Automotive > Connected Mobility Blog

Uber: Gimme Shelter or a Partition

by Roger Lanctot | Apr 28, 2020

Somehow, the entire mobility industry fresh and green and promising to transform transportation as we all know it, has ended up in the crosshairs of a global pandemic threatening a global economic depression. The goals of the mobility movement remain the same - shared transportation, higher utilization of vehicles (whether owned or not), multi-modal transportation integration, and electrification of transport.

We are now hurled into a caldron of lousy transportation choices - shared, public, private - that are unsafe or, in the case of micromobility, suddenly unavailable. As if to turn the screw, the price of oil has plunged to near nothing refiring the flames of enthusiasm for internal combustion propulsion and individual car ownership. We can all expect the automotive industry to come roaring back to life with ludicrous incentives and "cash for clunkers" programs.

How mobility industry leaders react at this stressful time may well determine which organizations survive to lead the industry onward to the next stage. Companies like Alto in Dallas, Texas, and European car rental operator Sixt have taken steps to provide safe transportation solutions - Alto with an array of new safety protocols for its drivers and Sixt by allowing passengers to find taxis with partitions.

Both of these organizations took these added steps in the face of decimated revenue streams and an evaporation of both business and tourism demand. Mobility organizations must ask themselves what it will take to restore confidence in the industry and in the business model. Clearly it will take new thinking and, even more importantly, a recognition that nothing will ever be the same. (Those retail partitions won't be going away.)

As the COVID-19 crisis was first unfolding in the U.S. Uber's CEO Dara Khowsroshahi proudly proclaimed in an analyst call that the company's $10B cash hoard would tide it over no matter how dismal the downturn. That was a great message for investors, but what did DK have to offer passengers or drivers? Nothing.

How a company like Uber spends its money and invests in its platform speaks loudly for itself and for the industry. We already know that Uber has spent millions to upend regulatory barriers across the globe to the detriment of taxi and rental car operators. But what has Uber done to respond to the greatest crisis facing mankind since World War II? Nothing.

Even China's dominant ride hailing operator, DiDi Chuxing, spent $14M of its own money to have its cars outfitted with aftermarket partitions to protect drivers and passengers in a post-COVID-19 operating environment. It's true that many drivers of ride hailing and taxi vehicles around the world have jury-rigged plastic barriers to protect themselves, but the DiDi's effort is notable and, so far, unmatched anywhere else in the world.

It's no small challenge to install a partition. Partitions were removed from cabs in many markets in response to Uber and Lyft and other ride hailing operators which encouraged driver-passenger interaction. It is clearly now time to restore those partitions and the one operator with the financial resources to show the way forward - Uber - has failed to take the necessary steps to improve safety and lead the industry it created.

Uber has $10B. It is time for Uber to put up or shut down. Gimme Shelter, Uber, or you're gonna fade away.

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