Why I hate UBER

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, August 29th, 2016 - 66 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Economy - Tags:

So. I helped out my sister with her 16-year-old’s birthday party. As we began to shuffle them all out around midnight with their partial romances and their teary micro-dramas, most of them were whipping out their smartphones and getting an Uber.

I asked them why they preferred Uber to taxis, and as well as price, the principle attraction was that they didn’t have to talk to anyone. They tracked it arriving in real time on their phone, it arrived, they slid in to the back seat, and it simply clicked onto their credit cards.

The taxi companies – particularly the lower-order ones – are getting creamed.

I don’t hate Uber because it’s good for my nephew’s people.

According to Travis Kalanick, the pugnacious co-founder of Uber, the new techno-platforms liberate the little guy from full-time wage slavery. “They can push a button and get to work. They can also push a button and stop working.” Apparently, Uber (and its copyists) are fundamentally empowering because the move the individual from ‘provider of labour’ as it has been for centuries, to individual owner of the ‘means of production’.

What could possibly go wrong?

Capitalism’s oldest trick in the book is to exploit workers. Uber’s ‘partners’ must provide their own car, their own smartphone, and must comply with Uber’s brand, standards set, and the tricky variable fare determination. It deactivates them if their passenger ratings dip below a certain level. Even if they work 24 hours a day, they are not employees. Uber takes 20-25% of the takings.

No holiday pay. No overtime. No minimum or maximum hours. Not required to speak English. Currently, as a contractor, they don’t even have to get minimum wage on average. And of course, can’t unionize.

In return for that they get the right to use the app, and some branding.

And from the customers’ point of view, the driver isn’t a registered Taxi driver (P endorsement), so they don’t have recorded cctv on board, aren’t required to keep log books so who knows how long they’ve worked without a break, don’t have to have their names displayed, don’t have to speak English, don’t know whether they have a criminal record, or medical record, or transport complaints, and just need a license. What could go wrong?

Of course, the gig economy of Uber and Air B & B is revolutionary, generating the greatest number of tiny contractors and the smallest number of actual staff for billion-plus companies that we’ve seen since, er, serfdom. On the asset base of one app. All as startups over the last decade. It’s amazing.

But while digital-era service may feel very cool to teenagers, don’t think for a moment this is the “sharing economy”. This is the fighting for the scraps economy.

66 comments on “Why I hate UBER”

  1. Siobhan 1

    Uber is terrible for workers.
    It lowers the bar in a way that incrementally affects all minimum and low wage workers.
    Consumers are workers.
    Ergo…Uber is bad for Consumers.

  2. Reddelusion 2

    What say your just an uber driver part time for a bit of extra cash and need the flexibility, thus works for you works for consumer, then not all bad

    • Ad 2.1

      Fine if you’re into remaining stuck in the bottom-feeding precariat.

    • Olwyn 2.2

      …don’t think for a moment this is the “sharing economy”. This is the fighting for the scraps economy. This is the telling bit. If Uber was peripheral to a robust, inclusive economy, what you say might hold water. But as things stand Uber offers a pin-money job designed to undercut the already precarious income of cab drivers.

      • BM 2.2.1

        Taxis add a lot of money to the cost of a night out.

        I’d expect that cost to further decrease once Uber goes driver less and when that happens it’s all over rover for taxis.

        • Sabine 2.2.1.1

          and with english speaking drivers, lisences displayed, counters displayed, and cctv cameras on board are very very safe for women to use.

          and yes, that extra cost of coming home safely is part and parcel of planning a night out while female.

          • BM 2.2.1.1.1

            If you’re a single female and you’re a bit paranoid about your safety I can see why a taxi may seem like a better option

            If you’re in a group the first choice for most will be an uber.

            • Matthew Whitehead 2.2.1.1.1.1

              Really, the issue is that these security provisions should be required by law for Uber drivers as well, so that the competition is fair. (and so that women can feel more confident using them)

            • Sabine 2.2.1.1.1.2

              this is what comes up when you enter uber driver rapes.
              https://www.google.co.nz/#q=uber+driver+rapes+

              note also that this seems to be a world wide phenomen.

              and to call a women paranoid about safety is a just one of these manly things to do ey? Cause no women was ever harassed, abducted aka dragged in a bush/behind a dumpster etc/ raped and killed on her way home.

              gosh you are a very pathetic excuse for a human being.

        • KJT 2.2.1.2

          Remember the Rena?
          Brought to you by MSC, one of the maritime equivalents of Uber.

        • Siobhan 2.2.1.3

          An interesting point. I guess that means more money for the sophisticated New Zealand drinker to spend getting legless.
          Looking forward to reports of driverless taxi’s auto locking drunks in the car and taking them straight to the cop shop when they refuse to pay and throw up all over the back seat.

          • Lanthanide 2.2.1.3.1

            Driverless taxis will be charging via credit card, so it’s not really possible to “refuse to pay”.

          • Enough is Enough 2.2.1.3.2

            Your rather absurd comment makes it sound like you refusing to accept that driverless cars are coming.

            • Siobhan 2.2.1.3.2.1

              Oh I have no doubt they are coming.
              Especially in NZ where we are known as being a good place to run experiments in modern technology. One of the most compliant “Western” Populations in the World.
              Drones delivering pizzas, auto check out at the supermarket, driverless taxi’s…how many jobs is that gone??

              You have to wonder what exactly is the point of an economy, and whose interests does it serve, if it doesn’t need to employ people.

              • Capitalists’ interests, of course. Unemployment is good for business, it shifts education costs onto workers competing to do your terrible entry-level jobs, and means you’ll get more efficient employees applying for your positions.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  Capitalists’ interests, of course.

                  That’s presently how it’s run. Time to admit that doing it that way is causing more harm than good and start running the economy for the benefit of the people.

              • Colonial Viper

                auto check out at the supermarket

                Not so much ‘auto checkout’ as much as you become the free unpaid checkout operator yourself.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Drones delivering pizzas, auto check out at the supermarket, driverless taxi’s…how many jobs is that gone??

                Hopefully, lots. After all, they’re not particularly important jobs and there’s better things that we can have those people doing.

                The problem is ensuring that those people are properly educated to do those better things and that those things are actually done.

                In other words, the problem isn’t that jobs are being lost to technology but that we’re not replacing them or even ensuring that the education needed to replace them is available.

                You have to wonder what exactly is the point of an economy, and whose interests does it serve, if it doesn’t need to employ people.

                The point of the economy isn’t actually to employ people but to ensure that the country’s population is well cared for, has a good living standard and that they have access to the resources needed to create.

        • Lanthanide 2.2.1.4

          “I’d expect that cost to further decrease once Uber goes driver less and when that happens it’s all over rover for taxis.”

          Self-driving cars are likely to be a better service than a human-driven one, anyway. No risk of assault from the driver, more likely to take the best route rather than the sneaky “good but expensive one”, don’t have to put up with inane chit-chat etc.

          • BM 2.2.1.4.1

            Yep, I’d take a self drive any day over a taxi.

          • someoneelse 2.2.1.4.2

            Ford announces intention to deliver thousands of driverless cars for ride sharing in a few years bypassing uber. If other carmakers also do this uber could become an expensive small player and cease to exist overnight.
            They are testing already.

            https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2016/08/16/ford-targets-fully-autonomous-vehicle-for-ride-sharing-in-2021.html

            • Lanthanide 2.2.1.4.2.1

              That article is about Ford creating driverless cars.

              It doesn’t say anything about operating them as a commercial fleet, which is what Uber is primed to do.

              At the moment Uber are also trying to design their own driverless car, but that’s purely because they think they have a first-mover advantage, AND they have the software infrastructure alread set up to manage the fleet in each location.

              I think Uber’s real competition is Google. Google have been developing the hardware (car), and they clearly can rapidly move into a new software space such as fleet management and compete with anyone already in it.

              • Graeme

                Google have the brand recognition and goodwill to make it happen. Customers will be very accepting of a Google Cab.
                Uber are operating in the market, but competing with the dinosaur taxi industry, and like the taxi industry come across as a pack of wide boys trading on their contractor’s (slaves) goodwill. Take the contractor out of the equation and it could easily go to bits for Uber if someone does it better.

              • Craig H

                IMO it’s Tesla – they’ve got more data than Google thanks to autopilot, and the best electric vehicles.

    • Sabine 2.3

      you are saying there are not Part Time or Casual Taxi drivers that just work for a ‘bit of extra cash’ with all the flexibility of a part time/ casual job?

      really? we need more flexibility? lol and define a bit of ‘extra cash’ is that like the high school students that work at Mcdo for a ‘bit of extra cash” ?

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    Wait until autonomous vehicles come along, then drivers won’t even have the privilege of being exploited.

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      Uber are going to trial self-driving cars in Pittsburgh by the end of the month: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/aug/18/uber-riders-self-driving-cars

      At the moment they have human drivers present as backup. But it seems like the technology will be ready for wide-scale roll out within 3 years (my personal guess).

      • Ad 3.1.1

        I feel just a little more skeptical about a real rollout working.

        When they crash – and they will – who is liable for either the repair or the hospital bill or the funeral? The car manufacturer? The programmer? The road owner and operator? The eternal pockets of the taxpayer? The company hiring out the vehicle for the service?

        • Lanthanide 3.1.1.1

          Google has indicated that they will take on liability for crashes caused in their self-driving vehicles.

          • Colonial Viper 3.1.1.1.1

            And they have the money to do it, too. They *really* want this technology rolled out.

  4. KJT 4

    Note that Uber is losing money everywhere they are required to meet minimum labour and safety standards.

    It is at the same level as the cleaning and rest home owners, who simply compete by seeing who can screw their workers the most.

    • This. They’re deliberately exploiting a loophole in many countries which means they’re not “employers”. So if we’re all okay with that, comrades, I guess we’re okay with other forms of labour exploitation, as long as it’s cheap and convenient?

      • Lanthanide 4.1.1

        But there are also significant social gains to be made from automated cars, in that children, elderly and disabled will have much better access to transportation, and at cheaper prices, than they currently do.

        Also there’s the climate change angle to consider – there will likely be fewer cars on the road each driving more miles, so it’s more cost effective to spend the extra money on those fewer cars so they have less impact on the environment.

        Sometimes social and climate gains have to come at the expense of workers.

        • Ad 4.1.1.1

          NZTA haven’t figured out how to deal with Uber yet, and they’ve been operating here for over a year.

          So I don’t hold out much hope that the global insurance industry will get their head around driverless cars, let alone the government transport regulators.

          Besides which, I’m still waiting for my jetpack they promised in the 1950s.

          • Lanthanide 4.1.1.1.1

            “So I don’t hold out much hope that the global insurance industry will get their head around driverless cars”

            Once the car manufacturers can prove that it’s safer and less-accident prone than human drivers, I think insurers won’t have too many qualms.

            If the manufacturers also take on liability for crashes (as Google has indicated they will), then consumers will love it too.

            “let alone the government transport regulators.”

            Yes, they’ll probably be the real laggards, but once they’ve rolled out in overseas jurisdictions and proven to be reliable/safe and very cost effective, there’ll be a lot of clamour for them elsewhere.

            Anyway it’s an issue that governments can start looking at now, in preparation for the next 5 years.

            • BM 4.1.1.1.1.1

              If the manufacturers also take on liability for crashes (as Google has indicated they will), then consumers will love it too.

              Makes sense, what’s the occasional million dollar payout when you’re talking 10’s of billions in revenue.

              • Colonial Viper

                Google takes on all the societal activities that government could have should have did once do.

                Like public transport, insurance, information services and more.

              • Lanthanide

                Also makes it impossible for startups to challenge them, since they won’t have the deep pockets to also make the same guarantee. Once it’s written into the legislation that providers of self-driving cars must take on liability for accidents, they’ve guaranteed themselves an oligopoly, if not a monopoly.

                • Jones

                  And then watch the price go up.

                  And I will not be surprised to hear of stories in the future where driverless cars have been forced off the road by driven cars.

  5. Nessalt 5

    I think you’ve missed the point of how this is good for the economy and workers as a whole. While it may not be the best deal for the uber drivers, what about all the people who can now access private transport in times of need due to it’s reduced price.The reaction to the market of lowering prices is increasing demand. and now consumers have more in their pocket for other goods and services.

    now instead of having to spend an extra $40 – $50 on taxis on a safe night out for dinner or in town, you can spend $20. either more savings or more spending. this is not a net negative. Also, UBER can split fares in a second. ever tried to split a cab with a stranger on a wet night with few taxis around? having a surly cab driver slow down for every green light and abuse you about taking money from his hand when really you are just trying to be community minded and split a cab?

    Cab companies make millions, cab drivers make not much. all thats happened is that the cabbies now don’t have ridiculous start up fees to buy livery etc. So why are you protecting a fat cat dominated industry because a fatter cat came through with a better product? a product that frees drivers to work as they please and frees consumers to have more choice? only a socialist would actually think they are protecting people by blaming technology that assists the masses and not the few. luddite.

    • Lanthanide 5.1

      It’s quite likely my current car will be the last one I own.

      On the average day, it sits parked for 23 hours and 30 minutes. Expensive paper weight.

      • Nessalt 5.1.1

        I drive. a lot. part of the job. but I won’t be resigning any leases once driverless cars come through. i’ll be first in line. I figure for every 1hr meeting i have i spend 10-15 minutes faffing with parking etc. So if the meeting is less than a ten minute drive from my current spot, i take an uber.

        I think driverless cars and Uber like techonology will remove 60-70% off all traffic from city roads. most main streets will become bus lanes.

        Yet we have to “hate” a developing industry that could contribute as much to society as the internet has as a few drivers weren’t earning as much as they once were. Why don’t we make wearing hats compulsory so that milliners can get their jobs back and earn more money?

        • Lanthanide 5.1.1.1

          “I think driverless cars and Uber like techonology will remove 60-70% off all traffic from city roads. ”

          Eh, I don’t see how that’s true. Demand for transportation is likely to go up, not down.

          If anything it means there will be more traffic on the road: instead of driving to work and parking your car near your workplace, you take an uber, which during peak hours will quickly move to service someone else. But when you’re at work and wanting to go somewhere at 2pm, when you request an uber it may need to drive to your location from the depot to pick you up, then take you to your destination, and park back at the depot. That’s an extra roundtrip to the depot that currently doesn’t exist.

    • joe90 5.2

      luddite.

      Uber is a Wall Street funded parasite that’s racked up a $1.5 Billion loss in driver subsidies in an effort to fuck their competition over and monopolise the sector

      Car-hailing app Uber cut back on promotions and discounts in China on Tuesday, a day after a merger with rival Didi Chuxing put an apparent end to a subsidy battle that cost the San Francisco-based company $1bn last year.

      With the ink barely dry on the merger, in which Uber and its Chinese investors took a 20 per cent share of Didi, passengers were going on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, to complain that the cost of regular routes previously taken had risen steeply.

      […]

      For more than a year, Uber and Didi paid expensive subsidies to drivers — sometimes amounting to multiples of the fare — in an effort to woo users with low prices. The subsidies meant that until recently both car-hailing services were less expensive than a regular taxi.

      google cache

      http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/26/6067663/this-is-ubers-playbook-for-sabotaging-lyft

      http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/19/7245447/uber-allegedly-tracked-journalist-with-internal-tool-called-god-view

      • Nessalt 5.2.1

        your point is that uber has subsidised driver wages? not such a bad company then are they?

        all they are doing is buying market share, it’s a valid business strategy.

        • Colonial Viper 5.2.1.1

          The more accurate way to look at it – its just an upfront corporate investment in driving out the competition. Once the competition is sunk, well that’s when you turn the thumbscrews hard on both the drivers and the passengers as neither have any options left then.

          You can see Air NZ do similar any time a new carrier tries to compete on domestic routes.

          • BM 5.2.1.1.1

            Then these guys or others like them will start getting more business

            https://www.lyft.com/

          • Nessalt 5.2.1.1.2

            Set up a competing Airline – Massive upfront investment, huge human resources required. cost to start?? minimum $100m

            Set up a competing Online Taxi App – Develop an app using open source techonology, offer drivers better income share than uber, market it extensively and make sure you are providing a better customer experience – minimum $1m

            Great analogy CV

  6. Detailed discussion about the economics and the company’s tactics on posts by Ben Wilson, head of NZ Uber Drivers Association:

    http://publicaddress.net/speaker/confessions-of-an-uber-driver/

    http://publicaddress.net/speaker/confessions-of-an-uber-driver-ii-how-we-doing/

  7. Graeme 9

    The thing I can’t get with the Taxi / Uber battle is why the taxi companies don’t come up with similar technology. Combine a 21st century digital interface with the taxi industry’s institutional knowledge and regulatory protections and they’d be competitive, and get Uber up to the same level.

    • Ad 9.1

      Definitely. There are so many global variants on Uber that there is a good gap in the market to introduce precisely what you say.

      Personally I try to minimize taxi use and use trains as much as possible. Being slightly anxious about travel logistics, one of the very few times I use taxis is going to the airport. For that I use nothing but Corporate Taxis, who are amazing. Plus I have a little guilty pleasure of an 8 cylinder car.

      In daily reality, the cheapness of Uber is such that we will see it show up in public transport statistics fairly shortly. The private car is still massively more private, accurate and timely than public transport.

  8. Draco T Bastard 10

    Uber is a great example of capitalism.

    It’s got a few people at the top making millions.
    It’s got shareholders with income from doing nothing.
    It’s got millions of workers living on the bread line while also destroying the livelihoods of millions more.

    Now, I happen to think that the idea behind Uber is great. An app that can organise a taxi for you thus removing the need for people to do that and thus increasing the ability of the local society to do more or even simply to have more leisure.

    The problem is the bludgers at the top that are forcing people into poverty.

    The solution for it is that it becomes either a government service or becomes owned by all the taxi drivers with them then hiring the tech staff to run the computers and update the software. I’m in favour of it being a government service.

    Oh, and Uber drivers should still have to be up to the standards that the government requires of taxis.

    • Lanthanide 10.1

      “It’s got shareholders with income from doing nothing.”

      The invested their money, which had an opportunity cost of not using that money for something else. They took a risk on the company.

      Most startups go broke, and people who invested in them lose their money.

      That’s not “nothing”. It simply isn’t. I know you won’t agree, though.

      • Draco T Bastard 10.1.1

        The invested their money, which had an opportunity cost of not using that money for something else.

        That’s not actually a cost. They actually have too much money.

        Most startups go broke, and people who invested in them lose their money.

        Most startups probably didn’t have any investors to begin with – just the person trying to make a business work with their own money.

        And then we’d also have to question how much leverage was used for the money, i.e, how much money was created for the investors.

        Far better for the workers to get together as a cooperative, put together a business plan and then be able to borrow the money directly from the bank at 0% interest. Better for the workers, better for society – not so good for the bludgers.

  9. Infused 11

    Every Uber ride I take, I ask the driver about Uber. They all love it. So yeah, donno if this post has much merit.

    Most are doing this on the side to make a little more money. The biggest thing I keep hearing is ‘my own hours’. They can start/finish when they like.

  10. Craig H 12

    Driverless transport seems vaguely related, so I’ll waffle about it here…

    IMO, trucks will be first, because there’s a driver shortage, and because there is a massive productivity increase available by having trucks able to drive all night. Apparently retrofitting is looking increasingly possible at the approximate cost of 1 year’s wages.

    The big gains, though, could be in public transport, and I look forward to it – imagine the possibilities of a small bus or van being able to pick people up at their home address and drop them at the destination address for $1 a ride. Imagine being able to run higher speed electric rail from commuter towns (or even just between Hamilton and Auckland at 300km/hr) and then everyone gets dropped off at work from the central train station and dropped back again afterwards all for $10 a day.

    All done with apps and prepayment, and ordering the ride Uber-style, but at a fraction of the cost.

    There would potentially still be room for private operators, as people who wanted a solo ride could still have one at an increased cost.

    Once driverless transport and public transport become big, licensing of road-drivers should be toughened up, as very few drivers should be left on the road. Once that happens, there would be some leeway to redesign vehicles. There could be less focus on safety as collisions will be much rarer so cars can be lighter, more focused on comfort e.g. wi-fi).

  11. millsy 13

    I dont think that Uber is nessesariliy a *bad* thing. I think the concerns about safety and exploitation are valid and need to be addressed, but lowering the cost of taxi services is only a good thing, not to mention allowing people to earn a bit of extra cash by driving as well.

    I actually have to confess the idea of driving for Uber is one of the main motivations behind me getting off my ass and getting my full licence. By the time the waiting period I have to sit through to get my passenger service is up, things should be clearer as to which direction things are going to go.

    • Draco T Bastard 13.1

      but lowering the cost of taxi services is only a good thing

      No it’s not. Although it reduces the use of resources from personal cars it’s still higher than what’s used for public transport.

      And we need to minimise resource use rather than maximise it.

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