The Uber backlash in Spain has driven me back to my very first taxi app – myTaxi. When local ESADE students recommended myTaxi, I was surprised to find it in my previously downloaded apps with my credit card information intact. I had completely forgotten about it. Which led me to wonder, how much competition does the German company really pose for Uber in Spain? And who will win the European taxi wars?
My first Uber ride was in 2013 as a Washington, DC resident. I distinctly remember thinking the service was overpriced (before uberX launched) compared to the more reasonably priced myTaxi. Both apps came onto my radar around the same time and as a cost conscious 20-something I was more price sensitive than brand loyal. So myTaxi it was. Sure, the app had some downsides, like a long wait when no taxis were in my vicinity, but for the most part I was satisfied with the service. But after moving to Michigan in 2013, I quickly forgot about myTaxi and focused on local transportation options.
Fast forward to Spring 2014. Uber debuted in Ann Arbor with free ride promotions, promotional credits, the works. I decided to give Uber another shot and was impressed with the low fares, readily available rides, and professional, reliable drivers. Out of sheer convenience and necessity, Uber became my go-to, despite my reservations about its company culture and background check protocol. So when I decided to travel to Barcelona to study abroad, I was hoping that Uber and the Spanish government would be able to come to an amicable agreement. However, not only has the Spanish government put the brakes on Uber, but the myTaxi app, having launched in Barcelona and Madrid in 2011, has seen considerable growth in the Spanish market. But if there’s one thing we know about Uber it’s that it won’t take this ban lying down.
Both Uber and myTaxi employ similar smartphone application technology to receive and send ride requests to drivers and streamline the tracking and payment system; however, the business models differ. Uber employs any qualified driver with an acceptable vehicle, while myTaxi acts as a middlemen between regular taxi drivers and taxi users. MyTaxi tries to work with licensed drivers while Uber tries to circumvent country taxi regulation altogether. The conflict with Uber was most evident in June 2014 when thousands of European taxi drivers blocked traffic in cities across Europe to protest taxi apps like Uber and others.
|Uber Protester in Madrid, Spain, Photograph: Paul White/AP|
Given the similarity in technology that powers both apps, success for Uber will be determined either by compromise with local officials and taxi associations or appealing to users who will feel strongly enough to fight on its behalf. Although Uber has bulldozed its way into hundreds of cities and been allowed to stay due in part to overwhelming consmer demand, it will need to rethink its one size fits all bully approach in 2015. Afterall, myTaxi’s convenience and safety rating is much higher in my book. It’s comforting to know that on the other end of a myTaxi request is a legitimate, licensed taxi driver. Not to mention the plethora of cabs available – given Spain’s current economy it’s a huge demand booster for drivers who can now have another channel to increase pickups and normalize fluctuating revenues.
Even if Uber were to regain the favor of most European governments (as it is so desperately trying to do by promising 50,000 new European jobs), it will now have to compete against the solid reputation and customer experience set by myTaxi. MyTaxi is like Uber minus the risk and surge pricing and with it’s network of local cabs, myTaxi poses the biggest competition for Uber in Spain. And with its recent acquisition by Daimler AG, there’s no telling how the company will transform and dominate the cab-booking market in the months and years to come if it has a sound strategy to scale. As it stands it could potentially win the European taxi wars or at least set the precedent for the most workable model.