Why is Uber bad?
December 1, 2014 12:38 AM   Subscribe

I have a strong feeling that Uber is a net negative influence. Please help me turn that feeling into an informed opinion.

Note that I'm not looking for pro-Uber arguments. I know may of them and have used Uber satisfactorily many, many times. I'm looking for good reasons to be anti-Uber.

posted by Joseph Gurl to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

Blog post about how terrible Uber is.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 1:29 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

This article is from the viewpoint of an Uber driver.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 1:38 AM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I started to drive for a car service in May. It worked around my Boy's schedule.

Taxi companies around here really sucked, and this guy I know bootstrapped himself out of the Great Recession, one minivan at a time. He gave us a fair deal, half the meter, keep the tips and we pay for gas.

We were bright and cheerful guides to this little city, and we wowed the customers with offbeat recommendations for food and things to do. Uber put a stake in that heart when they came. Uber harvests local economies and sucks money out of your communities and feeds it into our crappy political system so that cities with regulations are afraid to regulate. Asheville has been looking into this for 3 months.

Now, I know that for every "job" they have created, there is somebody else who lost one, with little people to care for, struggling.

This is not competition. It is predation that is coming to your line of work soon.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:29 AM on December 1, 2014 [25 favorites]

Taxis are heavily regulated because getting in a vehicle with a stranger is a potentially deadly undertaking (cars are dangerous!). The dawn of unregulated minicabs in London also led to an uptick in sexual assaults of female passengers. Uber is like that, but with even less responsibility.

Highly regulated industries are usually regulated for a reason.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:38 AM on December 1, 2014 [30 favorites]

I have a strong feeling that Uber is a net negative influence.

Do consider that there might be different sets of arguments relating to different locations, for example, areas which are well served by taxis vs those that aren't.
posted by biffa at 4:57 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

There is a case to be made that Uber is a "disruptive" technology that is not so much about innovation as it is about taking assets and wealth from others (incumbent car services and taxi services) and keeping it for themselves. The existing capital of existing services in the form of car assets, functional businesses, understanding of the local landscape and regulatory system, etc. get wiped my out, and that "wealth" gets captured by Uber. (To be fair, the consumer also gets a portion of that "wealth" in the form of cheaper fares and better response time)

There are two types of disruptive businesses: one which creates a market that did not exist before, and one which takes and existing industry, undermines it, and captures the wealth for itself. Uber started out in the former category by providing black car service to people who would have never used it before. Once that premium market was tapped out, they entered the latter category by trying to cannibilize and replace regulated taxi and car services with ad hoc drivers.

(That said, a lot of innovations are effectively about providing a mediocre product that the public is willing to "settle for" if it is more easily available and easier to use than the original product on the market)
posted by deanc at 5:19 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Bobbie Johnson talks about the meta-question of why you have that strong feeling: we know of enough people who have qualms about Uber's management and culture and economic model but "have used Uber satisfactorily many, many times"; we know what VC-backed tech firms can become in the internet age, because we have enough examples of what they have become.

The net negative includes looking at that vector and projecting it forward a decade, factoring in Uber's willingness to burn cash to price out its competition and its disregard for externalities, and also taking account of its desire to get human drivers out of the way as soon as the technology permits. If Uber in 2014 is like Amazon in 1997 or Facebook in 2006, what does the Uber of 2020 or 2025 look like?
posted by holgate at 5:27 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

How I think about Uber does vary by place. Taxis are regulated for reasons (as mentioned above), but in some places there has been regulatory capture. In several US cities the taxi medallion system serves to enrich those who own the medallions. These owners may oppose better public transit, oppose better pay for their drivers, or have airport monopolies (I'm looking at you, Detroit).

I think if you want to articulate what it is you don't like about Uber, you should also consider the problems of the system it's trying to replace.
posted by nat at 5:31 AM on December 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

Also, the Uber model shifts the risk from the car company and taxi industry on to drivers and riders. Drivers are now the ones who have the best the risk of capital investment in cars and hope that Uber provides enough revenue to cover ther expenses and provide a sufficient income. Drivers, not car companies, now need to understand the regulatory landscape and their legal responsibilities while paying for commercial insurance to indemnify themselves. Meanwhile, riders need to do the work of evaluating their own risk profile and deciding whether they trust the driver and the service enough to get them to their destination at a reasonable price and that the driver is trustworthy and has a safe car.

Now, many of these problems exist in the taxi industry-- DC exists in a state of severe regulatory capture by the taxi industry and while consumers would prefer better service and tighter safety standards for cars, the taxi drivers are more motivated and organized to tilt regulations in their own favor-- in part because to cost to the individual driver is much higher than the cost to the individual consumer.

But for the most part Uber is starting to function as a corporate raider oriented company: find out who has valuable assets and figure out a way to take over the role of those with the assets while moving the costs over to someone else.
posted by deanc at 6:37 AM on December 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

Its worth noting that some arguments against Uber may be location-specific. In my small city, starting a taxi company is not particularly onerous. It costs $2200 for a 2-year operating plus another $85 in permits. There is no medallion or quota system, and we do not have a shortage of taxis almost ever. In exchange for making it easy for people to run taxi companies, the city places certain regulations on them that ensure that they provide equitable service. A taxi company must agree to serve the entire city, provide 24/7 service, and not refuse service. Drivers must be adequately insured, and cannot drive for more than 12 hours. Uber (and Lyft) have recently come into our market and are operating outside all these regulations. There is significant and justified fear that Uber will undermine our already very functional taxi system, drive traditional taxi companies out of service, and leave the city with very poor coverage of less-dense areas at less-profitable times, and some marginalized communities will lack any taxi access at all.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:47 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Because it's run by arseholes.
posted by flabdablet at 10:00 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would definitely try and focus on the owner being an asshole, their shady ass practices in trying to fight lyft, and their james bond villain moon-laser level of evil subprime partnered loans.

A lot of the stuff posted above about their drivers being creepy isn't a great argument, as in most places taxis are fucking terrible and the cab company will laugh at you if you try and report it or do anything. Focus on the evil shit, like the comic-book-villain bad stuff. The safety arguments are pretty shaky and can be easily torpedoed if anyone wants to actually debate with you.
posted by emptythought at 6:32 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Last I checked, there is no Uber customer service number.
posted by ADave at 10:25 PM on December 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's not just Uber, it's this particular flavor of sharing economy. My point is, base your argument on the business model, less on the specifics of this particular company.

To add more meat to the case against Uber's fart boy culture and their threats towards critical journalists let me say this:

Uber is quite predatory, aggressively moving into new markets, not doing much in terms of research (laws, regulations, cultures, etc.), setting up "shop" by hiring ONE country representative, "hiring" independent contractors (drivers), jacking up prices (sometimes as much as 400%), bagging ~25% commission and not being responsible for anything by offloading all responsibilities.

What Uber does is providing connections, not a real product or service. As a transaction facilitator they have none of the usual operating costs. Have a look at their T&Cs. Uber is not responsible for damages, repairs, maintenance or anything, really. They eschew responsibility for quality, timeliness or even availability. But they take a huge cut.

All the while destroying established (regulated) taxi services, which, by the way, are not bad or nonexistent everywhere. Uber operates worldwide, don't forget how destructive this company is overseas, even if your city lacks a functioning taxi service. "Physical businesses" are the pillars of communities, this is where the state collects its taxes from, where contributions to Social Security come from. Physical businesses can be regulated, are places where employment and anti-discrimination laws can be enforced, and not to forget where disappointed/harmed customers can seek remedies.

Now, isn't offloading all those responsibilities an unfair advantage over the competition?
posted by travelwithcats at 2:26 AM on December 17, 2014

"Over the weekend, three different Boston women reported that they were assaulted by their drivers while using unnamed ride-sharing services. In each incident, the driver touched the women inappropriately before they struggled to get him to let them out of the car. Now CBS Boston is reporting that another woman has come forward alleging that an Uber driver raped and strangled her."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:39 PM on December 18, 2014

I hacked for the first time since August two nights ago. Had to find keys and carry someone unconscious into her house. Guess I could have dumped them on the sidewalk in the cold.

I was not feeling her up, just looking for the damn keys. Not arousing in the least. Scared me shitless that I was going to get accused of something in the morning. Took a while to figure out how to lock the door behind me. Weird old lock.

Then I find a bag, a lighter and something indescribable in the cab. No way am I breaking in to return things, so I stashed them under something on her front porch. She squared me my share of the fare plus twenty the next day and settled up with the company. Very pleased to wake up in her own house, she was. What the hell is molly? Got to look that up.

And that is a huge part of this job: getting people home who can't do it without help.

You can't get that kind of service from Uber. My car service vets people thoroughly, and now we have another regular. Some of us legally carry guns and other shit because you never know if someone is going to change the destination from a grocery store to somewhere you don't want to go. And they are behind you.

Give us a break. You are not getting in a car with a stranger. You are the stranger getting in behind us. I pay attention to the hair on the back of my neck and what it does when someone gets in.
We are more expensive. You get what you pay for. If you are totally fucked up, you don't want Uber. Do some research. Find something local that cares.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:15 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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