Will Legislation Keep Up With Innovation in The Battle of Uber?

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Sweden. Birthplace of Spotify, Skype, iZettle, Minecraft/Mojang, Dice, Tictail and many others; an amazing fountainhead of innovation in relation to its size. You would think that a company like Uber, after having launched successfully in 30 or so countries would be extremely well received in a country like this one. And it was. Uber grew faster in Sweden than in any other market to date. But then suddenly the police began stopping Ubers in the street and two of Uber’s applications for exemptions from the meter-legislation were denied. 

What Uber Brings To Sweden

I believe that Uber is indeed a superior service. Here are my reasons why:

Security

Uber raises the level of security for both passenger and driver. For the passenger, you know in advance exactly who is going to pick you up. Your ride is tracked via the app and after the ride you receive a map of your ride on your electronic receipt. Expensive detours are hereby made difficult thank you very much. On the more serious scale of things this would make an Uber-car a really bad choice for the would be rapist/robber-driver. On the smaller side of things a lost wallet would be an easy thing to trace.

When it comes to driver-security, the driver also knows in advance who he/she is going to pick up. The passenger is identified via a credit card and a mobile phone which also makes an Uber-driver a poor choice as a potential rape/robbery-victim.

Quality

With Uber you get a clean and orderly quality car. On a good day this car could be a Mercedes S-class or Audi A8. On a bad day it’s a Mercedes E-class. So what do I do on a bad day? I report the succer! Instantly after my Uber-ride I’m asked in the app to rate my ride. If my rating drops to 3 stars (often the case when I get a “disappointing” E-class) I report “car quality” (one of 5 or so options given) as the reason for my “disappointment”. (I use quotes here because the cars are still 5-star compared to any other taxi experience I’ve had in Sweden, or any other country for that matter). If I’m disappointed after riding with another company I’m left with the choice to blog/tweet about it or call the company. This almost never happens because it’s not worth the hassle. Does this low threshold for feedback help raise the quality of the Uber service? I think so.

Also, the drivers are properly dressed in black suites, very polite and treat me like royalty. Most of the time they truly deliver on their promise of being “Everyone’s private driver”. The complimentary water bottles in the backseat armrest is a nice touch.

Price

I’ve not noticed Uber being more expensive than the other company I usually ride with, except for the flat rate to Arlanda which is considerably more expensive.

Ease of Use and Control

Ordering an Uber via the app is simple. You also have much better control over where your Uber is through the map. The entire confusion of who ordered what car and people “stealing” your pre-ordered car is gone.

The payment is taken care of through a pre-registered credit card so you don’t have to bother with payments at all. It’s completely automatic which makes it secure (skimming cases have been reported in regular cabs in the media lately) and it saves you time and hassle. You can even register two cards, one for your private trips and one for your company trips which is a feature I use all the time.

“Big Accountable Brand”

Sure, Uber may not be a big brand in Sweden, but it’s big enough and has enough money invested in it worldwide to be valuable. This means that they are sensitive to brand criticism. Which means that they have to treat customers honestly and fairly in order not to commit brand suicide – or death by twitter to be precise. This is one of the key differences in customer security and trust compared to independent taxi in Stockholm (which has a bad and sometimes well deserved bad rep).

Cons

Uber has four drawbacks. First, you can’t pre-order an Uber for a specific time. Second, you can’t order more than one Uber at a time from a single app. Third, you don’t get a real proper meter in the car – wait a minute – wouldn’t that take away some of the private driver feel? Perhaps they should instead have live meter tracking in the app. Yeah, that’s it. Please add that feature. Fourth they don’t have a price sticker in the car. Again, I would much rather have that in the app.

All in all the sum of these things make Uber the number one “taxi service” (they are actually a pre-order limousine service for the masses) in Sweden in my opinion.

How Uber Clashes With Swedish Legislation

A taxi car in Sweden is required by law to be equipped with a meter according to certain specifications. You can apply for an exemption from this rule if you meet certain requirements. These requirements come in two levels of severity, the milder “särskilda skäl” and the more strict “synnerliga skäl”. The requirements were raised in 1997 from “särskilda” to “synnerliga”.

The Choice We Have To Make

Now – nor am I a lawyer nor a politician, perhaps this is why I don’t understand how the discussion about the discussion became more important than the discussion, but when innovation comes along that raises the bar for an industry in all the ways listed above, a bar that the entire industry needs to measure themselves by or perish, this should be considered “synnerliga skäl” if anything in my mind. Ultimately, it comes down to how we value innovation in our country. We could also ask ourselves how smart it was to move from “särskilda” to “synnerliga” in our legislation in 1997. But unless we are smart and practical about this now in 2013, customers will have to settle for a lesser quality service, the industry will see its evolution being hampered and Sweden will see its brand as an innovation leader being soiled. Keep in mind that 30 other countries, including Germany, Singapore and the United States allow Uber.

When I look at the petition that Uber communicated in Sweden yesterday I agree that it was overly aggressive, perhaps even bordering on juvenile. It put some people off that I think actually like Uber and might have defended the service were it not for the aggressive tone. Then again, perhaps I would have been equally aggressive if my existence in Sweden was at stake. Keep in mind that these people are also entrepreneurs rather than politicians and that they LOVE the company they’ve built, cared for and poured their hearts into. But when looking past this issue of wording, tonality, passion and temperament the core issue remains – should we kill off a superior service by interpreting our legislation in this way, or should we make an effort to let evolution run its course and let the best cab win?

 
About the Blog

This blog is written by Walter Naeslund and has been around since 2007. The blog is about the journey of starting an advertising agency and a sneak peek behind the scenes of what goes on at the Honesty HQ in SoFo, Södermalm. It is also a blog about communication & technology. The blog has gathered almost a thousand posts over the years with several longer and shorter breaks. Welcome and enjoy.
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