Going for a Ride in Tbilisi
As per usual, I cabbed home at the end of the working day, I usually find one right outside my office on Agmashenebeli Ave. Like any other day, I found a driver to take me to Vake, just a short commute across the river.
As we approached my building, I pulled 20 GEL from my wallet and prepared to give it to the driver as we came to a stop. He quickly gave me, what I thought were a few notes and I walked toward my flat. As I’m walking, I realize that the cabbie had given me 5 GEL note change from a 20, instead of 15 GEL. I should have checked before I got out of the car but I was in a hurry to get home. The feeling of anger overwhelmed me as I realized I had paid 15 GEL for a quick drive from the old city into Vake.
This wasn’t the first time I have been overcharged in Tbilisi while taking a cab but it’s definitely the most egregious.
As I rode the elevator up to my flat I began thinking about transparency in the taxi industry in Georgia and some gaping holes in regulation as compared against other parts of the world. After a quick search online, the reality became clear.
There is virtually no regulation.
Anyone can become a taxi driver, any car is sufficient, there is no licensing and drivers pay no tax. I do understand that public safety is in the interest of the current Prime Minister and that discussions are underway relating to regulation. I have a few thoughts regarding this.
- How should fares be “metered” from one spot in the city to the next?
- Who is qualified to become a driver? Will there be background checks?
- Will there be actual meters within the car, gauging distance and time traveled?
- Will alternative payment methods beyond cash for be accepted?
- What standards will be in place to ensure both the safety of the rider and the driver?
- Will vehicles need to meet a minimum requirement to be deemed road worthy?
- And if so, what will those requirements be?
- Will drivers be legally permitted to turn down fares if those fares clearly pose no threat to the driver?
From a technological perspective, many of these point can be address without an investment in hardware. With most drivers using smartphone and/or tablets while driving it wouldn’t be difficult to apply technological changes to how cabbies operate and deliver riders.
Uber, a scrappy private car service based in San Francisco and evaluated at more than $50 billion, has seen its service pop up everywhere from Nairobi to Beijing to New York. Uber leverages smartphones to deliver an optimal experience for both the driver and the rider while creating a seamless during the entire trip.
Here’s how Uber works; the rider launches the Uber app on his/her smartphone, chooses the type of car he/she wants (taxi, private car, SUV, etc.) and pushes a button to request a car. When a driver accepts the request, a profile photo, a picture of the car, the car model, the license plate, aggregate ratings from all users of the driver, the car location and how long it will take him or her to get to the rider all appear. At that point the rider is required to input his/her destination before pickup.
When the driver arrives, he/she will ask for the rider’s name to verify that he/she is the person who made the request. Once seated in the car the rider will see a map showing location within the Uber app, destination, how long it will take to get there and the optimal route for the driver. If needed the passenger can get a fare estimate before getting in the car.
At the passenger’s destination, all he/she will need to do is exit the car. Payment is transacted behind the scenes because a credit card is attached to the rider’s profile. The rider is also expected to rate the driver from one to five stars, for the future benefit of other riders.
From start to finish, this is a system of radical transparency for both the user and the driver. Drivers get to rate riders and vice versa, the route taken is transparent, cost is transparent, the amount of time it will take is clear and the entire system is expedient.
All of this is transacted through a smartphone.
This is well and good but will Uber come to Tbilisi? I have no idea. In the meantime, you can find white label and open source frameworks for building your own Uber.