Last night's episode of Nathan for You—the reality show where Nathan Fielder tries to help struggling businesses by coming up with zany ideas to reinvigorate them—tackled the effect of Uber on the taxi business.
"Love massive corporations," Nathan tweeted before last night's show, "but tonight I make an exception and help cabbies take on Uber."
The episode revisited Andy, a taxi driver Nathan first tried to help back in 2014. Even then, Andy was struggling to compete with Uber. Nathan's idea was to find a pregnant woman to give birth in Andy's cab, reasoning that such publicity would be good for business. It didn't work.
Three years and countless Uber expansions later, Andy was still chugging along, barely, as a cab driver. Nathan returned to Andy because, a few months after the first episode aired, Uber started a promotion where babies born in the back of Uber rides received Uber onesies. Nathan was convinced the idea was cribbed from his show. Last night's episode sought revenge.
As in every episode of Nathan for You, Fielder's plan is needlessly complicated and over-the-top. Nathan and Andy try to form a "sleeper cell" of cab drivers within the Uber network who could sabotage it at any minute. With that leverage, Nathan hoped to force Uber to stop its pregnant woman promotion.
Recruiting cab drivers was easy—most of them resented Uber and blamed it for steep revenue drops. At a group meeting, many of them called Uber "unfair competition," while a few pushed the myth that Uber was less safe than a taxi. (Given that you know the identity of your Uber driver and they yours before the ride starts, that the ride is tracked on GPS, and that each ride ends with a rating for both driver and passenger, this common claim stretches credulity.)
Nathan ended up signing up more than 60 cabbies. They didn't know his ultimate aim was to end an Uber pregnancy promotion, just that they were supposed to provide subpar service to lower Uber's reputation. But at the end of the episode, after Nathan had produced a video of demands for Uber that almost certainly would've been flagged to federal authorities, he hit a big road block: Andy had realized that Uber was a viable alternative for him to make a livelihood.
Nathan signed Andy up for Uber for a day to test the system and see which strategies (farts in a bag, Mambo #5 on blast, getting lost) could yield the lowest ratings in the fastest times. Andy performed admirably, earning a series of one-star reviews. But at some point after that, unbeknownst to Nathan, Andy gave Uber a try for real. In his last days as a cabbie, Andy installed a karaoke machine in his taxi, claiming it was the first karaoke cab. He was so sold on Uber he moved it into his personal car, claiming he was now the first karaoke Uber.
Andy asked Nathan not to proceed with their plan, since he was worried it would affect his rating. Nathan reluctantly agreed, deciding that just as telephones replaced telegraphs and cars replaced horse and buggies, Uber was replacing taxis.
"The free market had again chosen a winner," Nathan said in the wrap-up narration of the show. "The real enemy wasn't Uber. It was progress."
Andy's experience reveals the futility of the taxi industry's fight against ride-sharing services. There's nothing inherently unfair about Uber's competition—if anything, Uber is making the playing field fairer by breaking up the old cartel. And the idea that an Uber is less safe than a taxi is not held by anyone who isn't already anti-Uber. And so Uber's share of the marketplace grows.
Uber is not guaranteed to last forever, of course, but ridesharing apps are here to stay. As when the car displaced the horse and buggy, there's no going back for taxis. Cabbies who hold on to their old business models because they've spent money on licenses, medallions, and so forth are falling for the sunken cost fallacy: Instead of making rational decisions based on future values, their decisions are being driven by emotional investments that are hard to abandon. They should take up the motto "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" instead.
It's worked out well for Andy.
Nathan for You airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central. You can watch last night's episode online here.