Life for the yellow cab industry was never easy, but with the rise of ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, it seems the regulated cab industry now spends every day living on borrowed time.
It must be at least somewhat comforting, then, for the cab industry to watch the ride sharing industry’s 800-pound gorilla, Uber, flop around like a fresh-caught Tuna seconds away from a clubbing.
Despite having fallen on what should be a gold mine, Uber seems almost cursed in the way it navigates from one degrading headline to the next these days. Don’t believe us? Here are a few examples.
Bad Taste in Equipment
When you put people on the road for a living, it’s in your interest to make sure they’ve got access to safe, functional cars. Uber did this, offering programs through which employees could lease brand-new cars — not any cars, though. Uber had a say in which cars the drivers could lease.
Recently, it was found out that the cars Uber made available in Singapore included more than 1000 Honda Vezel SUVs that were placed on the gray market for lacking mandatory factory recalls. When one of them caught fire as a result of the neglected maintenance, it didn’t go over well for Uber.
The Expunging of Travis Kalanick
Uber’s former CEO was initially hailed as a visionary. The New-York-based black car service that launched in 2009 suddenly made everything from office lunches to a night on the town simple and affordable.
But soon reports of the culture at Kalanick’s company began to surface, and things got weird. There were accusations of sexist and other biased behavior, mistreatment of employees and a literal maelstrom of controversies that seemed to surround the young CEO overnight.
Kalanick clearly made some ethical missteps, but some people also believe that his downfall was the result of collusion between taxi companies and local governments. It’s impossible to know for sure, just like the company’s next move without him.
The Self-Driving Car Drama
A business plan that centers around driving people to different places requires drivers. Unless, of course, you have self-driving cars, which explains why Uber has worked tirelessly to bring self-driving cars into use as part of their service.
Except that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, doesn’t think all the work Uber is doing was done by Uber. Instead, they insist that Uber has stolen intellectual property from Alphabet, who are naturally interested in the technology for the same reasons. Even if Google doesn’t currently offer ride-sharing services, you can just see an Uber copycat app arriving with the next version of Android OS.
Questions about Liability
One of the earliest controversies to affect ride-sharing services was the question of who takes responsibility when accidents occur. While the company has since extended a new type of insurance for drivers that covers them while carrying passengers as well as between rides, the new approach is still “tiered,” with levels of coverage varying depending on the exact situation when the accident occurs.
The most difficult part of this challenge is just that the service hasn’t been around long enough to expose all of the things that could potentially happen.
Screening Government Passengers
Uber’s “Greyball” program was another extremely embarrassing moment for the company. The operation consisted of a program that would help drivers avoid specific passengers. While Uber claims that it was intended to avoid losing profits to rival ride sharing and taxi companies, the result was that drivers ended up avoiding government inspection.
The app worked by comparing the types of cell phones being used to place calls. Because inspectors and competing companies (allegedly) use cheaper, readily available phones, the app would misdirect requests coming from those devices. Don’t expect Uber to take the rap on this one anytime soon, but you can see how it’s more than a little questionable.
Before Mr. Kalanick left the company, he made an appearance on-camera from the back seat of an Uber ride. During the video, he starts out calm but then becomes irate when his own driver makes claims that price cuts for Uber passengers have created financial hardships for him.
It’s a profoundly ironic video, and perhaps less relevant now that Uber is under different leadership, but you have to wonder whether the company can pull itself out of this hole given the way many drivers seem to feel.
Time for an Intervention
Back to those cabs we mentioned earlier. How do you like riding in cabs? Not well, that’s what we thought, and therein lies the problem. It’s fun to call Uber out when they make, and make and make again these damaging mistakes. We all like being a voice for social consciousness.
Yes, many Uber users have defected to San Francisco Uber copycat, Lyft. That’s one answer, but Lyft doesn’t exactly have a Colgate smile, either.
Many people have come to use these services and benefit from them, so I think I speak for almost everyone when I say: Uber, get your acts together.
The author is political commentator and blogger. She runs her own blog onlyslightlybiased.com