Three cheers for competition, innovative alternatives and nifty new apps. Hats off to low-budget basement start-ups’ covert guerrilla marketing. Hail righteousness and activism. But disinformation, half-truths and unsubstantiated wild accusations packaged as a Greenpeace-esque write-in campaign does not for a reputable car+driver service make.
And that is what I was under the impression Uber, was supposed to be. As a registered user, the email I got from them today put all that into serious question.
Uber is a taxi-like, black car service new to Stockholm. It differs from traditional taxi services in that it’s all about the mobile application -ordering and paying and the promise of more luxury vehicles. A lot of Stockholm’s fleet taxis are leather-appolstered V70s and Mercedes and not grimy, dented up yellow cabs, so the immediate appeal beyond novel and hipster was sedate for me.
A visiting friend from Boston (Watertown more specifically –gotta ride the 15-minutes of fame train) tipped me off to Uber over Easter. Since then, I have only had one need for a cab. Solo at 4am, a long festive evening behind me, squinting with slightly blurry vision I chickened out and called Ole Faithful, Taxi Stockholm. A black Mercedes sedan came within minutes to whisk me home. Fair to note, the estimate by Uber ranged between SEK 400 and 600. Taxi Stockholm ended up charging me SEK 500. That’s ballpark.
Comforted by a fair estimate experience and having read a few rave reviews, I was on beginning to talk up the service without my own real test drive. People I knew and trusted genuinely liked Uber. Spread the love.
Until that email.
Headline: RÄDDA UBER (Save Uber).
Message: The big bad state transit authority was trying to shut down Uber.
Heartstring pull: Exceptions made for services driving royal people and fancy, schmancy corporate fat cats (Booooo! Hissss!)
Call to action: Rise up, protest, write your congressman (or rather this long list of Swedish officials) and for Uber’s sake and the salvation of all mankind; sign the petition (they implore you!)
Act now and you get a complementary hashtag complete with each Tweet, #UberSthlmLove, the hash of Woodstock meets Occupy Stockholm. The Twittosphere went wild. Much of it was uninnovative, SAVE UBER!
But a number of voices started asking the embarrassingly probing question: HUH?
And then some light started getting shed on the subject. This tempest-in-a-teapot call to arms is not new to Uber’s modus operandi. Pando Daily wrote “Who is the real bully? Uber or New York”. And in Swedish from yesterday evening, Computer Sweden was one of the first to publish the actual statement from the Swedish Transport Authority:
“Uber finns i Stockholm och tillhandahåller tjänster för taxiföretag. Två taxiföretag som vill ansluta sig till Uber har ansökt till Transportstyrelsen om undantag från krav på taxameter. I dessa ansökningar står det att Uber kräver att företagen ska ha undantag från krav på taxameter för att få ansluta sig.”
Loosely explained in English: “Uber is a taxi service and gotta have an approved meter”
Joakim Jardenberg gave insightful thoughts about the ‘rave campaign’ and a potential resolution (in Swedish). Simply: Get a meter!
But Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, is against the taxi meter. In a discussion on Twitter he wrote, “our customers do not want meters or stickers… they want a chauffeur service”.
That might be true in the US where black car services appeal to the über cool who want something a little more refined and are willing to pay for it, but most of Stockholm ain’t about that. More because it doesn’t need to be. Each of the major taxi companies of Stockholm have their own apps, can easily be called from your cell and a new, clean car comes within minutes. But certainly the exclusivity appeals to many and I know that some people prefer to not handle money. So who knows.
Ultimately, I think this PR-campaign movement is going to backfire. It is going to get them recognition for sure. But after the empty “SAVE Uber” chanting dies down, the influential voices -once strong advocates and ambassadors- will be singing different tunes. And they may be slightly off key.
Or the new innovation will disrupt the established Stockholm taxi services as we know it and we’ll end up with the Spotify of private transport. Cuz that’s how Sweden rolls.