The Robotic Taxi Driver

Yesterday morning I made the mistake of leaving my apartment without my Citibike key. When I got to the Citibike station, I realized it and hailed a taxi instead. I got in the taxi and told the driver where I was going which was 6th Avenue and 13th Street. He started to enter the destination into the GPS on his phone which was mounted above the dash to the left of the steering wheel. I told him that wasn’t necessary as all he had to do was go a few blocks down Washington to 10th, make a left on 10th, then across 10th to 6th, then a left on 6th. So he took off down Washington and the preceded to blow right past 10th. At which point, I told him that he had missed 10th and he should make the next left onto Christopher, which he then drove right past. After a couple more missed turns, I told him to stop and got out of the taxi and told him that he should learn a bit about getting around the city before getting behind the wheel of a taxi cab. Then I tweeted this out.

If you click on that tweet and look at all of the replies, you will find an interesting discussion of the current state of the taxis and ride sharing services in NYC, Chicago, London, and a bunch more cities. It seems that my experience of getting into a car and the driver having no idea where they are and where they are going is not unique. It’s happening to lots of people in lots of places.

Now you might say, “well you should have let the driver use the GPS” and you would be right about that. But in that tweet reply stream there are plenty of stories about drivers using GPS and still getting terribly lost. When you have no idea where you are and no idea where you are going, the GPS isn’t as useful as it would seem. And then there are the issues of road work, closed streets, traffic, and other sorts of things that requires experience and local knowledge to navigate. There is a huge difference between an experienced driver who knows their way around a city and a driver just off the plane from somewhere else driving around NYC using a GPS in lieu of that local knowledge.

What has happened in NYC and apparently in many other places is the arrival of ride sharing services has increased the demand for drivers and the best drivers are moving from taxis to the higher end services and new drivers are being recruited to drive the cabs and the lower end ride sharing services. These new drivers have no training and have no idea where they are going without the GPS. And they are totally and completely reliant on the GPS. It makes me feel like the autonomous car has arrived in the form of the robotic taxi driver.

I told this story to my friend Jeremy last night and he observed that the right answer is to use the higher end ride sharing services where all the experienced drivers are now working. He said “price and quality are lining up as you would expect in a market economy.” Of course the other option is to not forget my citibike key or walk or take the subway. Which is looking like a better option more and more these days.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Jorge M. Torres

    Reminds me of the stories we hear of people forgetting facts and figures because it’s so easy to use a search engine to look things up.There’s no excuse for the driver blowing past turns you as you were telling him to make them, unless he was speeding. New York taxi drivers must, by law, follow the route the passenger wants. Uber, subway, and plain ‘ol walking are my options of choice these days.

    1. jason wright

      “New York taxi drivers must, by law, follow the route the passenger wants.”i like the sound of that.

      1. Jorge M. Torres

        Check out: Taxi Rider’s Bill of Rights

        1. jason wright

          thanks. Newark Airport must be an experience.

    2. BillMcNeely

      It’s actually Uber and Lyft’s policy. The question do you have a preferred route?

      1. Jorge M. Torres

        Prefer to walk if I can.

        1. ShanaC

          More people should walk, NYC is a great city for walking!

  2. Tom Labus

    Once in the city, I walk everywhere. Hudson River Park is perfect for getting from mid to downtown. Highline too but can be too crowded.

    1. fredwilson

      we walked the highline yesterday. it was mobbed. but gorgeous.

  3. jason wright

    i don’t drive. i know how to drive and i have a licence (for emergencies et.c.), but cars are one invention i think has far too many negative attributes.i don’t like sitting in a car driven by someone else – loss of autonomy. i dislike buses. i bike. i walk. there is no subway where i live.Last week i reported a taxi for emitting plumes of exhaust pollution. It will be pulled in by the regulator next week for examination. I hope it fails and has its badge revoked. an environmental crime in my book. fucker.In London there’s the system known as ‘the knowledge’. it takes a couple of years to learn and have the necessary knowledge of the street maze to then be in a position to pass the test to get the licence to drive the taxi. People ride around on scooters with clip boards and maps of the city, learning the maze to pass the test. Not sure how Uber and the rest are influencing and changing things.Enlightened cities should fund the necessary infrastructure to insist that all new taxis are electric, and phase out older taxis asap. it would kick start the switch the general switch to electric cars.In Norway 25% of private cars are electric or hybrid electric. 25%!

    1. awaldstein

      I consider New York as enlightened as any city I travel to honestly.It’s hard to make comparisons to countries that monopolize services and control imports even down to the wine that comes into the country.Lot’s of friends in Sweden and Finland but the process of how things get done there, and here, appears dramatically different.

      1. jason wright

        from the outside looking in through the lens of the media NYC seems generally a little chaotic, but every metropolis has its army of bureaucrats earning a living., and so it only ‘seems’.tesla should start making a taxi edition immediately.Norway is a little different from the other Nordic/ Scandinavian countries. Huge GDP and per capita ratio, conservative society, outside the EU and Euro. Somewhat unique in a European context. Sweden is changing. Moving to the right (immigration issues building up there). I like Denmark. The ‘little country’, the happy country. The happiest society in the world.

        1. awaldstein

          Good info and thanks.I don’t do any work in those countries currently so my point of view is through my friends, mostly writers in the travel business.RE: NY, density is dynamic by nature and not the same as chaos in my book.5M! people ride the subway here each and every day, over a B a year with ease–cheaply and safely.That’s pretty damn efficient.

          1. jason wright

            would you say that’s an advantage of a grid city?

          2. awaldstein

            grid city–?

          3. jason wright

            you jest ?

    2. ErikSchwartz

      Electric vehicles are particularly poorly suited for roles where minimum downtime is an imperative part of the business model (taxis, trucks, etc).Hybrids can make great taxis, but until you can charge an 100% electric car quickly they will make terrible taxis.

  4. awaldstein

    I have the same observation but didn’t connect it to the ride share market change Fred.Heading to Europe in a week and let’s see if it gets worse in places I don’t know my way around and language restricted.

  5. Anne Libby

    I’m in that stream. Friday at 6:50 am I bailed on a Hailo ride, for similar reasons, plus the driver was angry and verbally combative. (And I have LOVED Hailo.) I didn’t run away — as you described your reaction. I stalked.So I’m not sure it’s as simple as price=quality.Had it not been dark out, I would have taken the train or walked. I hailed another yellow cab, the driver was lovely.

  6. Mark Cancellieri

    I have tried using GPS in Manhattan, and it is frustrating. I think that the tall buildings must partially block the signal, because it often takes a long time to update my current position. I end up missing a lot of turns using GPS.Luckily Manhattan’s grid of streets isn’t terribly difficult to navigate.

  7. JimHirshfield

    I’ve never had a NYC taxicab ride that I would characterize as a quality experience. My expectations are low, so the experience always exceeds my expectations.

    1. jason wright

      a good personal policy. you can rarely be disappointed with that.

    2. fredwilson

      I have great experiences all the time

      1. JimHirshfield

        If your expectation of “great experience” is getting from point A to point B, then I agree with you.Do we just accept these things as part of a quality experience:- Drivers with poor grasp of directions.- Reckless driving- Pedal to the metal, no wait…- Slam on the brakes- TV in your face- More excessive use of the brakes- Why are we stopped in the middle of a crosswalk?- Yummmm, the smell of cigs- A diatribe on how cash is preferred- Talking on the phone, textingI suppose I’m prone to exaggeration and the bad experiences are magnified.Mental residue from NYC in the 80’s.

        1. William Mougayar

          watch that clip i posted above 🙂

          1. JimHirshfield


        2. lisa hickey

          But I’m with Fred — what is wrong with a “great experience” being defined as getting from point A to point B? I really don’t WANT more than that. When I’m in NYC, I step on a curb, raise my hand, and a cab appears within 30 seconds. Assuming the driver is competent, I tell him where I’m going, and I barely have to pay attention so I just keep working. I pay by credit card, tip is pre-calculated, I jump out at my destination. Truly — that is the norm for me in NYC. And if I have to worry about fist bumps or how I’m going to pay, or whether the vehicle is going to show up quick enough — it’s not as great an experience. The occasional bad experience is not enough to trump the usual good ones. Maybe that is changing but I don’t see it.

          1. JimHirshfield

            I fully respect “to each, his/her own”.If “great experience” in transportation was defined by getting from point A to point B, there would be no market for BMW, Mercedes, and Audi…or first class airline tickets.I think NYC taxicabs have a certain reputation associated with the “genuine” NYC experience. And I don’t really buy into that. I’m not saying it sucks and I don’t want to ride in them anymore. I think there’s lots of room for improvement.

          2. lisa hickey

            Point taken. I totally agree Jim, and I didn’t mean to imply other people’s desire for experiences that were different than my own were somehow invalid.The example I thought of after I commented was — when I flick on a light switch, I want a light to go on. But there are plenty of people who want dimmers and mood lighting and soft bulbs and track lights. And I get why all of those “experiences with lighting” are important to people. For me, 95% of the time, I just want a utilitarian experience with lighting. I just want to be able to see—just like I want to go from Point A to Point B in my cab experience.So if I was thinking about how NYC cabs could better compete with emerging markets like Uber and Lyft, I would move to making them MORE utilitarian not “fancier” experiences. I’d have testing for drivers, as some suggested, to make sure the drivers had more knowledge than the competitors, not less. Make the drivers more unified and more utilitarian. I’d look to how to make small, incremental steps towards robotic driving with the cabs themselves as Fred suggested in both this and an earlier post. I’d even look at ways to make that tv screen a “better” experience — make it more useful — could it somehow be personalized to the rider, or more easily adjustable or whatever. Maybe it could show you live traffic flow around the city, or you put in your destination and it shows you all the best rated places around your “Point B” destination. This could also have the side effect of actually making the cabs more about the NY experience, but in an interactive way not a “fake branding” way.

          3. JimHirshfield

            Some good points there, thanks.

    3. William Mougayar

      I think the non-App affiliated taxis will be relegated to a lower status because you can’t rate your experience, and bad behavior goes unchecked.

      1. JimHirshfield

        That’s definitely there.

    4. pointsnfigures

      I have not found that in NYC.

      1. JimHirshfield


    5. awaldstein

      I ride only on necessity, but the horrible rides are the exception for me. Usually it is just fine.

    6. LE

      Ben Franklin quote:”“I’d rather be a pessimist because then I can only be pleasantly surprised.”

      1. JimHirshfield

        “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”- Benjamin Franklin

        1. LE

          “Better to be that loose cannon that others watch out for”.

  8. PeterisP

    I would use GPS even in my home town – unless I had taken that particular route already, there’s no way how I would know if turning left is allowed in a random intersection; is “123 random street” to the right or to the left of an intersection on a one-way street, or is the route that I took last time not available because some turn is allowed only in off-peak times, etc. GPS+google maps does give me all that information, and not having it means taking much longer to go to any place if I haven’t taken a car there already; even if I know the place and have been there by foot or bicycle.

  9. William Mougayar

    And I thought that taxi drivers miss turns on purpose to prolong the ride, and rip-off customers anyways.

    1. awaldstein

      that’s what $0 tips are for.

    2. kenberger

      They do that in Vegas. Every Single Time. Always aggressively push you for permission to take the freeway, claiming it’s faster (only sometimes true) so they can get a higher fare since it’s based on mileage.

      1. LE

        But yet someone will tip a person who takes a bag off the shuttle van (I do) or the person who brings the bag up to the room (I do) or the maid (I do) and never in a million years think of that as a “rip off”. It’s convention to do that. In this case people are reacting to the fact that they have no control over the “tip”. When in fact they don’t really have control over the other “tips” they give either.Let’s say for argument’s sake someone flies to NYC from Paris or Kansas and is staying in a hotel at, what is it, $600 per night? And eating in restaurants at, say $200 per night. [1] Not including other food and expenses. Is it really a big deal in the scheme of things that they paid an extra $15 to a cab driver or even $25? On a trip costing thousands of dollars?[1] I think I went to NYC for a day (from Philly) for only a show and parking and it cost me close to a $1000 for just that. Not even dinner.

        1. awaldstein

          Must have been some good seats!

          1. LE

            Yeah they were pretty good seats. Was for Book of Mormon.I wanted to wait until they came to Philly. But was for my wife’s birthday so that’s how it goes.

      2. William Mougayar

        Oh yeah, I know that trick in Las Vegas: freeway vs. not. Good example of a deceptive claim.

    3. LE

      You know I hate that phrase “rip off”.What if they were 100% honest, never ripped anyone off and couldn’t earn a living and then there were less people doing that job?You know my cousin (who is hardly the most trustworthy honest guy) once got pissed off because he found some food in the locker of one of his supermarket cashiers.So he of course fired her. But he was really indignant and pissed that she could have done this to him. Meanwhile of course he tried to keep wages as low as possible. And used every single advantage he could against anyone he dealt with. Now I’m not saying that she wouldn’t have ripped him off anyway (to use your word). You get what you pay for.I’ve had the hardest time getting an electrician to show up at the house to do some work for me. The thought that he might “rip me off” doesn’t even enter my mind. [1] He will quote a price and I will make a decision. I wish electricians charged more actually so I didn’t have so much aggravation getting them to show up. I’ve already had a quote of $850 for the work. Anything less than that and I’m done with this project. ($850 quote could start the work so that’s why I’m going for another quote). I just waited the whole summer to get concrete work and painting done. They need to raise there prices if they are so behind is what I say!Now you will say “that’s different from a cab ride” and you are correct. But the truth is people tend to buy on price and drive the cost of things down to the point where there is little incentive for someone to enter into a profession (many times at least) and do a particular job.[1] The analogy I use is that if you take your car in for auto repairs you just hope that you don’t get ripped off to much. (Back when there wasn’t maintenance preplanned).

      1. William Mougayar

        Yup. I hear you. I can be often dogmatic…or principled. Or both 🙂

  10. LIAD

    a little ironic as one of the reasons cited last week for Hailo pulling out of NYC was that due to the grid nature of the city, navigation was easy and taxi’s could easily be manned by new/low-paid drivers

    1. awaldstein

      ahh…I challenge them to navigate the west village then.

  11. Guy Gamzu

    Regular GPS can be tricky and the main problem is lack of minimal training. I wonder why ride sharing services are not integrating Waze in their driver app.

    1. BillMcNeely

      Lyft offers it but I find Scout is a better option. Takes into account construction an and offers non highway options

  12. Robert Heiblim

    Sadly, GPS like other technological aids has too often replaced thought or memory for too many. Intellectual laziness is far too easy with these tools, but no less dangerous. Glad you got where you were going Fred.

  13. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Hmm – I’m in Berlin this coming week -That place used to be the walled garden of all taxi rides :)Now they banned uber taxis as dangerous !!!Imagine a ride there thirty years ago – Turning the wrong way at checkpoint charlieMaybe we shouldn’t stress over the little things ?

    1. JLM

      .Checkpoint Charlie — you are dating yourself, James. Most folks have no idea what you’re talking about. Passed through CC a few times myself in an earlier life.Did that world actually exist?JLM.

  14. rimalovski

    This reminds me of a story…~15 years ago I took a train to DC’s from NYC with a colleague, Drew. Upon arrival at Union Station, we got a cab and asked our driver to take us to 21st & K Street. Drew and I got to talking and 15 minutes later looked up and found ourselves in a nasty part of DC (boarded up buildings, broken windows, graffiti, etc.). I didn’t know DC well then, but was pretty sure this area was not in-between Union Station and our destination. We said something to the driver, he muttered something in a thick accent, and he promptly made a u-turn. Drew and I got back to our conversation, and next thing we know we are in yet another nasty part of DC. I leaned over and asked the driver “How long have you been driving a cab?”. He answered “two days.” Drew then asked, how long have you been in the US. He answered “three days”!

    1. Richard

      Had you purchased those boarded up building at 21 and k, S.W. Or anywhere between union station and 21st and k, It would have been one of the most profitable investments in your lifetime.PS you were looking for 21 and K N.W.

    2. panterosa,

      I once got super lost on my own driving in DC after dropping someone at Union Station on a Saturday night after a black tie party. I was dressed in a velvet cat suit and leopard coat driving around the dregs of DC and running red lights begging to get pulled over by a cop. Since then I’ve avoided the place. Though by coincidence I’m on a train to there now. Going to White House women gig tomorrow and hoping to find my way around better this time!

      1. William Mougayar

        Wow. Be sure to snap & share some pics! Will you be meeting Mrs. Obama?

  15. vrollings

    Ugh! I had this exact conversation with a friend earlier this week. I live in Chicago and Uber has changed my life as I live in an up-and-coming neighborhood (Logan Square) with limited cabs. My husband and I regularly use Uber for taxis and black cars. In the past two to three months, the quality of the drivers has plummeted. The taxi drivers don’t know where to go AND drive terribly. The black car drivers are completely dependent on GPS and a few have gotten upset if we suggest a different route. (We’ve lived here for 20 years.) It is really a quality issue, as you point out. I had formerly been someone who rarely handed out less than a 5-star driver rating, but recently I’ve given more 1- and 2- star ratings than I care to admit.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Fun Farmer’s Mkt in Logan Sq. Just ate dinner up there Friday night.

    2. BillMcNeely

      I drive for UberX I alway let you guys navigate if that is your wish but I gave this guy… a ride last night and he was bit drunk and he ended up adding $30 to his bill

  16. pointsnfigures

    I have had huge problems with ridesharing services geo-location in Chicago. They never seem to know where to pick me up. I have quit using Uber for the most part. We live in a part of the city where we can hop on the L and get anywhere. I walk as often as I can.I have started using Sidecar, and it’s okay. Problem there is not enough drivers. They also need to fix their “tweet” feature after a ride since it’s more than 140 characters.Uber started in the co-work space I am invested in and went from 1 desk to 30 in a year. They say they are going to add 900 drivers here. Like Fred, I usually have to tell the driver where to go. Fortunately, I usually know where I am going. The solution might be an online continuing education program for drivers.In London, cabbies have to pass a pretty stringent test to get a license. Best cabbies in the world in my opinion. Worst are in Washington DC or New Orleans where as soon as you get in you know they are ripping you off.

    1. BillMcNeely

      Here in Dallas the geo location has been terrible the last week. from the driver perspective and a passenger side of the equiation. Anything from a block to a 1 mile off.

  17. Cindy Gallop

    As per Jason’s comment below, this is where London cab drivers’ famed ‘The Knowledge’ test comes into its own – you can’t take the wheel of a London cab without having passed ‘The Knowledge’:http://www.theknowledgetaxi…The test is so rigorous it literally changes the brains of those who take it:http://blogs.discovermagazi…It inspired an entertaining and riveting British made-for-TV movie in 1979 written by Jack Rosenthal, ‘The Knowledge’:

  18. Dan Ramsden

    I wonder if there’s a bigger story here about the digital mechanization of knowledge work and the role that analog human knowledge and judgment will always play… A passenger who is highly technical and an early adopter of new systems still tells his driver not to bother with GPS because of his real-world familiarity with the nuances of the terrain, so by the same token: how about robo-investing and data-based diagnoses in medicine? And what if this is some time from now and the cab had been driverless? I guess the moral of the story, maybe, is that technology is a tool rather than a solution? Or at least in certain cases?

    1. Dan Ramsden

      Come to think of it, the story is even more flavorful: The driver would have arrived at his destination without glitch had he listened to the instructions of his human passenger, but he was unable to do so having been accustomed to take directions only from the GPS. Or something like that…

      1. BillMcNeely

        If someone suggests they do the navigating its suggests a relief 🙂

      2. Mike O'Horo

        Whenever I give directions to a cabbie, I monitor progress to avoid errors. If I’m going to usurp his method with my own, it seems I tacitly take on the responsibility to complete the navigation.

    2. fredwilson

      yes, i think so

    3. Richard

      We have come to a point that basic statistics and probability should be the new “math”. Measures like sensitivity and specificity and understanding how to interpret them are critical skills across almost all disciplienes.

    4. ZekeV

      It’s not the best machine, or the best human, that wins; it’s the human who has the best algorithm for using machines. I got this from an article by Gary Kasparov on playing chess with and against machines.

    5. Ro Gupta

      I think the bigger story is about the possible pitfalls inherent to partial vs. full automation. I worry about the same thing with increasingly autonomous cars … e.g. drivers getting too used to highway auto-pilot and starting to lose their driving muscle memory in critical situations where the computer decides auto-pilot must be turned off. You could make a case that it’s better to just go straight to full automation and skip over the limbo/incremental stages.

    6. ShanaC

      Isn’t that the classical definition of what technology is, a tool?A solution means people will never have to be involved. McLuhan points out accurately that tools actually reshape the notion of what it means to be human.

  19. lisa hickey

    I agree CitiBike’s are a much better alternative. Even though I was on mine the other day, heading south on 9th towards 42nd street, and the bicyclist ahead of me went into the intersection and got hit by a cab. Luckily he was OK, but I don’t know how. The bicyclist had the right of way and the green light, and the cab driver clearly ran the red light. So your story makes me realize that cab drivers who don’t know the streets and rely on gps’s are not just an annoyance, but can be outright dangerous. An experienced cab driver would not have run that light.That’s from a personal perspective—I care about having products that won’t kill me. From a business perspective — could this just be a resettling of the market while there is new upheaval but it will ultimately settle back to something that works? You got out of your cab and were obviously annoyed, and maybe the cab driver will realize he has to step up to the competition. Medallions are still expensive. Cab owners are not going to want drivers who kill cyclists or anger riders and will have to do a better job of competing. The market for Uber and Lyft just grew too fast for them to realize what was happening, but they will have to keep up to survive. And I think NYC cab drivers are a pretty resiliant bunch.Finally — I grew up in the area, back in the day when NYC was literally a mess with traffic laws. Gridlock was everywhere and pedestrians would cross the street anywhere they felt like it. I remember going out to Los Angeles around that time and I was at an intersection. The walk light changed, and not a single person took a step into the street. And I nearly shouted at the person I was with: “How did you teach the entire city of Los Angeles to use walk lights!!”NYC got better after that. Pedestrian laws and cycling lanes and “don’t block the box” initiatives all helped. Cities can change, and transportation can continue to evolve so everyone gets the type of service they prefer. Despite the flaws, I would still use my CitiBike first and hail a cab as a second choice. And get out and walk if the driver can’t do his job.

  20. William Mougayar

    Not Enough People Taking Cabs….that’s the real issue :)…

  21. Steffan Antonas

    It’s interesting to see the shift towards open platforms (UberX etc) playing out in similar ways offline the way they do so often online. A flood of low-quality participation, followed by the need for filtering/categorization etc. I’m confident that if driverless cars ever do get widely adopted, the rise from uncommon-to-common will happen when first movers install fleets of driverless cars as on-demand cabs. It’ll be interesting to see where that service falls out in the human filtering (as a premium service, or somewhere near the bottom).

  22. Antonio Rocha-Ferreira

    It always will. The price is the price and when someone slash it in half and takes say 60% of the market, your goods or yourself are going to pay the price. Either money, time, out of date. We all sing great things about tech but foxcom didn’t deliver on their promise, did they? Where are the 100th years that we are going to add to ourselves? Tech promises a lot, but at least for me, one of the last generation of the offline world, a lot of things seem still in the form of electric pulse/ideias. We are changing, but not fast enough. Don’t matter if from our brain or a robot. We are still stuck in this planet and in the mud.

  23. ErikSchwartz

    The Knowledge. London cab drivers have to pass it.There’s a lot to be said for being a professional.

    1. Rohan

      Agree – their knowledge of that city is awe inspiring. They were also found to have large hippocampuses as a result of that training and the resulting increase in spacial memory.

      1. jason wright

        Fred Housego, super hero!

      2. Dave Pinsen

        Or did the Knowledge requirement select for cabbies with large hippocampuses?

        1. Rohan

          Spot on. I didn’t consider selection bias.We get into the neuroscience domain with that..

    2. Ciaran

      Indeed. Exactly the sort of regulation that companies like Lyft & Uber object to. Which is why it’s a shame that Hailo, the app USV backs, weren’t able to compete in the US as they were formed by cabbies for cabbies

  24. BillMcNeely

    So I drive for UberX ( and to a lesser extent for Lyft due to drug dealers on that platform here in Dallas)First, When I began driving for both in May 2014, I was super inexperienced driving Dallas. Using GPS ensured I did not get lost.Second, with the pressure of getting rated if you miss a turn especially if you get involved in conversation {yes New Yorkers, we do that sort of thing down in these parts 🙂 } you can adjust seamlessly without making the passenger loosing confidence in your abilitiesThird, each service prefers you use GPS. UberX, Apple Maps Lyft you get your choice between Apple Map Google Maps or Waze. This is more done for fare resolution. The first question is did the driver use one of these? If the answer is yes the fare stands. If we did not not it sucks when a $20, $40 or $60 fare goes up in smoke.Fourth, to your point does GPS make you a Robot to a point yes. I get it wrong at times when I don’t know when certain restaurants are in town without an address and I should. Sometimes I stop myself and think thats just done the road or fall back on my training in the Army about terrain association to get passengers around construction or road closing or does that route just not make sense.Fifth, as I have been in the game for a while now I get asked for recommendations for bars and restaurants. As a guy who has done nearly 1,000 of these trips I am pretty good about putting people in the right part of town. It would be interesting to combine peoples ride sharing data with yelp/swarm for discovery.

    1. LE

      Fourth, to your point does GPS make you a Robot to a point yesHaving come from back in the map book days when you had to think in advance and plan a trip there is definitely something that happens when you stop doing that (or even use google maps and do a printout) and rely on GPS.It’s a totally different process in your brain.It’s similar to how a passenger in the car tends to not know the route because the driver is driving and they really aren’t paying attention.The problem is really the same as anything that you try to learn but don’t understand the concept.The example I give is being taught to use a washer and dryer but not understanding that if the clothes are left in the washer for 3 weeks and are dry the purpose of the dryer is only to fluff not to remove the water. So maybe you don’t even have to do that if you are just using them to garden, right?Likewise with GPS if all you learn is “turn on 15th street” and you miss “15th street” and don’t know that you can go to “17th street” and turn you are SOL. Because you haven’t learned the concept you’ve memorized an instruction. GPS of course takes care of some of this for you but I can see how driving in NYC with all the distractions makes it very difficult. First thing anyone has to learn in NYC is how the streets run. That way you have a plan b all queued up. Similar to in Philly you have to learn that the river drives (east and west) are fine instead of the Schuylkill Expressway in some areas. Or in NJ 295 runs for a portion parallel to the NJ Turnpike. Etc.

      1. BillMcNeely

        The point you made about planning and the plan B was awesome. In 2003 The Army began going digital and part of that was getting rid of paper maps and relying on GPS/digitized military maps.Everything was cool until you went to a new area or your system went down. You may not have to call for fire or a medivac for weeks before that day but that was the day you were going to have to do it.A lot of us ended up going over to divisions that had not been digitized and printing off maps for our areas of operations. The stakes were too high. As American we love to play the shoulda game too much ( see DallasEbola) to take the risk.

      2. ZekeV

        If you leave your clothes in the washer for 3 weeks, they are probably moldy.

  25. Matt Zagaja

    Yep, this has happened in other industries as well. For example in technical support the front line employees just have a program/script that guides them through the most common scenarios. This means they don’t have to have in-depth knowledge of their systems to take care of a lot of the basic things people call about (password resets) but creates a frustration for experienced people.It opens up jobs for people without skills and also solves problems for maybe 80% of the population that just needs to reboot their computer or doesn’t care if a driver follows GPS. However it is frustrating for the 20% people.

  26. kenberger

    unrelated, but I almost crashed my scooter when i saw the following yesterday on W 24th st, NYC ! Are you moonlighting, Fred? 😉

    1. fredwilson

      I was there yesterday. I am a huge fan of his work

  27. Paul Robinson

    In London, black cabs are highly regulated for a reason. If you don’t want a black cab, consider Addison Lee where the drivers need a minimum level of experience. Beyond that, you get what you pay for which is basically a bad experience. Uber and co. have gone for Public Hire Vehicle licenses in London which:a) Makes a mockery of the idea that regulation is hard (PHV licenses are regulated to some extent)b) Makes a mockery of the PHV regulations by virtue of the fact Uber and co get licensed under it.Black cabs are not cheap, but they’re worth it if where you’re going isn’t accessible via Tube, etc.

  28. Salt Shaker

    I’m a subway savant. A motorman can’t possibly make a wrong turn, get lost or punch in a wrong address on a GPS. It’s expedient, and the mix of people is refreshingly a constant reminder of NYC’s ethnic and social diversity.

  29. LaMarEstaba

    Reminds me of Enrique Peñalosa’s talk on how he revolutionized the transportation in Bogotà.Synopsis: “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport,” argues Enrique Peñalosa. In this spirited talk, the former mayor of Bogotá shares some of the tactics he used to change the transportation dynamic in the Colombian capital.…I believe that a city where the 1% use public transit is an ideal, and if that’s what Uber drives the city towards, then that’s fine.

  30. LE

    I was initially upset because in my book you are taking on to much risk by driving a bike in NYC to begin with. You aren’t a poor student. Or a young hipster It’s dangerous period. You don’t have to do that. Small chance of a very big thing happening. I wouldn’t do it.So now let’s move on to this:and told him that he should learn a bit about getting around the city before getting behind the wheel of a taxi cab.I understand you were pissed and aggravated but I think despite how New Yorkers operate in general (being abrasive and all of that.) rationally you were really taking on a small risk by expressing yourself in that way (the way I read it).There are nutty people in the world. The pleasure of letting off the steam if you think about it rationally isn’t worth the possible downside to someone going postal on you or picking a fight.Besides you were really mad at yourself most likely. You realized early on that the driver didn’t have a clue but resisted the impulse to get out of the cab at an earlier time.

  31. kenberger

    Re other options like walking, biking, scootering etc: problem is the increase in vehicles on the streets, plus drivers looking at their GPS instead of the road, can contribute to higher accidents. Particularly bad for you when you are utilizing those bodily-exposed travel modes.

  32. LE

    and a driver just off the plane from somewhere else driving around NYC using a GPSNow you understand the types of dregs of the earth that a typical small businessman has to wade through in order to find quality employees that show up and actually do their job.I told this story to my friend Jeremy last night and he observed that the right answer is to use the higher end ride sharing services where all the experienced drivers are now working. He said “price and quality are lining up as you would expect in a market economy.”Actually what’s the point of making the money that you do and not using it to lessen the aggravation in your life as well as stress?I think it’s a simple allocation of resources and money. If you can be more efficient by having a car waiting at your disposal why not have a car and driver waiting at your disposal? Perhaps a dual job of working in the USV office and being a gopher something like that. (I was a gopher for an attorney in high school and often took his car (big ass Lincoln) all over the place when he needed something picked up..)

  33. curtissumpter

    Your friend Jeremy’s answer leaves a lot to be desired. It’s the correct answer in an economics class but from a humanitarian and societal standard it’s a bad answer. While good drivers should be paid more what’s the result for the rest of the city? Walk? Take the subway? More and more technology professionals, i.e. Mark Andreessen, are speaking about technology improving the world for the masses and not simply being a market matching mechanism. Tech people often profess the mantra of making the world a better place. But making the world a better place and making the world a more efficient place (in this case through market matching) are not the same thing. Efficiency often can be brutal on some segments of humanity. This dichotomy between market efficiency and humanity must be resolved in a meaningful way. I can’t agree that forcing the less affluent, not to mention the poor, to simply become accustomed to terrible service is the solution.

  34. Steve Amara

    There used to be a time when prospective taxi drivers had to successfully pass “city map knowledge” test to get the right to be on the road… If a taxi driver does not know how to get his way around, who will?

  35. Salt Shaker

    Was sitting in Central Park at W72 St. yesterday where pedicab drivers congregate and solicit fares. It looks like NYC pedicab drivers have discovered the art of price segmentation, with pricing varying from $2.00 to $4.75 a minute (a significant cost differential on a 15 or 20 minute ride). Sadly, the guy at $2.00 a minute couldn’t attract any customers (I guess he hadn’t fully mastered marketing/promo strategy). Anyway, most of these drivers are foreigners with limited language command. Part of the pedicab experience allegedly is having a knowledgeable driver share historical or cultural facts about Central Park and its environs w/ their patrons (or tourists). The prob is most of these drivers are clueless and kind of make stuff up. For example, I heard one driver tell a nice couple that The Dakota (the landmark bldg on W72 where John Lennon was killed) was where the “Ghostbusters” movie was shot. (Right neighborhood, wrong building.) The tourists, of course, nod appreciatively. Not sure this all matters too much to tourists, though…At the end of the day, they all seem to have a happy experience. I guess I’m the one that has to get over it 🙂

  36. Bobur

    On a slightly different topic within this space: it’s sad to hear that Hailo is pulling out of North America.There are a few reasons why this is happening and Uber is ‘winning’, but I think there is one reason which is slightly more subtle. From my observation, ordering ‘Uber’ gives a consumer a more premium feeling than using Hailo. Why? Because a special car comes and picks you up, not just another black cab in London. Getting a black cab doesn’t make you feel special. Ordering Uberx does. This could hurt Hailo in it’s home city, London. So, I think Uber got that part of marketing right.

    1. awaldstein

      Honestly most people didn’t know Hailo was here at all.If you don’t let the market know you are there–you aren’t.

      1. Bobur

        That’s surprising to hear… So much to be gained in the US, yet little to no advertising?! I have not been in the US for a while, thanks for letting me know!

        1. awaldstein

          Not a criticism just that I Uber was everywhere in my face-discounts on tech and fashion and wellness events.I’m always careful as a marketer by trade never to criticize efforts. All I can say is that as a prime target consumer, they didn’t get to me.And for Uber, partnerships and press more than advertising worked.

    2. awaldstein

      A brand of convenience and quality not status is the key. Statu–certainly not in New York.

  37. Michael Shafrir

    Hailed an UberX this week from Jersey City. The building was on the Hudson River, with a clear view of 1 World Trade.I get in the car and say “Grand Central please.” The driver responded “Oh…That’s in the city, right?” and then proceeded to enter it in his GPS. Note, this was not Waze which may have helped with traffic. This was entering it in the GPS because this driver did not know where Grand Central was.

  38. Alberto Menoni

    or get Waze ASAP

  39. Pete Griffiths

    I very much doubt this has happened to you in London. You can’t become a london cabbie unless you pass ‘the knowledge’ which is a gruelling test of street and place knowledge. It typically takes people years to prepare for it.

  40. tywhite

    I’m afraid your friend Jeremy is absolutely right, and that hurts your portfolio company, Sidecar. While I appreciate the “know what you’ll be charged up front” piece of the model, they wouldn’t be in business without it — every driver I’ve had in both SF and Chicago has set a new record for worst driver ever. They use GPS and still miss turns. Lots of them. It takes twice as long to get where you’re going, and feels 1/10th as safe (my girlfriend and I were literally holding onto each other for dear life more than once).One tidbit to note, though, is that these Sidecar experiences were all when Uber & Lyft were surging. At those times, you get what you pay for — as many folks have already noted, the better drivers will be on Uber/Lyft when there’s more money to be made there. Not sure how Sidecar can/will combat that effect.

  41. Brandon Burns

    I’m not sure this is the right lesson learned. I don’t think it has anything to do with taxis vs ride sharing. It has everything to do with people being reliant upon technology. There are millions of people, from taxi drivers from teenagers, who won’t start their car w/o turning on GPS, or walk two feet away from a subway station w/o mapping how to get where they’re going, even in a familiar neighborhood. People won’t put together playlists, and instead follow someone else’s or use Pandora. They won’t read full articles, and instead get their news via Buzzfeed soundbites. They won’t go to the store to try things on, but instead buy the same sweater in 3 different sizes online and then send 2 back. And so on.Technology has made people lazy; if you don’t have to think, why should you?

  42. ShanaC

    He’s not a robot. And what happens when the market for the high end gets saturated and the price is no longer propped up by price wars? Will taxi drivers know their way around?

  43. Just saying

    Funny. Given the state of 140 character text messaging systems, a proliferation of multiple choice tests in schools and spell check coverage on electronically submitted homework assignments we are finding the same inability of large percentages of students to compose their thoughts concisely and/or cohesively in a written essay. Sort of the taxi drivers dilemma of working without GPS. The Damocles sword of technologies benefits for many? Critical thinking skill atrophy.

  44. Mroberhozer

    My first reaction: why isn’t the Citibike key just an app on your phone?

  45. Marcos

    Not to mention the lack of basic driving skills (accelerating and breaking smoothly, changing lanes, etc).

  46. Sean Hull

    I wonder if it is also a consequence of our overeliance on maps, gps & search. Nicholas Carr argues I think successfully that the internet is making us stupid.

  47. Steven Lowell

    True stories: As a retail store manager on 51st & 3rd years ago, I used to hail taxis for my staff because if they were Black or Hispanic ,cabs weren’t stopping. To this day, given I know I look like a naive, harmless, tourist to most drivers (although a NYC native), when I get in a taxi I warn them with a smile, “Don’t try anything stupid ok? Your tip will be better for it.” My wife is also Black, and have found NYC taxis have been an exercise for me in the importance of knowing when to be confrontational.I know there are over 130 nationalities in NYC. Cultural biases, “doing things to make more money”, and testing people’s good will, seem to be flaws in human nature that regulations only protect in a reactive state.To be fair, in traveling I encounter the same problems no matter what city I am in. I have had “bad drivers” in Cairo, Bogota, Montego Bay, Honolulu, and NYC.

  48. johndefi

    What about safety? I’m assuming more experienced drivers are also safer while the newer ones who are not familiar with their surroundings are more dangerous to everyone on or near the streets. Self driving replaces the lower end of the market while drivers who actually have bespoke expertise to offer become the luxury service?

  49. yojak

    I have stopped trusting the GPS service to provide the fastest route as they seem to collect information utilizing the users.Just this weekend, the directions provided by Google to a slightly remote/new (1 year old) establishment took multiple cars starting from the same location on differing routes!! Instead of staying on the high way and making a simple U-Turn all were directed into different backroads, ultimately leading to the same location. If you want to be part of the Machine the machine has to use you to collect data…. probably like it just did right now about me!

  50. Tim

    For me this raises a much larger discussion around the extent to which we should “outsource” core human functions. I’m all for adopting technology to solve any number of challenges, but draw the line at outsourcing my sense of direction.

  51. B. Llewellyn Shepard

    I drove a yellow cab here in NYC from 2000 to 2004. (I went to an Ivy League and uh… it’s a long story.) In any event, I used to be able to clear about $100 a night. After the Credit Card Machines came into being, all of that changed – you had to declare your income.So technology reduced the driver’s take-home pay.There’s also the issue of surplus demand. Cab drivers are busy between 7Am to 10AM, 5PM to 7PM, and then again from 11PM on – – and then only a few night a week.The rest of the time, there’s a surplus.Anyway, we get bad drivers because we don’t pay them enough.I could never understand why the drivers didn’t unionize.

  52. Mike O'Horo

    That’s why London has such rigorous taxi training and testing. Unless it’s changed in recent years, drivers have to be able to identify and go to any destination in the City Centre or they don’t get a license. The Knowledge gives visitors, particularly, huge confidence that they can get where they’re going expeditiously.

  53. awaldstein

    aren’t almost all older cities a mix?i’m missing the gist of this I guess.time for a walk.

  54. ErikSchwartz

    Range is the same problem as charging speed.Energy input speed can only fairly be measured in units of range per minute spend adding energy.I can add about 500 miles of range to my Volvo S80 in well under 10 minutes. Call it 50 miles/minute.The fastest I hear about level 3 chargers adding range is about 200 miles in 30 minutes. 6.667 miles/minute.

  55. ErikSchwartz

    There are ~14,000 cabs in NYC. If they were electric 7000 level 3 charger hours would be needed to recharge them for a 12 hour shift (let’s assume batteries age perfectly (they do not)).Hybrids are a much better solution.

  56. jason wright