With all the recent discussion of the new business model that Uber has introduced, I was surprised to find another company that kinda did Uber before Uber was Uber in my recent trip to Madison, Wisconsin. 🙂 (Only Better than Uber!!!)
I was taking a cab from the Madison Concourse Hotel to the Pyle Center at the University of Wisconsin campus. (Go Badgers!!!) The first cab driver was very pleasant and dropped me off very promptly and quickly. I asked him if I could arrange a follow-up cab. He mentioned he couldn’t arrange for himself to be there, but handed me a card that I could call when I needed a pick up. (more on this later)
So I examined the card – Union Cab co-op. Interesting….
The drive back
On my drive back, I asked the second cab driver about the Union Cab Co-op company.
He described the history of how the Union Cab Co-op of Madison was formed. You can find all the details here:
There is a lot of detail in the article but it is summarized very well in the final two paragraphs:
Today Union Cab has gross annual revenues in excess of $7 million with approximately 230 active or probationary members and 65 cabs. We continue to operate under the principles of the Cooperative movement and maintain a “one-member, one-vote” worker democracy.
We intend to continue to grow, serving the transportation needs of Greater Madison, and providing good jobs at a living wage in a safe, democratic and humane environment. But Union Cab is more than just a business; it is an idea and an ideal. It is one of a very small number of worker owned and operated businesses in America. Some consider us the wave of the future, others think we will be relegated to the scrap heap of utopian idealism. Our Membership will determine which it will be.
The discussion with my second cab driver/owner was the most pleasant and insightful ride I have ever had. We discussed the history of the company and how he has a voice at the table of how the company is operated. He also mentioned how he has a role to mentor new cap drivers and introduce them to the company. 🙂 Then I thought back to Uber. I don’t know for sure, but Uber seemed to be less of a co-operative and more of a private company structure. They may be structured as a co-op, but their website doesn’t give that impression. It seems to be a model where you are more of an independent contractor and are afforded freedom, but don’t share in the control of the company or the profits. They certainly don’t talk about helping and mentoring each other.
I thought back to how co-operatives can be the solution to finding a compromise between private companies that maximize stakeholder profits sometimes at the expense of employees and unions that sometimes maximize union member salaries at the expense of private companies and taxpayers.
We at Protegra are also a Co-operative. Everyone Protegran can be a shareholder if they want and can share in the profits. All Protegrans help to decide company direction and strategy. We are 100% employee owned.
I think this co-op model could have promise for many areas in the future. I do agree with Union Cab co-op, I think it is the wave of the future. The control of the company and the profits are shared by the people and not the company or union hierarchy.
Back to the Start
Knowing what I know now, I am even more impressed with the Cab driver who didn’t set up a follow up cab ride on the side. I know I have done this with other private cab companies and their bosses may not have ever seen that fare. I even know situations in Unions where members take extra shifts at the expense of other members.
But somehow this little co-op has build a team where companies and unions have failed. Interesting.