Automotive Blogs

Uber Earnings: What Might Have Been

by Roger Lanctot | Feb 12, 2021

“I do think that I'm worried about one thing going into the second half of the year is, are we going to have enough drivers to meet the demand that we're going to have in the Mobility segment.” – Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

The only thing worse for Uber than there not being enough passengers to transport during a pandemic, is not having enough drivers to drive them. Uber’s regular cadence of increasingly dysfunctional treatment of its core driver team – in the form of diminishing compensation, diminishing rider volume, and the adoption of policies re-enforcing contractor status as in the case of California’s Proposition 22 – is highlighted by the company’s exceptionally poor performance in the U.S. vs. business gains reported in Europe, where the company has offered drivers some benefits and made other accomodations.

Thousands of drivers have abandoned the Uber platform in the U.S. during the pandemic and some may never return as Uber emerges as the most driver-unfriendly ride hailing provider in the industry.

At the fulcrum of Uber’s ongoing failure has been the company’s policy regarding in-vehicle partitions.  In Europe, where countries such as Germany have required partitions or in the United Kingdom where Uber voluntarily deployed partitions, ride hailing results have been positive.  In the U.S., where the company has taken a mask-centric, lassez-faire approach to in-vehicle partitions, results are down 26%.

A 26% decline in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., the hardest hit country on the planet, might not look so bad.  The problem lies in the reality that the U.S. market is Uber’s largest.  That 26% swing translates to a loss of $640M.

Had Uber adopted in-vehicle partitions in North America the way they have at least partially deployed such screens in Europe the company might have produced results that would have served to impress investors.  In the process, the company would have also made driver recruitment much easier by proving the enduring earning capacity of the Uber platform along with providing a safe working environment for drivers and passengers.

The company’s stock fell modestly on Wednesday after the company reported losing another $1B in its latest quarter.  For the year (2020), Uber lost $6.77B – a 20% improvement from losing $8.5B in 2019.

Uber said that ride hailing revenue slightly exceeded delivery revenue for the first time since the pandemic started.  But Khosrowshahi’s expressed concern regarding the availability of drivers is worth watching.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers of all kinds have been identified as particularly vulnerable.  In May of 2020, The Guardian in the U.K. reported:  “Three drivers with Addison Lee, which carries more than 10M London passengers every year, have died of coronavirus. And three Uber drivers have been confirmed to have died from Covid-19 in the capital, but there have been reports of several more.”

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The Guardian added:  “New data released on Monday by the Office for National Statistics covering England and Wales revealed that the highest rate of deaths was among male security guards (45.7 deaths per 100,000), followed by 36.4 deaths per 100,000 among male taxi drivers and chauffeurs.”

Khosrowshahi had nothing to say on yesterday’s Uber earnings call regarding new measures to protect drivers and passengers in an infection environment that remains treacherous.  No partitions, no driver testing plans, nothing.

There is widespread anecdotal evidence that thousands, if not millions, of Uber drivers have permanently walked away from the ride hailing business, especially during the pandemic.  Uber has made zero effort to restore the confidence of those drivers or potential passengers.

Khosrowshahi’s happy talk about a post-pandemic recovery is highly unlikely in the midst of a safety policy vacuum and a raging pandemic with virus variants multiplying.  The do-nothing (vis-à-vis the virus) President of the United States has been replaced by the do-nothing CEO of the world’s leading ride hailing company.

The strangest thing of all, though, is that Khosrowshahi can’t ignore his European results.  The one geography where the company has employed and deployed in-vehicle partitions is showing remarkable growth and yet he refuses to apply the same safety measure in the company’s largest market.  Amazing. Foolish.

Previous Post: Uber & Lyft: Outside the Bubble | Next Post: The Problem with Partitions

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