In the following we present the findings of our interview study structured according to time: We start with what has happened in the past including how our participants came to be taxi drivers and in how far technology has led to changes in existing work practices so far (4.1). Following this we will outline how drivers react to present IT-driven innovations within their industry (4.2). Finally, we will present the drivers’ attitude towards future innovations – particularly SAVs – enriching their personal opinions with examples of scenarios where human interactions might be relevant (4.3).
General background and experiences of taxi drivers
The professional careers of the interviewed taxi drivers were very different from each other. None of the participants chose the career of a taxi driver voluntarily when they entered the job market. For eight respondents, taxi-driving was more of a sideline during vocational training or retirement. Five taxi drivers made a conscious decision to take up the profession of taxi driver, although they already had other permanent jobs at that time. Nine of the interviewed taxi drivers started driving a taxi only as a temporary solution and then stayed with it due to the lack of alternatives. They had either lost their job, quit their jobs themselves, or had dropped out of their studies. Table 1 gives an overview on the various reasons and backgrounds of our participants.
Fifteen of the respondents reported they had been working as taxi drivers for over 20 years. They described that both the competition and their clientele had changed considerably in recent decades. Increased competition from the expansion of urban public transport in terms of routes and destinations, and new mobility services such as carsharing were seen as main drivers of this change. Customers allegedly changed their habits, particularly in the context of the declining purchasing power of the population and a decline in the urban pub and party culture, resulting in a lower demand for (night) trips.
Many of the taxi drivers’ work practices have already changed because of technical progress. Nowadays, taxi companies use digital mobile systems to coordinate their fleets and satellite navigation plays a huge role for the drivers. All surveyed drivers had GPS systems and used them routinely via text or voice commands to plan a ride. As a rule, drivers use the GPS as a supplement to their own local knowledge and planning ability: they describe situations in which the systems were inferior to their own knowledge and recommended longer distances than necessary. Drivers mainly use GPS if they do not know the specified destination well, appreciating the efficiency of these systems in such cases.
Regarding the organization of customer orders, technology has enabled taxi drivers to work more autonomously, as described by T17:
‘We now have very many small companies that have only one taxi concession or a maximum of two. And there is no point in having a dispatcher, that is the problem. You need to get someone to do the coordination, who costs money, day and night, then you have to rent an office. (...) Since there are mobile phones – everybody [taxi driver] has a mobile phone – with very few exceptions people can call you. In former times it was just that the taxis were not available because the mobile phones did not exist.’ (T17)
This respondent observed that taxi companies have become smaller in recent years, and that it is very costly for a single company to have one position only for coordinating the trips, for example to receive telephone calls from customers and then distribute them to the drivers. Since the advent of mobile phones, customers have been able to contact taxi drivers directly in their cars during their working hours and request rides. This was not possible when the drivers could only be reached via radio, so a dispatcher was needed.
Also, new GPS-based systems enable fully automated brokerage of taxi rides. These systems allow taxi drivers to view the locations of other colleagues. This results in a significant improvement in taxi drivers’ trip planning, as our interviewees reported: ‘you can log into the stopping places online. In the past, you were forced to go there and stand at the back’ (T01). Another taxis driver explained what advantage this change has for him in more detail:
‘Because in the past (…) if you were unlucky, there were already ten taxis there – and you waited endlessly. At another stop there was none at the same time, there you would have been needed. Well, and now you can see everything [points to the app in the smartphone]: there are fewer, then I’m going there now, or here are so many taxis.’ (T19)
T19, an experienced taxi entrepreneur, describes how uncoordinated the taxi business was without the digital tools that are common today. In addition to taxi orders that were placed via the taxi dispatchers, they had to wait at stopping points or hope for being hailed directly by customers on the streets. Without digital systems to provide awareness, drivers had to decide for themselves which waiting area would offer the best chance of finding the next customer. They could rely to a certain extent on their experience, but luck played an important role, especially as other drivers positioned themselves based on similar preferences.
The taxi drivers were generally quite open-minded towards innovations such as e-hailing apps like mytaxi – eight taxi drivers had already been using them and expressed a positive opinion. Only four of them mentioned the negative consequences of increased digitization, especially regarding the reduced contact between colleagues and taxi dispatchers (T01, T05, T06, T19). One of them expressed his frustration with a declining sense of togetherness. He appreciated listening to his colleagues over the radio, even when only small requests were involved:
‘The contact, that is regrettable. (...) Everything has advantages and disadvantages (...). In the past this was just more pleasant with voice radio. One has heard where things are going on. Ehm, you heard your colleagues. You could only shake your head, why doesn’t he know the street? (...) That was easy, it was more communicative.’ (T06)
The respondent found it ‘more pleasant’ to be in contact with his colleagues because it gave him the feeling of being able to get a better overview of the overall situation (‘where things are going on”). His comment shows that communication via voice radio was not only about efficient coordination, but that the social aspect played an important role as it was ‘more communicative”. T01 explains the aspect of social contact further: taxi drivers traditionally used to meet at typical waiting points such as taxi ranks at train stations or tram stops, while waiting for the next passengers or dispatch requests. As drivers are increasingly using e-hailing apps, fewer drivers are to be found at the waiting points:
‘Nowadays, this social exchange does not take place at all anymore due to the introduction of digital systems, and some of our colleagues can no longer be seen for months. Unfortunately, everything has become anonymous.’ (T01)
T01 describes a growing anonymity because of e-hailing apps and expresses the view that his colleagues are no longer as close as they used to be. He deplores this aspect of digitization. Self-organization via the apps thus leads to a transition to a less collegial work environment. T01 thus sees the danger that the drivers’ social cohesion will diminish. However, other respondents did not bring up this topic.
Facing current innovations in the taxi industry
Usage of taxi apps
Eight out of 19 interview partners reported that they actively use an e-hailing app. These participants were overly positive about their experience with them, primarily appreciating advantages that the app offers them as well as their customers compared to using a classic taxi dispatch. Arguments about these benefits included the view that customers would value the additional service features such as tracking the location of the ordered taxi, getting the estimated time of arrival, and paying the fare by cashless payment. One respondent also mentioned the greater field of his service district as a benefit for taxi drivers:
‘In the past, you could not take trips in Cologne or Düsseldorf [when coming from Bonn]. Today I take a passenger to Cologne and get a new ride via my app. (…) You can log in to the taxi stops online. In the old days, we were forced to go there and get in line.’ (T01)
Regarding effects on their work, T01’s comment shows that using the apps offers drivers the possibility of getting trips outside their core areas more easily. Regional taxi dispatchers only broker trips in their core areas. If drivers leave those areas, they are on their own. E-hailing apps help taxi drivers to find customers at their current location even when they are outside their normal service area. With luck, they can thus avoid an empty return trip. However, in some German cities some e-hailing apps have been prohibited from brokering trips to drivers who do not have a taxi concession at the starting point of the trip.
T19 reported that he uses a taxi app because he gets additional customers through it. His experience was that foreign customers especially prefer to place orders via the app because they appreciate the easy access without having to place a call to a German dispatch center, and because they can pay directly via the app. These advantages lead T19 to accept the additional costs of order placements via the app.
Three drivers reported that they are no longer members of regional taxi dispatch service. The commission-based costs of the app reduce the financial risk to taxi drivers, as costs are not incurred as fixed monthly fees as in case of the dispatch memberships, but only incur if drivers have actually undertaken trips. T10 told us that his taxi dispatcher demanded a high fee of 800 Euros per month, putting him at great risk if he should become ill or otherwise unable to work. Hence, he cancelled the membership and now exclusively uses a taxi app to get orders or find taxi stands with high demand. Thus, the revenue-dependent costs make taxi apps an attractive alternative to a membership of a taxi dispatch service, especially for occasional drivers:
‘I’m a member [of a taxi app]. If I have to drive once a week, I use my cell phone. I’m not a professional [fulltime] driver.’ (T02)
T02 is a retired driver with more than 20 years of experience who still occasionally drives taxi to supplement his pension. He has a stock of loyal customers who still contact him because of his cleanliness and reliability, he claimed, and he uses an app to get additional orders. Using a taxi app as a complementary channel, he gets sufficient customers without being a member of a regional taxi dispatch service. T14 highlights another advantage of the taxi app he uses:
‘Yes, of course, at mytaxi I have now... I’ve got over 250 regulars already. That means that if these 250 people are in Cologne, or if they are halfway close to me and order a taxi, I’m first in line to get the order.’ (T14)
He describes how he benefits from the fact that customers can define preferred drivers within the app, and whose requests are assigned to him and not to other colleagues when he is close to these customers. This customer retention helps him in his independence. Further, T14 reports, he could ‘even forego his membership in the regional taxi dispatch service today’ as he has these regular customers who book trips via taxi apps. The reason he is still a member of the dispatch service is more out of loyalty than necessity.
For T19, the membership with a taxi dispatcher has other benefits. He also appreciates the advantages of using the app, but he believes it makes sense to make use of both the dispatcher and the app:
‘I think it is all about the right mix. What a lot of drivers do are patient trips. Chemotherapy and whatever. And that all goes through the dispatcher, because they also settle accounts with the health insurance companies and that can’t be done through the app. Not yet. I’m not saying what’s in five years, we’re always just talking about today. Otherwise, I’d have to settle accounts with every health insurance company, write letters, I could really hire someone in the office who takes care of such things. And that’s all done by the dispatcher. Then I just give my receipts and say here, and ten days later I have the money in my account. Collected once a month—and that’s it. That's a big advantage.’ (T19)
T19 thus points to a special clientele which, according to him, cannot be coordinated via taxi apps. He refers to patient trips which neither fall into the category of business trips nor into the category of private trips. In Germany, health insurances pay for taxi trips if it is medically necessary. This is for example the case when patients are at home but need to go to chemotherapy, irradiation, dialysis, etc. He describes the accounting of patient trips as an important activity, which would cause him a lot of overhead work if he was doing it himself. Since the patient trips are not billed directly to the patients, but to the health insurance companies of the patients, a higher organizational workload arises compared with regular taxi rides. His expression ‘I could really hire someone in the office’ indicates how much work these billings can actually cause. Thus, when it comes to trips with patient, the dispatchers take over the time-consuming task of billing. The fact that the dispatcher is responsible for invoicing the health insurance companies means that the drivers only have to ‘give [the] receipts’ to the taxi dispatchers ‘once a month’. Interestingly, when T19 declares that these billings cannot be conducted via taxi apps nowadays, he adds ‘Not yet. I’m not saying what happens in five years, we’re always just talking about today’, showing he believes it is possible that the taxi apps will also map such services in the future. These rather open-minded thoughts could probably stem from his status of being a taxi entrepreneur with his taxi company having a more than 90 years tradition, who – as such – might probably be more concerned about the future of the taxi industry than other employed taxi drivers.
So, the taxi drivers who make use of taxi apps in their daily business appreciate the fact that they gain new customers through the app, that the costs are revenue-dependent and not fixed, and that they can build up a regular customer base through the features of the app.
Reasons for resisting taxi apps
Eleven taxi drivers in our sample did not make use of e-hailing apps. Some drivers deliberately decided against using such apps as an additional broker next to their usual taxi dispatchers. These drivers have informed themselves about the taxi apps and weighed advantages and disadvantages for their own business. They do not consider the benefits outlined above to be advantageous over the traditional way of using a taxi dispatch service. This was usually explained by the fact that the drivers could get trips via the taxi dispatcher free of commission (T05, T12).
‘Well, it’s a very clever, very sophisticated model. (...) However, for us it is a big competition, so that’s what we have to say. Because the people here [taxi drivers using taxi apps], they don’t understand, they’re now driving doubly. That’s the seven percent for the mytaxi that they pay for. If they weren’t on mytaxi, they would have had the trip with us [classical dispatcher].’ (T05)
T05 argues here that the journeys, which are requested via the app, would otherwise have been requested via the dispatcher. Hence, drivers using the taxi apps pay both the fixed costs for the dispatcher, of which many are still a member, and the turnover-dependent costs of the taxi app. He believes that the costs of the app could be saved. T11 is of the same opinion and considers ‘some of the drivers pretty […] stupid’ in that they demand tariff increases on the one hand, but on the other hand willingly accept apparently higher costs when using a taxi app. What they do not consider at all is the opportunity of gaining new customers and additional requests, as some of the other drivers have experienced, which might outweigh additional costs.
T17, who is self-employed, prefers to rely on his usual work routines as long as he gets enough jobs without an app:
‘If nothing was going on at all, then I would also register with mytaxi. But if it works without mytaxi, then gladly without mytaxi. That is my attitude. I also have colleagues who use it a lot. Everybody must know that for himself. And you never know if they will increase the fees, and then you stand there.’ (T17)
He raises another point, namely the risk of being dependent on the app operators’ decisions, i.e. to raise the fees for the participating taxi drivers. As an entrepreneur who is not a member of a regional taxi dispatcher but who gets his request via direct telephone call or on the street, T17 is not dependent on any brokering institutions, thus does not need to pay these institutions and there is no risk of rising costs caused by these.
T06’decision not to make use of taxi apps is driven by a completely different reason. While he generally likes some of the features of taxi apps, especially the reputation system, his main concern regarding the use of taxi apps is the disclosure of private data. But he seems to generally be sensitive when it comes do privacy, as he refuses to use very widely used apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
Three other taxi drivers have not dealt with taxi apps yet as they leave such decisions to their employers (T07, T16, T18). T18 explains this decision with his employer being ‘loyal’ to the taxi dispatcher although his boss is struggling with the decision to use taxi apps after all:
‘Yes, if things go on like this (...) he has to think about it. (...) But that hurts when one [app operator] is sitting there earning money and you see, that’s your own money going away, and you give it to him, and so far he [boss] has refused to do that, hoping that it will get better, but it won’t get better.’ (T18)
His boss’s thoughts are driven by deteriorating business, and both see from their colleagues that taxi apps can help getting more customers. Nevertheless, they so far have a negative attitude towards the apps, as they only see that they have to pay costs, while the app operators are ‘earning money”, apparently without doing much for it. Further, they condemn the fact that taxi app operators use the existing infrastructure of the taxi industry without participating in its maintenance (T05, T18) or they didn’t like how taxi apps gave discounts to customers in the early days (T09), which led to taxis with taxi apps being preferred to those without. This behavior of taxi app operators seems to have triggered a negative attitude towards taxi apps that lasts.
T03 sees e-hailing apps as similar forms of internal competition in the same category as Uber:
‘mytaxi and so on (...) Well, if I were a customer, I wouldn’t even get in with them. Because they’re not insured at all. No exam of the local geography, so as I said, that’s just moonlighting. (…) They’re not professional drivers – Uber and mytaxi.’ (T03)
He is obviously not correctly informed about the business model of these apps and is unaware that taxi apps only broker trips by licensed drivers. His decision not to use such apps is therefore due to his limited information, affecting his judgement.
So, those taxi driver who do not use taxi apps, do so for different reasons. While some just see additional costs but no additional revenue, others fear possible dependencies or refuse to use apps for privacy reasons. Some have not yet used taxi apps, because they (or their employers) tend to stick to their normal routines. Further, a negative attitude towards taxi apps in general seems to dispose drivers not to use the apps.
Competition by transportation network companies
Due to the general ban on Uber, which was imposed on the German market very quickly after its market launch, taxi drivers did not notice any effects on their own business. One taxi driver had not even heard about Uber thus far (T07), while most of the respondents reported a negative attitude towards this competitor. Their criticism included assumptions that Uber would work ‘illegally’ (T10), drivers would ‘go moonlighting’ (T11) and work without clear insurance cover for themselves and their passengers. They argued that taxi drivers offered a far more reliable and safe service due to the examinations which they must pass to be licensed.
‘I’ve only heard of it from hearsay. I don’t find it correct that they [Uber] want to get on the market here. Because you don’t know who you’re getting in the car with, do you? We have to do driving tests, they don’t. We have to undergo our exams every four years. And they don’t need to do anything.’ (T09)
Contrary to many studies that show the negative impact of Uber on the traditional taxi industry, most taxi drivers interviewed do not consider business models such as Uber as a threat to their own job. Most of the interviewees referred to the strict laws and regulations prevailing in Germany.
‘I don’t think so, in Germany, because the laws are somewhat stricter here.’ (T04).
Others trust in bodies representing them such as their regional taxi dispatchers or the nationwide taxi association who have already in the past put pressure on policy and law makers.
‘The dispatchers will also resist against them [Uber], so that nothing will happen’. (T09)
Those drivers were firmly convinced that these provisions will continue to apply in the future and thus protect their profession.
Regarding the possibility that regulations might be weakened or dropped, one taxi driver in particular argued that customers would remain loyal to taxis because of the high quality of the service. At the same time, his expectation was that no matter how the regulation was changed, Uber drivers and their vehicles would be subject to the same rules as the taxi industry which would then be able to adapt and limit the possibility for undercutting their services with cheaper prices.
‘My regulars. There’s no one to ride with Uber. Certainly not. They know what they get from me, what quality. [...] Then Uber drivers must of course also compete under the same conditions. And if that should happen, I don’t have to worry about my colleagues. If they have to do everything the way we do, and they also have to pay tax, etc. Then it won’t be so cheap anymore.’ (T14)
Only one respondent, T06, feared that the regulation of the taxi industry in Germany could be relaxed, opening the market for competitors such as Uber drivers. He hence expects the competition to get harder and even more difficult times for the classical taxi industry to come.
Attitudes and expectations towards shared autonomous vehicles
Perceived impact on the transportation market
When asked about potential concerns regarding the possible introduction of autonomous cars into their business, most drivers did not feel threatened. Only five drivers brought the topic of autonomous vehicles up on their own during the narrative passages of the interviews (T04, T06, T08, T13, T19), before the interviewers addressed it. These drivers mentioned different expectations regarding market penetration, the use of SAVs, and their impact on private car ownership, or the risks of taxi drivers becoming obsolete.
Most of the respondents in our study (14) did not bring up the topic of autonomous vehicles in the interviews on their own. While some taxi drivers regard the emergence of autonomous vehicles as a given (T04, T06, T08, T11, T19), most of the respondents were generally skeptical about the feasibility of replacing drivers with autonomous cars in the first place. In their view, autonomous driving will have hardly any impact on the taxi industry in particular. Their reasoning for this view was an assumed lack of security and reliability, the expense of buying and maintaining the cars, unsettled liability issues in damage situations, as well as the strict legislation policies of Germany.
Older drivers especially did not usually feel threatened as much as younger drivers, likely because autonomous cars were considered a topic of the future, and most of the older drivers did not expect to experience this innovation in their work life:
‘I’m very curious about electric cars and self-driving cars. I’m 60 now. That means I may stay here for another three to four years. That means it’s not a terrible thing for me when that happens.’ (T08)
Other taxi drivers (T02, T19) think that even with the spread of autonomous vehicles, not all population groups will accept them, so they will not use them and will continue to rely on traditional drivers.
‘It’s gonna come. It’s already there, but in practice it’s difficult. Not difficult, but people don’t trust.’ (T02)
They see a major hurdle in the fact that customers will not rely on self-driving technology and would therefore not make use of such innovative services in the long term. At the same time, taxi drivers describe different effects for the future scenario with SAVs which would affect them to a greater or lesser extent. When it comes to the question of what the taxi industry could look like in 10–20 years’ time, T06 predicts that the business model of SAVs could have a really fundamental impact on the whole mobility sector:
‘I mean, we are at the gateway to autonomous driving where the driver will no longer be necessary. And I can well imagine that if this works properly, then basically there will only be taxis on the road. I mean, why would you want your own car if it drives on its own anyway and you can’t or don’t have to drive it yourself? And if you just walk through the city and somewhere on the corner there is a [shared autonomous] vehicle and you know you can get in there and know the prices and you know that it takes you from A to B.’ (T06)
He fundamentally questions the fact that in the age of autonomous vehicles and SAVs, people still have any interest in owning their own car. He argues here with the fact that it makes no difference whether one uses one’s own vehicle or a vehicle on demand if one does not drive the vehicle in either of the two variants. Hence, he expects that only taxis will be on the road – no more private vehicles. He paints a picture of people who use SAVs spontaneously according to their needs, and expects the future presence of autonomous cars on the roads to improve traffic flow and reduce accidents, as he explained further:
‘The sooner and the more interlinked the vehicles are with each other, the faster moving it’ll all be. And even if they can communicate with each other, there won’t be accidents anymore.’ (T06)
The positive-minded taxi drivers generally expect positive effects from the emergence of autonomous vehicles. Regarding the taxi industry, they consider changes to be a realistic possibility but agreed that the taxi industry will change in such a way as to divide the market between traditional and driverless taxis.
‘Maybe... there are certain lines that go to the airport or something.’ (T03)
T03 can imagine that there will be taxis that will travel completely without a driver. He does, however, qualify this and does not see this new variant of the taxi service suitable for all trips. Rather, he considers there will be fixed, standardized trips, such as to the airport, which will be carried out by driverless taxis. In this respect, this idea corresponds to that of T04:
‘Parallel business to the taxi. Taxis, these classic taxis, I don’t think there will be that many anymore. Of course, taxi will always exist because there are elderly people, patients. You can’t do anything else. You must take a taxi.’ (T04)
In contrast to T03, T04 immediately gives reasons why there will not be exclusively driverless taxis. He names elderly people or patients as two customer groups, who will rely on taxis with a human driver also in the age of autonomous driving. He is convinced these groups do not have a choice but opt for the taxi with a human driver. This opinion might be shaped by the experiences he has gained with these customer groups. He gives similar reasons as to why the taxi driver is needed, as presented in 4.3.2.
T11 expects autonomous taxis to compete less with traditional taxi drivers than with the alternative driving services already available today, such as hired cars with drivers, or shuttle buses. Those differ from taxis in that they can only accept planned driving orders and not spontaneous orders, i.e. they are not allowed to serve customers hailing taxis on the street or at taxi stops. He sees autonomous vehicles as particularly interesting for the operators of such companies:
‘After all, the competition already exists. That will be the operators who, for example, previously offered only airport transfers. There are also travel agencies that offer this, or entire tour operators. Or companies that offer shuttle services because they are remote and take their guests to the airport by company car. They could say: We save the chauffeur and use an autonomous vehicle instead. That would really pay off for them.’ (T11)
In summary, while some drivers question a successful implementation of SAVs due to a lack of trust, others see great potential in autonomous driverless taxis in terms of fewer accidents, an improved traffic flow and reduced personnel cost. They expect that some routes and customers could be served with SAVs while they mention specific customer groups they consider could not be served with SAVs. However, most taxi drivers do not regard SAVs as a threat to their own person as they are in a late phase of their career.
Limitations of SAVs regarding customers’ needs
While the previous section highlighted that taxi drivers expect certain trips and services could be taken over by SAVs, they are sure that even in the age of autonomous taxis they will still be needed by their customers. Their argumentation is based on the customer structure of taxi services. T11 and other interviewees mentioned specific services that they provide, which are requested by many of their customers. In the following, we will provide quotes that illustrate how frequent and diverse these interactions and supports are:
‘I see the proportion of people in need of help and that is pretty substantial. That’s why you call a taxi because you can’t drive yourself. If people could drive themselves, they would also use an autonomous vehicle.’ (T11)
According to T11’s experience, there is a large proportion of customers who need help with the transportation—because they could not be able to for example board the vehicle on their own. T11 emphasizes that many customers request a taxi because of additional services. For example, he points out that the actual trip also includes the way e.g. from the apartment to the vehicle and from the vehicle to the destination, e.g. the entrance area of a doctor’s surgery. Other drivers also argue that human assistance will still be required for certain services which cannot be easily offered by SAVs. As an example, several taxi drivers mentioned the needs of elderly people or persons with physical disabilities which make up a significant proportion of their passengers and regular customers.
‘We have to go up sometimes, sixth floor. Need to help bring a patient or elderly person down. There must be a taxi driver. Cannot be abolished completely.’ (T04)
These customers need support when walking and climbing stairs, and the drivers say that they pick them up at their front door and accompany and support them all the way to the car. The assistance ranges from helping to get in and out of the car, storing bulky objects such as wheelchairs, walkers, or luggage for them in the vehicle or running errands for their customers. T11 also explains he has customers who need additional support:
‘I have regular customers who can’t do it alone. They can’t drive to the doctor with an autonomous vehicle because they can’t get into a car on their own. They don’t come down the stairs alone, they don’t get their shopping bags carried alone. Nobody folds the walker when it is an autonomous vehicle. Yes, so there will always be a segment where this support is present.’ (T11)
He also refers to activities that in his opinion autonomous vehicles would not be able to conduct. However, this statement refers to a specific customer ‘segment”: of people requiring assistance. T18 also sees some disadvantages in transporting this clientele in need of help, as these orders require (‘incredibly”) more time to be spent without any extra compensation for this time and service. Yet he explains, these services are inseparably linked to the profession of taxi driver:
‘It takes an incredibly long time for them to come. You ring the bell, many have no elevator, have to come down the stairs – you can understand it all, that’s, one day it happens to us too, we will also depend on others for help – they come with their rollator, very heavy, so you take a little time, take them by the hand, take them to the car, some also need help to fasten the seat belt. But that's just part of it. Sometimes you have to have nerves for such things.’ (T18)
For this segment of customers, such situations where supportive services are demanded occur regularly. More than that, the close interactions he mentioned (‘takes them by the hand’when the situation demands it; fasten the seatbelt, etc.) are not mere optional services, but central requirements for those customers. Like T18, other taxi drivers are also very service-oriented. For them, it is a matter of course that they take their customers’ wishes and needs into account. T19 runs a third-generation taxi family business and attaches great importance to customer satisfaction:
‘(…) taxi is a service business. Service means I open the door for the passenger, I ask if I can help, and if there is a little old mother, it goes without saying that I bring the bags at least to the front door. Or if we bring ladies home in the dark at night, it goes without saying that I wait in front of the door. I wait until she is through the door.’ (T19)
He also helps elderly people by bringing their bags to their front door without being asked to. If he drives women home in the evening or at night, he waits until the women have arrived safely in their apartment before he drives to his next customer. He points out that some customers are particularly happy about this help and attention and show their gratitude which is ‘reflected in the tip”. He emphasizes that this service orientation is decreasing more and more with other colleagues.
Furthermore, taxi drivers also see communication as an important topic. Some passengers cannot articulate themselves clearly, either because they do not speak the language, or because they are permanently or temporarily disabled (e.g. because they are drunk), which makes it difficult for the taxi driver to find out what the taxi customer’s destination is. T01 reports on his experiences:
‘There are guests who can’t speak and only have a note that says where they want to go.’ (T01)
Communication with customers also plays an important role in other respects: In addition to knowledge of location and routes, customers also rely on the drivers’ knowledge of other infrastructure-related tips, such as restaurants or specialized clinics and doctors:
‘Some people come: ‘I need a good doctor for this or that’, and then we know that this clinic is specialized for that, and that clinic is specialized for that. The very fact that you give the impression of giving information often makes them feel better. Or words of consolation, we sometimes drive mourners, or I don’t know. Even if the content is completely irrelevant or just empty words, but if the passenger feels good, that’s basically the goal. That he says: ‘Geez, taxi driving in Cologne – the taxi driver was nice’.’ (T19)
T19 has the impression that what is said is not especially meaningful, but that ‘the impression of giving information makes [the customers] feel better”. Rather, in some situations it is more about the driver radiating competence or sometimes also acting as an interlocutor, listener, or comforting person. T13 also sums up these functions as follows: ‘[A] taxi driver is sometimes like a psychologist”. For T19, being there for customers on an emotional level too, so that customers can pour out their hearts, is an important part of the overall service. He wants his customers to leave the taxi in better shape than they entered it. This is illustrated by T19’s the statement ‘if the passenger feels good, that’s basically the goal”, making it clear again that one of his job goals is to satisfy his customers.
Two taxi drivers do not use a taxi dispatch service or an e-hailing app but place themselves in busy locations such as train stations and mainly serve walk-in customers (T16, T17). Although they also report on occasional trips in which they have to help older passengers carry and stow their shopping and help them get in the car, their clientele consists mainly of mobile, rather young passengers, often business customers, who travel with little luggage and therefore do not need any additional support and services. In this respect, they describe their regular trips as exactly those that could simply be replaced by SAVs.
‘I guess the problem is a lot of people just look at the price. And if the car drives by itself and is – so autonomous taxis will be considerably cheaper than taxis where someone is sitting in it, that’s clear – maybe half the price. Yes, and the business customers and the young people anyway. They will take their app and order the thing and ... I don’t think taxi drivers will die out, there will be a lot less use, I guess.’ (T17)
T17 thus describes his customers as being very price-sensitive, especially his business and young customers, and as he expects autonomous taxis to be able to offer their services much more cheaply than human-driven taxis. This will mean substantially fewer taxi drivers will be needed in the future. Confronted with this scenario, they see their future tasks primarily in vehicle maintenance such as cleaning and reconditioning the vehicle for customers.
T09 thinks that SAVs may be able to replace traditional taxis, and she becomes particularly concerned when she thinks of her young passengers:
‘They are all just texting and looking at their smartphones. There are no more nice conversations. Then we won’t need a [human driven] taxi anymore. Do we?’ (T09)
She describes the interaction with many young customers as minimal. Just like the customers of T16, her customers often neither ask for support e.g. for stowing objects is necessary, nor do they linger for conversations. As she is not using a taxi app, there is still a verbal exchange to communicate the destination and to process the payment.
Thus, the taxi drivers agree that there will still be human drivers in the future, as there remains a substantial proportion of their customers who are in need of assistance. However, taxi drivers do consider the probability high that their rather young, fit and cost-sensitive customers will prefer SAVs in the future.