Uber’s long war on the taxicab industry has ended with a whimper and a merger, as Flywheel cabs are now incorporated into the Uber fleet, in a pilot that’s starting here in SF and hopes to fly nationwide.
Back in during Uber’s “asshole culture” days of the Travis Kalanick era (2010-2017), the all-out war between Uber and the taxicab industry had Uber sending SFist attack PR emails complaining of “false information propagated by Big Taxi monopolies.” Meanwhile, the established taxi industry that Uber hoped to "disrupt" was hitting back. The former DeSoto Cab, renamed Flywheel, was suing Uber for predatory pricing, with Uber (of all companies!) calling the taxi industry “corrupt and greedy.”
The next time you hail an Uber ride in SF you might get one of these! Long time rivals Flywheel and Uber are now teaming up to share drivers. Listen to @KCBSRadio for more on how riders feel about the partnership. https://t.co/WQRArDB7BJ pic.twitter.com/BKJlqd4fnX— Matt Bigler (@mattbiglerradio) November 10, 2022
But their war has now ended in a marriage of convenience (or desperation?). The Chronicle reports that Flywheel cabs will be available on the Uber app, in a one-year pilot that has now received full approval from the SFMTA. We reported on late March that Uber and Flywheel were working on cutting a deal, which has now received regulatory approval in SF.
When that deal was still in the works, Flywheel said in a press release, “This integration will first launch in San Francisco, and then roll out to subsequent cities in the following months, bringing new lucrative opportunities to drivers, assisting in the development of cutting edge rideshare technology, and providing more transportation options for passengers nationwide.”
It’s unclear if this integration has actually happened yet. But as we see above in a letter dated November 9, the SFMTA has approved this arrangement, saying “SFMTA staff hereby approves Flywheel’s request to offer Third-Party trips” via the Uber app.
Uber is suffering from driver shortages, and they already started a similar partnership with Yellow Taxi in New York City two months ago. (SF’s Yellow Cab, which uses the Yo Taxi app, is scheduled to be integrated in the future as well.) And they also have international aspirations with this. The UK industry publication TaxiSite sounds the alarm that “Ride-hailing firm Uber are looking to make available ALL licensed taxis on its platform by 2025,” pointing to a March Reuters report that said Uber hoped to “include every taxi on its Uber app by 2025.”
But some perspective on Uber predictions: this is the same company that claimed they would have flying cars by 2026.
San Francisco Flywheel cabbies are not being forced to work with Uber — they can opt out. But Flywheel president Hansu Kim tells the Chronicle, “Most of the taxicabs in San Francisco will be serving Uber-booked rides.” For you, the consumer, the pricing and experience will be the same, except it’s a Flywheel that will show up rather than a regular Uber driver.
And who knows, maybe there will be some environmental upside to having fewer rideshare cars idling for hours on end. But it is an ironic chapter that Uber is entering, after boasting for years that they would “disrupt:” the taxi industry, that Uber is now in effect trying to hail every taxicab on the planet into joining their fleet.
Image: Caesar A. via Yelp