Whenever the subject of Capital Region taxi services comes up, there are almost inevitably a number of complaints. The dissatisfaction seems to stem from people being a) unhappy with the reliability of service or b) unclear about the vague pricing system or c) both "a" and "b."
But maybe there's a why shake things up for the better. Two of the area's prominent entrepreneurs -- Matt Baumgartner and Vic Christopher -- have started a campaign to attract the service Uber to the Albany metro area. Uber and its fleets of drivers allow riders to order, track, pay, and rate car service by mobile app.
Christopher, the owner of The Confectionery and The Grocery in Troy, told us today that he was "blown away by the genius of this concept" after he and his wife, Heather, had recently tried Uber while traveling through cities out west, including Denver, LA, San Diego, and San Francisco.
"We discovered it while out in Denver, at Ace, a ping-pong noodle bar," Christopher said via email. "It was recommended by our bartender. We downloaded the app, signed up, and hailed our first cab within 3 minutes. ... We used this service many times during our trip, and found the drivers to be professional and personable, 100% of the time. The drivers I met were all thrilled with the program, as they are now working for themselves, opposed to a taxi company. They seem to all share a sense of pride in being their own boss."
Back here in the Capital Region, Christopher said he ran into Baumgartner and found out they shared an appreciation for the service. Explained Baumgartner: "Vic and I started this conversation because I was in Troy and called a cab company to pick me up because there were no cabs available on the street. I waited for 25 minutes, and when the cab showed up, there were 3 people in the back seat. There needs to be a better option than that."
So they decided to reach out to the company together, and start a social media campaign to raise awareness and rally support.
"Living in NYC and using Uber frequently while I'm there, it has proven to be a quick, reliable, affordable alternative to a cab," Baumgartner, the owner of Bombers and other establishments, said to us today via email. "In Albany, it is often difficult finding a cab on the spot, and Uber provides that service."
Baumgartner's take on the current state of taxi service in this area is similar to many of the complaints that frequently pop up in comment threads: The rides aren't metered, so it's hard to figure out who much you'll end up paying. And there's no guarantee an arranged taxi will show up. He cited getting to/from the train station as a frustrating example. "You have to share the cab with multiple people, and it often takes forever to get to your destination."
Uber currently operates in more 70 cities around the world, including 37 cities in the United States. Some of the cities are the ones you'd expect -- Seattle, DC, San Francisco. But others -- such as Tucson and Santa Barbara -- are on a scale more like the Capital Region.
The service, which started in 2009, has been getting a lot of attention recently as it expands and picks up loyal customers -- and catches flak from critics who accuse it of bending rules, or who aren't onboard with some aspects of the service such as the use of surge pricing when demand is high. A recent Bloomberg Businesweek article is a good overview. A clip:
There's a battle for the future of transportation being waged outside our offices and homes. Uber and a growing collection of well-funded startups, such as the ride-sharing service Lyft, are trying to make getting a taxi as easy as booking a reservation on OpenTable (OPEN) or checking a price on Amazon.com (AMZN)--just another thing you do with your smartphone. Flush with Silicon Valley venture capital, these companies have an even grander ambition: They want to make owning a car completely unnecessary. They're battling each other, city regulators, entrenched taxi interests, and critics who claim they are succeeding only because they run roughshod over laws meant to protect public safety. "Being out in front of the taxi industry, putting a bull's-eye on our back, has not been easy," says Travis Kalanick, the 37-year-old chief executive of Uber. "The taxi industry has been ripe for disruption for decades. But only technology has allowed it to really kick in."
We've reached out to Uber to find out where it's at as far as the Albany market. We'll update if/when we hear back.
Earlier on AOA:
+ Ask AOA: What is a reasonable price for a cab ride from ALB to downtown Albany?
+ Ask AOA: A good taxi service?
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