News that two taxi drivers violently attacked an Uber driver after using the service to order a car so they could ambush him recently came to light in my home city. It's just one more incident in a string of confrontations between the taxi industry and Uber all over the world. And a shining example of the taxi industry setting themselves up for failure.
At the end of the day, getting from A to B is essentially a commodity service for most customers. What Uber has proved is that, with little more than an app, it is possible to replicate the entire functionality of the taxi industry to the point where there is no difference to a customer between using Uber or a taxi. There may be points of differentiation around insurance, pricing, and whether or not you get to listen to your own Spotify radio station or not, but at the end of the day you as a customer still get from A to B.
While taxi industries around the world attack Uber, I can't help but feel that they are trying to put the genie back in the bottle. The irony is that even if they succeeded in shutting Uber down, something far more difficult to attack and control would rise from its ashes: a free and open ride sharing API.
What would it take to actually develop an open API that replaced both Uber and taxis? All you need is the ability to plot your current location, your destination, make a payment, and provide a rating. Implementing an app on top of this API is almost as routine. Mapping services, geolocation and payment gateways are well established and can be integrated for cents by anyone.
There is a nice quote from the book The Starfish and the Spider which says “When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized”.
Music and movie industries have been attacking online file sharing companies for years, and yet have never managed to shut down free and open protocols like BitTorrents. Software corporations have been attacking open source for just as long, but today they are embracing the idea as a part of their business models.
Uber has showed that the idea of ride sharing is profitable and marketable. The ubiquity of mobile phones and the relative ease with which services like mapping and payment can be integrated into an app mean that a ride sharing app could be made by any competent developer in their spare time. And the spectacular failure of centralized organisations to control or legislate ideas by attacking other centralized organisations means that the idea of ride sharing is not going away. The only question is how decentralized the implementation of that idea becomes.
Uber is just one implementation of the idea of ride sharing. While Uber itself is vulnerable to the attacks leveled at it, the idea of ride sharing is now indestructible. Yet the taxi industry is so focused on fighting the representation of that idea that they don’t see Uber as just one head on the Hydra.
Ride sharing is here to stay. Right now the taxi industry has the relative luxury of a single, central, well defined enemy. But should they actually prevail in this battle, the taxi industry will soon find out that the war will be much harder than they realised to win.