By David Cumpston
LCI Director of Client Services
A recent segment on our local nightly TV news caught my attention initially because of the subject matter, but halfway through the piece my PR sensibilities kicked in and I was shocked at what I was seeing.
The San Francisco Bay Area, oftentimes at the forefront of tech innovation, is at it again. One of the newest trends taking center stage is the concept of “ride sharing,” a new industry that can be described as a service that arranges a one-time shared ride on very short notice. Promoted as a way to utilize the empty seats in passenger cars that are already on the road, the concept is proving to be uber (no pun intended) popular in more and more cities across the US. A few taps on your smartphone will summon a driver to your doorstep who will take you where you want to go – sometimes for less than the cost of a taxi. Payment is made via your on-file credit card and is considered a “donation” rather than a fare. Moreover, you’re likely going to have a more interactive conversation with the driver than you will ever have with a taxi driver – and since each rideshare driver is able to personalize the experience, chances are you’ll be offered a snack like chewing gum or Starbursts, or a bottle of water. Best of all, riders can “rate” drivers which provides a much-needed incentive for superior service.
Not everyone is happy about this new phenomenon – particularly the taxicab industry. Not only are they being impacted financially by this new service, but they’re also pointing to transportation regulations that aren’t being followed which are ultimately meant to protect passengers. While the California legislature is mulling a new set of laws meant to regulate this burgeoning industry, more than a few taxi drivers are reportedly taking some drastic measures to let it be known that they’re not going to stand idle and watch their pocketbooks be impacted anymore.
I’m all for a healthy dose of competition, no matter the industry, but what surprised me most was the way in which both sides stated their case in this TV segment. Being a PR professional, it was obvious to me that the executives speaking on behalf of the rideshare companies were properly media trained and adhered to well-crafted statements that, in their eyes, fairly explained their position. Trevor Johnson, the person who spoke for the other side, is a taxi driver. Although he was Chironed as representing the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association (SFCDA), one would hope he was not necessarily speaking on behalf of all taxi drivers.
According to the piece, Mr. Johnson has let his opinion be known about the ridesharing industry on several occasions. These include his rather unprofessional demeanor at a recent California Public Utilities Commission meeting on rideshare regulations. At that meeting, he verbally attacked an attorney for Lyft, one of the companies that launched the ridesharing concept. He’s also been accused by rideshare drivers of approaching them in their vehicles and sharing his opinion about the industry in a threatening manner.
For the average viewer watching this segment, the opinions left in their minds was less than favorable for the entire taxicab industry. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out why the SFCDA would either choose to let Mr. Johnson speak on their behalf after he’s been involved in more than one less-than-stellar confrontation with the opposing side. If in fact he was THE best person to speak on the Association’s behalf, why in the world was he not put through a media training session? Regardless of viewers’ knowledge level of media preparedness, the perception ultimately left in most people’s minds was that the taxicab industry is a necessary evil. But if there’s another way to get from point A to point B in a safe, friendly and sometimes cheaper manner, why in the world would you choose to take a chance on stepping inside a vehicle that’s being operated by a driver such as Mr. Johnson?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just summoned a driver from my phone to take me home – and I’m dying for some Starbursts.
As you might suspect, LCI offers comprehensive media training services. If you’re interested in learning more, just email me at [email protected]
Now it’s your turn. Have you tried one of the new ridesharing services? If not, what’s stopping you? If so, has it replaced your use of taxis altogether? Please comment below or send me a note.
By David Cumpston