This week’s don’t miss article is Emily Guendelsberger’s look at what Uber drivers really make for the Philadelpha City Paper. The article is well-researched and well-reported. It’s also an entertaining read. Even if you don’t use Uber at all, its business model is being emulated throughout the service industry, and the company’s future is tightly entertwined with the future of ground transportation in general.
The article also captures the conundrum that transportation consumers face. It’s very convenient to land in a strange city and know that you an get a ride wherever you want to go using the Uber app, and that successfully communicating with the driver about where you’re going is not necessary. There’s no excuse for ever drinking and driving if you are in a city where Uber is available. And, of course, thanks to cutthroat price competition, Uber is cheaper than ever in most places.
On the other hand, Uber’s management is pretty revolting, and their relationship with their drivers becomes more and more exploitative over time. They company also ignores the law in many cities, and is encouraging large scale insurance fraud. Knowing that taking an Uber car means supporting Uber the company offsets the convenience that they offer.
It remains true, though, that for the most part, taking a regular cab often isn’t any better. The work of a traditional cab driver is also full of exploitation across the board. A cab driver in San Francisco told me that he pays to rent his cab, tips the guy who runs the garage to put him in a decent car, tips the dispatcher to send fares his way, and generally tips one or more hotel doormen so that they call him instead of other cab drivers.
Finally, if you care about the environment and quality of life in urban areas, you have to hope that it becomes easier and easier for people to live without owning their own car. Bike lanes, better public transportation, and walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods are all part of it, but cabs are a part of it as well, and for the most part, taking an Uber is a much more pleasant experience than taking a traditional cab from the moment you decide to take a cab until the car drops you off.
I hope that Uber changes its business practices, either voluntarily, or because the government compels it to do so, but I am certain that Uber (or other companies like it) are a big part of the future. With some changes, I think that’s a good thing.