Chicago Cabbies Refusing to Pick Up Passengers Today From 6AM – 10AM, Protesting Uber

I learned this morning, via the Chicago Tribune, that cab drivers will be driving around the loop from 6AM – 10AM, but not picking up any passengers. This, along with a protest at City Hall, is one public way that cabbies will be protesting ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

I feel badly for cabbies, as I know it’s not an easy life. They have to go through a lot of certification (along with exams on their knowledge of the city). They also incur a lot of expenses on their vehicles, as many drivers don’t own the vehicles they use. This means they’re paying for insurance, storage, rental, maintenance, along with gas. Not an easy gig, as I understand it.

But on the flip side, I’m someone who works with technology – and if there’s one thing I’ve seen over the last decade, it’s that technology breeds change. It’s called “disruptive” for a reason.

Finding out about the protest early this morning (I spotted the article at 6AM), I’m really curious how regular folks will react. Doubtless, many people will end up being frustrated this morning – and perhaps they won’t find out why until much later. I’ve had the convenience of reading and thinking about this in the comfort of my own home; I’m not out in the cold, trying to get to my destination, watching as cab after empty cab drifts by and refusing to stop.

Will that be a good thing for cabbies? Or will it backfire, as I don’t get the sense that the general public reserves much good will for the industry. I don’t take cabs nearly as much as I used to, but I’ve had a mixture of experiences – some good, a few bad. And the bad tend to stick out. To this day, I’m still wary of cabbies telling me that their credit card reader is “broken,” and they can’t accept cards.

It’s interesting, wondering what Uber and Lyft might be doing this morning, to counter the protest. Assuming they knew this was happening in time, it seems like one strategy would be to flood the Loop with drivers of their own. And the more they could minimize the impact of the cab protest, the better it is for them.

Or – they could broadcast (via Twitter/Facebook) a Chicago-specific code for free or discounted rides, during the protest. With access to a lot of their customers via social media, perhaps they could get the word out. Four hours is a pretty small window, though.

Ultimately, I guess Uber and Lyft could also do nothing – and bank on the general public getting angry about the protest.

It seems a really big gamble, for the cabbies. I know the’re trying to make a point, but I wonder if this protest will ultimately hurt more than it helps. For whatever media attention they gain, their core customers will be taking the hit this morning.

My gut feeling is that downtown commuters won’t look past their own convenience, and will view the cabdrivers’ protest negatively.

// Edit: The article has been updated to now say that some cabbies are planning to protest. On my walk to work (3 blocks from Millenium Station to Madison/State), I saw a lot of empty cabs – but I also saw about 11 cabs with passengers in the back seat.

A partial protest, with some cabs refusing passengers and others picking them up, seems worse.

If you happen to be stuck downtown, here are two $20 promo codes from Uber and Lyft. Signing up using either of these should provide you with a $20 free ride (and one for me as well).

Lyft: Promo code FELIX709

[CC photo via Ray Tsang]

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