You can fit almost anything on a bike...

What’s the best way to travel round Manchester?

I’m learning to drive (and have just passed my test!), but don’t be misled. I don’t want a car. Not at the moment at least.

I live in the centre of Manchester. I work in the centre of Manchester. I have a bike. I don’t have a family. I like trains.
So mostly, I cycle everywhere. When I want to travel further afield, I cycle to the train station, and get on a train. Sometimes that train even takes me to the airport.

But I would like to be able to drive and take myself places that are inconvenient to get to by public transport, and are so unappealing I’ve yet to convince a friend with a car that they’d like to go there.

When travelling through Manchester, bikes are a relatively fast mode of transport (it’s all about average speed, not top speed), and bikes can often easily take the most direct routes (eg through the city centre, rather than by ring road).

Manchester Piccadilly: Trains can be good for travelling between cities
Manchester Piccadilly: Trains can be good for travelling between cities

Of course, you can own a car for long trips, and use a bike for everyday commuting, but it’s not that simple. Once you own a car, you have a sunk cost that you’re looking to recoup as much value from as possible. Only a certain amount of the maintenance and fuel costs scale with milage, the initial cost, insurance and tax, are all largely fixed – so from the moment you buy it you’re incentivised to use it as much as possible.

Regardless of ecological arguments, owning a car may not be the most economic approach if you only need one occasionally – hiring cars is convenient, it incentivises non-use (you’re billed by the day/hour), and you have the flexibility to use more convenient forms of transport where you see fit (eg take the train, fly, commandeer a pony – whatever is best).

That is what I’m learning to drive for; so I can hire cars, and take myself to see the wide and wonderful world.

The thing about having a car, is that if you drive yourself places, you’re unable to drink if you’re driving yourself home, yet it feels wrong to pay someone to drive you there and back when your car is sitting in your drive.

For every private car, you need a private car park
For every private car, you need a private car park

Fortunately, knowing how much I’m saving by not having a car in central Manchester, and I can make pragmatic decisions about liberal use of taxis when it suits me. Last year, I got to know the cheap and cheerful taxi dispatchers so well, the average call length ordering a taxi to my address was 10 seconds (yes – average – there were some below 8 seconds!); they even knew me well enough to send me a Christmas card!

Some years ago, I remember a taxi journey where I was blown away by the driver’s customer service. I mean properly astounded – the driver took time to learn my name, made an effort to use my name, came across super professional, but also friendly and super accommodating – it really was the best taxi ride I’ve ever had..

So I heard that Uber was coming to town, I was eager to try it.

What is Uber? Uber is a taxi service, where everything is done through technology, with an emphasis on customer service.

So you order the taxi via a web-page or mobile app and tell it exactly where to go on a map, you’re given a live view of the route the taxi is taking to find you, and an estimate of how long it will be, and then when you arrive, you don’t touch cash – your credit card that they already have on file is billed, and you’re free to go. No cash, no tips, no drama.

The thing that re-enforces the good customer service to the drivers is quite clever. When you finish a journey, you’re asked to rate the driver out of 5 stars. If a driver can’t maintain an average rating of a certain amount, they’re thrown off Uber, boom. Not a nice driver? You won’t get nice customers.

Clearly, this means that drivers are incentivised to be super awesome, and provide kickass customers service, and it also means Uber will always have really good drivers.

Add this all with the fact that you get pretty emailed receipts, and Uber exists in of cities round the world, it makes a pretty compelling deal.

If you do fancy trying Uber, try enter the code ManchesterLaunch and see if they’re still in the Beta phase. :)

(As I’ve blogged about before, engaging creatively cyclists would be a clever way for a taxi firm to grow, could Uber be able to do that in Manchester?)

Obviously, if you’re travelling round Manchester, you’re going to use a variety of methods of transport available, and so bike, taxi, train, metro, car can all be worthwhile, but for me, bike+taxi is a winning combination whilst I live in the city!

You can fit almost anything on a bike...
You can fit almost anything on a bike…

Could we see a cyclist-friendly Taxi firm in Manchester?

I’m a cyclist.

My Pointer 5 Jubilarium
My Bike

But that doesn’t mean I cycle everywhere, all the time, I take the train, I take buses, I take trams and quite frequently I take taxis.

Taxis and cyclists don’t always get on, this doesn’t have to be: I take taxis a lot more often than if I owned a car.

The boss of London Minicab firm Addison Lee, sadly unaware of this clear relationship when he laid into cyclists in the capital last year, with a raft of stupid comments, which made me uncomfortable giving my money to his company, given the choice.

I’m no militant cyclist. I ride a 3 speed ladies bike. I stop at traffic lights. My dynamo lights work. I use arm signal when changing my position in the road. I acknowledge and thank careful drivers and drivers who let me out.

Cyclists and Taxis will always co-exist. Indeed, Cyclists will often be a taxi-drivers best customer.

So the question is this:

Is there a business opportunity for a taxi company to declare itself to be a special cyclist friendly taxi company? Clearly, Greater London is not a very competitive market, but Manchester on the other hand, has a large number of firms, all vying for position.

Could 2013 see one of them positioning themselves as the go-to firm for cyclists?