Automotive > Connected Mobility Blog

Uber: A Clear and Present Danger

by Roger Lanctot | Mar 17, 2021

There’s a basic measure of what constitutes a good job. Would you recommend that job to a friend or family member?

Five years ago, in the earlier more innocent days of Uber’s existence, we might all have recommended driving for Uber, or Lyft for that matter, to a friend or family member. By then, many of us had used Uber ourselves and discovered drivers who were people just like us: former professionals in-between jobs or freelance professionals exploring a side hustle.

Five years ago, Uber drivers were people like us. We could see ourselves driving for Uber or Lyft. Some of us did! Today, Uber drivers have become people like us who have taken a wrong turn or suffered a downturn.

No one today, in their right mind, would recommend to a friend or family member that they explore working for Uber to fill an employment gap or add a second source of income. COVID-19 and Proposition 22 in California, have changed all of that.

Five years ago, Uber was a renegade, a revolutionary mobility platform that was disrupting ossified legacy taxi and rental car programs. Uber was a way to break out and break free of formal transportation strictures and save a few bucks in the process.

To be clear, Uber was a money-saving luxury. A car would come to pick you up on demand and take you where you wanted to go without you having to touch your wallet or even leave a tip.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber, the charming rebel-with-an-app, morphed into a manipulative monopolist. Uber passengers around the world are no longer being raped and murdered and drivers are no longer committing suicide, but a more insidious evil has invaded pulling the rug out from under driver recruitment.

The one thing that Uber (and Lyft) could count on – having enough drivers, in fact, having too many drivers – is in danger of plunging into the darker prospect of being unable to recruit drivers even as demand begins to limp back. In the early days of the pandemic Uber and Lyft cynically thought they’d have plenty of drivers thanks to unemployment skyrocketing.

Now, both Uber and Lyft are complaining about too-generous unemployment support from the Federal government discouraging drivers from returning to these platforms. But that’s just a dodge. Both Uber and Lyft have failed to address driver safety issues which, combined with lower passenger demand, declining driver compensation, rising insurance deductibles, and increasing driver-passenger conflicts over mask wearing making driving for Uber or Lyft a miserable, unattractive proposition even for the most desperate.

CNN: Uber Driver Berated and Coughed on by Unmasked Passenger - https://www.cnn.com/videos/business/2021/03/12/uber-driver-mask-dispute-subhakar-khadka-california-orig-llr.cnn-business/video/playlists/stories-worth-watching/

Would anyone today, in their right mind, recommend that a friend or family member drive for Uber or Lyft? Absolutely not.

The latest incident of an Uber driver being assaulted by a passenger over the issue of mask wearing only highlights the level of stress experienced by Uber and Lyft drivers on a daily basis. Drivers and passengers in Uber or Lyft vehicles are required to wear masks – but enforcement is left to the drivers, although offending passengers risk being banned from the service.

This is a hopeless situation that could have been avoided had Uber decided, early on or even last week, to require the installation of partitions in Uber vehicles. Lyft does make optional partitions available to its drivers.

An in-vehicle partition would obviate the need for a mask-centric confrontation with passengers. Uber has avoided the issue and regulators have chosen not to step in and require partitions.

In their latest earnings reports both Uber and Lyft acknowledged facing driver recruitment challenges – blaming pandemic-related unemployment relief. In other words, thanks to the government, the unemployed are not desperate enough to return to driving for Uber and Lyft.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority is reviewing Uber’s proposed merger with Autocab. Should the merger proceed, Uber will be able to tuck a substantial portion of the U.K.’s taxi fleet into its own dispatch platform – with predictable consequences for the independent operators on that platform.

Should the merger proceed, Uber is likely to become the dominant ad hoc transportation service provider across the U.K. There is little doubt that a merged operation would favor Uber drivers and disadvantage independent taxi operators.

Given Uber’s disregard for driver and passenger safety, I’d suggest that Uber represents a clear and present danger to drivers and passengers throughout the world and, therefore, ought not to be given a green light to proceed with its Autocab merger. There is an exception. Throughout Europe there are Uber operators who have independently implemented in-vehicle partitions.

Were Uber to change its tune on partitions – and allow its drivers to organize, as a small number in the U.K. have been so permitted – there is at least the potential for Uber to lay claim to solid corporate citizenship. For now, though, the renegade ride-hailer is a serial abuser of drivers spreading collateral damage in the form of COVID-19 exposure and overall transportation misery. I can’t see recommending anyone work for Uber for the foreseeable future. 

 
 
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