23 May 2017 | 15.1 °C

Who The Hell Uses Minicabs Anymore?

Who The Hell Uses Minicabs Anymore?
Photo by Magic Pea.

Minicabs, eh? Like CDs and the A-Z, surely nobody uses them anymore? Apart from people without a smartphone and people without a bank account (the overlap here will include a lot of elderly and low income people). But of cosmopolitan millennials and Gen X-ers with reasonable jobs, who still uses a minicab?

Cab happy

Quite a few people, it turns out — particularly for booking ahead. Airport pickups were also mentioned among the people we canvassed, a fixed fare often being cheaper. (In fact, we just got a fare estimate for a trip to Gatwick and Uber came in at £10-£25 more expensive than our local cab company. Also: surge pricing may apply.)

Uber offers the ability to schedule a ride ahead of time in a 15 minute pickup window; the system will send your request to drivers at the appropriate time. It doesn't, however, guarantee there'll be a driver available, unlike a minicab company who just won't take the booking if they can't deliver. And who do you turn to if your 4am ride to the airport doesn't show?

Photo by Doug.

The human touch

No driver is perfect, but when there's a problem with a minicab you can call the office and sort it out — like the time a driver went to the wrong damn train station without realising. Wouldn't we all rather speak to someone in charge instead of arguing with a driver who doesn't understand they're at the wrong end of Devonshire Road?

Speaking to an office to prebook is also handy when you're transporting an animal or shedloads of luggage. "Please warn the driver I'll need a hand" is a way of reassuring yourself you won't be left at the kerbside by a driver with an allergy to cat hair or helping lift a suitcase.

Steve Wright of the Licensed Private Car Hire Association (LPHCA) says "a server can't chat to you. If your car doesn't turn up, there's someone at a minicab office you can talk to. People report being stranded by app-only companies".

Photo by Kathy Archbold.

Wright explains that minicab companies have been using command and control technology for over a decade now and some have their own booking apps. Like Uber, they can track where your car is, send you information about the car and driver, and they have that information to hand if something goes wrong.

Yeah, whatever, still getting an Uber

It's your call to use Uber — or another app-based mode of transport — of course. Yes, it's quick, convenient, you don't need cash and it's often cheaper. On that last point...

Uber is heavily subsidising its fares. Figures show that passengers pay around 41% of the actual cost, with Uber plugging the gap with investors' cash. We're not suggesting that Uber will push up its prices when it's achieved a monopoly. This Professor of Economics, on the other hand:

Your fare goes to Uber in the Netherlands, not the UK. It's been suggested that this is for tax purposes, something Uber hotly denies.

Let's also not forget that Uber had to be taken to court to class its drivers as employees and offer basic workers' rights, like the new minimum wage and holiday pay. It's an example of what Steve Wright dubs "the uncaring economy", not the sharing economy.

Oh, and in California, Uber seems to view itself as a better arbiter of road safety than the Department of Motor Vehicles, quibbling over whether or not it needs a $150 licence to test autonomous cars.

Other people we've spoken to cite concerns over data privacy and insurance, too. Quite simply, a lot of people's insistence on using minicabs is because they're boycotting Uber.

Photo by Selina Chen.

Keep it local

Your local minicab company is not only paying tax in the UK, it's employing people in its back office. A lot of women and some disabled people too; Steve Wright explains that it's good, flexible work that can be done from home, logging onto the switchboard.

As for your driver, they know the local pubs and supermarkets. As Wright points out, they know which entrance you're likely to be standing outside, they don't need a postcode to pick you up at the Queen's Head. The control centre knows that Mrs Jones uses a stick and takes a while to get outside, and passes that detail on to the driver. So as well as supporting your local economy, you're reaping the benefit of community knowledge.

See also

Last Updated 23 December 2016