The name UBER has some taxi drivers all over the world shaking in their boots. The Kona market is no exception. Viewed as a threat by some, UBER entered the Kona transportation market as a lower cost, ride-share option for customers, one year ago.
In March of 2017 UBER began offering its service on Hawai’i Island. Having informational meetings in Hilo as well as Kona, their search was on to find drivers to fill the anticipated demand. They seemed to be successful in their recruitment efforts, as evidenced by the fact that there ARE UBER drivers!
I have a few friends that are UBER drivers, and I’m constantly asking them about the process and their experience(s). The responses are varied. Some really enjoy it. Some like and dislike aspects of it. And there are those that hate that they are driving for UBER. The ones that enjoy driving for UBER speak of how cool many of the UBER users are. They also appreciate the fact that there is a great deal of freedom associated with making the additional income. The ones that have mixed reviews also speak of the interesting customers they pick up, however, they’re not too fond of the compensation scheme. The ones that did not like the UBER driver experience state that in addition to the low pay, “…you have to be tethered to your phone and if you’re not quick enough on accepting an assignment you could lose it.” I gather, it’s a great side gig for some but not so great for others. The most pleased with the service has been, by far, the frugal traveler.
At the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, you may see people walking up Airport road, in the direction of Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, dragging along their luggage. After seeing this more and more, thinking it’s not too safe, I decided to stop and ask a couple why they were walking up the road. They told me that they are heading to the highway to wait for their UBER ride. I remember thinking “Wow! UBER must be offering quite the deal, for people to want to walk that half a mile with their stuff and risk being struck by a car.” I get it. You gotta do what you gotta do. As of today, the airport does not allow UBER drivers to pick up customers from the airport. Taking a walk up the hill has been their solution, thus far.
For the passengers, as I see it, here are the pros and cons.
- Lower costs transportation
- Cash-free transactions
- A network of regular people (This could be “good” or “bad”)
- No airport pickup,
- Prices are not state regulated,
- Not always available,
- Dependent on access to mobile signal (a challenge for some areas of the Big Island)
Things change. Industries change. As in all business, innovations that will keep your service or product relevant is a must for survival. The creators of UBER have done just that. They have taken a general need- transportation, and with the aid of some software technology and “regular” people and their vehicles, and reimagined how a person could get from point A to point B in a cost-effective manner. I think it was a bold and creative innovation, but far from the panacea of taxi alternative transportation.
Instead of taxi drivers thinking how can they stop UBER, they should be coming together to think of innovative ways to make their service more appealing to potential customers. This business of moving people from one place to the next is not complex. What differentiates one driving service from the next is price, reliability, and quality of service. Taxi drivers will not be able to compete with UBER in the area of costs but they CAN compete in the area of reliability and quality of service and that is where the customers will sort themselves out. Some will focus solely on price point, and go with UBER while others will consider convenience and reliability and go with a reputable taxi service. This is not to say that UBER drivers are not reliable or do not provide quality service, I am suggesting that the seasoned professionals that have been state-regulated should have a leg up in the department of quality of service. They should, anyway. What has your experience with UBER and Taxis on the Kona-Kohala Coast?