re not the only winners.

The enlightened leadership of 13 CABS has developed pathways for drivers to become operators, which means that they can buy a cab and become a self-employed business owner. Not only does this give these aspirational Australians economic opportunity, it will give them and their families social mobility.

And the travelling public will have positively-charged cab-drivers adding to the quality of our transport options.

As someone who’s often asked to ‘lecture’ to small business owners about what they can do to boost their productivity, make their businesses more customer attractive and create a winning workforce, it was encouraging to see people of all ages, from lots of different countries, all enthused to take on a new challenge. Even better still, they asked lots of questions that told me they had the fire in their bellies to make a really good go of their pathway to becoming a business owner/entrepreneur.

Digital disruption is threatening a lot of conventional businesses — from retailers to hospitality providers to professional services, to all manner of operations. And bosses and employees can be on ‘death row’ unless they regroup and reinvent themselves.

13 CABS is doing just that: turning a threat into an opportunity, not only for their own business but for Australians mad keen to get ahead.

The guy who drove me to the airport after the function told me how he plans to have four taxis down the track — that’s aspiration on steroids.

Deregulation can often bring out the best in products and the worst in people. However, in this case, the deregulation that has come out of this digital disruption is not only giving us a virtual fleet of new taxis but also a new team of taxi drivers I’m not only happy to ride with but I was proud to teach a thing or two the other night!

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