My love for Uber and a Taxi Driver Named Gene
by Robin Anderson
I love Uber. No, I’m madly in love with Uber… you could even say I’m slightly addicted to Uber. The ease of using an app to request a ride, watching the car move toward you on your screen with the expected arrival time, a photo of your driver, a CLEAN ride, no exchange of money as you are getting out of the vehicle, the option to use a personal card or a business card for payment, receipts emailed and stored online — I could go on and on. For someone like myself, who travels often, Uber is the best thing since sliced bread. The idea of getting into a taxi cab after experiencing Uber makes my stomach turn. It feels… dirty.
But it happens. It happens a LOT in Las Vegas. The last time I attended a conference in Vegas I stood outside the hotel staring down the line of yellow cabs, proudly hitting the Uber app on my phone, but nothing was happening. Determined to bring my driver to me, I kept requesting a car, but there were no cars to be seen on the virtual map. I even rebooted my phone, thinking that it wasn’t being so “smart” today. Still nothing. Then I realized taxi cab drivers are a very big part of Las Vegas. Is it possible they have found a way to keep Uber out?
Feeling defeated, I decided to crawl in the back of a dirty run-down cab and then googled “Uber Las Vegas.” Sure enough, the taxi companies have put up a fight and so far they are winning it. I thought about voicing my discontent to my taxi driver that morning, but it was early, I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and I was still using my whispering voice. The timing wasn’t right.
Later that afternoon, I once again crawled into the back seat of a yellow cab. But this time I was off work and had a cocktail in my hand (when in Rome…), and my whispering voice was long gone for the day. My driver was typical of those I had come to expect in Vegas. He was a little wild-eyed and spoke 100 mph with a voice that could jump two octaves when excited. He was smiling and quickly told me how excited he was that my hotel was not far from his apartment because I was his last customer for the day and he would be home soon. Feeling slightly jubilant myself, I told him that I was happy I could make his day and the only reason I was in his car was because Uber was not available in Vegas! He reacted with excitement to my Uber statement and explained to me that the taxi companies were fighting it and how crazy it was to think they could keep Uber out of Las Vegas. “It’s just a matter of time! A matter of time!”
I gushed to him about my love for Uber and how difficult it was for me to get in the taxi that morning. He responded that the taxi drivers have it all wrong. “If they want to compete with Uber, they need to find a way to differentiate, the way Uber has done. You can’t do the same thing over and over and think nobody is going to compete with you. Companies are looking for new ways. People are demanding new ways. Change! Don’t just throw your hands up and stomp your feet. Do something about it!”
I sat back and listened to every word he said… surprised. His response was completely unexpected and in that moment I ashamedly realized that I had unknowingly judged this man driving me to my hotel.
Impressed, I said, “May I ask your name?”
He happily said, “Gene! My name is Gene. What is your name?”
“My name is Robin. And you are a very smart man, Gene.”
He said, “Thank you. I’ve been discussing the Uber situation in my class. I’m working on my Master’s Degree!”
“Of course you are.” With what I’m sure was shock in my voice that couldn’t be disguised I responded, “May I ask how old you are, Gene?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’m 60 years old”.
Gene looked 75+. He looked like he had experienced a fairly tough life.
“Gene, why, at 60 years old, did you decide to attain a Master’s degree?”
“Well, ma’am, my kids haven’t always made the best decisions. And I finally decided if I wanted them to do something different, then I needed to prove to them they could do it. And the only way I knew to prove that to them was to do it myself. Maybe if they saw me go through school and get my Bachelor’s degree, then go on to get my Master’s degree, just maybe they would do it too.”
Anyone who knows me, knows what happened next. With tears in my eyes I said, “Are they watching? Are they listening?”
Gene replied, “My son is! He’s working on his degree right now”. Then shaking his head in disgust he said, “Buuuuut my daughter… She found herself a boyfriend and he has her thinking crazy things. She quit school and is not making good decisions.”
Disgusted I said, “We don’t like him, do we, Gene?”
More head shaking, “Noooooo, we DON’T like him.”
As I stepped out the cab I asked my new friend, “What is your Master’s degree in, Gene, and when will you graduate?”
“I’ll graduate in December with a Master’s in Entrepreneurship.”
Surprise again! “And what do you plan to do with your degree?”
“I’m going to build the first bullet across America!”
“Excuse me? Do you mean a high-speed train like the Europeans?”
Gene sarcastically said, “Is there any other kind of bullet, girl?! Of course a high-speed train! And when I do, I’m going to put all of the airlines out of business!”
I smiled wide as I handed Gene a $20 tip, “I believe you, Gene. Thank you so much for a great taxi ride. I’m so glad Uber wasn’t available today. I can’t wait to ride on that train.”
Change is coming at us in all directions. Companies experience change every day. Some embrace it, diversify, find ways to differentiate. Others become complacent. They dig in. Or they just throw down their Popsicle stick and go home.
I hope the airlines are paying attention to the Uber/taxi debate going on in Las Vegas. There is a high-speed bullet on the horizon and a wild-eyed, high-pitched CEO named Gene will be leading the charge. I’m not a gambler. Even in Vegas. But I’m going to be putting my money on Gene.