Founded in 2009, Uber, worth more than $1 billion as of Q2 2016, has grown to become one of the most successful startups of the last decade. Such success has its price, however, as it is also one of the most controversial. So far, Uber has been challenged and sued by numerous governments and organizations, as well as taxi companies, banned in some of the biggest cities, Berlin included, and subjected to a lot of negative press, the main point of criticism being that since most of Uber’s drivers lack the licenses, it’s a de facto “pirate taxi” company. Despite all the criticism, the startup’s still growing. It’s also expanding its offer.
What is It and How to Use It
What is it – Uber – though? What services does it have to offer? Well. The official definition is that Uber is a low-cost real-time ridesharing startup. The unofficial – and somewhat unfavorable one – is what I have mentioned: that it’s a de facto “pirate taxi” company. No matter the take, however, one has to admit: it is useful. And it’s not even that important if you want to get someplace or get something transported – or brought to you – Uber is there for you, fast and cheap, certainly a lot cheaper than most taxis, and available (almost) from the get go!
Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not that I don’t understand all these controversies. I am not blind to them: these are all important issues that have to be dealt with through proper regulations. All that being said, as far as there’s a need to hire a driver, Uber’s usefulness and user-friendliness make it an obvious choice. What you need is a smartphone, a wi-fi spot, and a downloaded app. You download Uber’s application – and you can begin!
In the most cases, the transportation’s price is calculated on a distance basis. Sometimes, when the car drives slower than 20km/h – such a thing can happen, for example, due to the traffic – it’s calculated on the time basis. As I have said, the prices are not too high, and the transaction is all handled through the smartphone app, meaning you won’t have to worry about having the money to you when leaving the car. After reaching the destination, you can rate and review your driver, as he can also rate and review you as his passenger, meaning that other drivers and passengers will be able to choose whether or not they want to drive with a certain person later – which is quite a useful additional option. The rating can be accessed through the Uber’s app so that you can either accept or turn down a certain driver (or passenger) and choose another one instead.
While there’s a lot of criticism there, one shouldn’t overlook the obvious pros of using Uber. One of these is the fact that the customers do now have a choice between the regular taxi service and Uber – and, at least most of the times, having a choice is a good thing. The other one is that Uber does actually make it easier for a customer to get a taxi: there’s no need for hailing, no need for waiting, and no need for calling. It’s hard to count how many times I have ordered a taxi for me to arrive at a later time and it failed to show up due to some operator’s mistake. Things like that won’t happen with Uber.
Because of what I have just said, Uber does also reduce the traffic. Since Uber’s drivers aren’t permitted to pick up the hailing customers, there’s no point for them to “drive around” the neighborhood. Instead, they just wait for an appointment someplace. Then, when the order is issued, they simply go there to pick up their passenger.
Uber is also employing an innovative “surge pricing” system that allows it to increase or decrease the price of the service depending on the demand. When there’s a high demand, the prices do tend to rise, making only those who really need fast transportation use Uber. When the demand is low, the prices do decrease, making it more available. Not only does it result in the lower overall city traffic, but also makes the service solid and reliable: you can always be sure that your Uber car will be there in less than five minutes since your order’s placement. Though the system is still being tested, it’s a nice alternative to the fixed prices of the regular taxi/transportation services.
In the meanwhile, the pros of the rating mechanics are obvious, and there’s no need to state them here.
But there are also the controversies. I have already mentioned some of the critics’ points. Some other issues are more serious, though. But, since a lot has been written on this matter, I’ll only list these most important ones here.
The first and most important issue is that Uber presents an unfair competition to the regular taxi drivers, companies, and corporations. The startup is often accused of being unfair because it’s not a subject to the regular taxes or licensing fees. Also, because Uber’s drivers lack the licenses that the regular taxi drivers are bound to have, there’s an accusation of them endangering the lives of their passengers, as well as other drivers and pedestrians. And – while as much can be told just about any driver – this claim should not be dismissed so easily, as we’re talking about professional contractors here, contractors working under the pressure of time and their clients’ rating.
The word “contractors” is not accidental here. The fact that the drivers are not Uber’s employees, but its contractors, has also stirred a lot of controversies, also among the drivers themselves, since the “employee” status is often superior to the “contractor” status, both tax- and payment-wise. The drivers’ point is that they as the contractors they do not receive the benefits they’d have received as an employees. In some countries, U.S. being the perfect example, Uber’s classification of workers is also problematic from the perspective of the legal jurisdiction, which often does state that a person who is “economically dependent” on the employer should be considered an “employee” rather than the “contractor.” So far, numerous organizations, as well as the drivers themselves, have filed a lawsuit against Uber for mistreating its workers.
Uber has also been sued for various cases of discrimination. Its drivers were accused of mistreating their blind customers, some have also denied them the service. The same goes for African-Americans. Although these cases of discrimination are not, technically, Uber’s problem, because the drivers are categorized as its “contractors” and it’s their choice whether or not they want to pick up a certain passenger, it’s the startup image that suffers, the point being that if it were a regular taxi corporation, it wouldn’t allow such mistreatment to occur.
There have also been reports of various cases of Uber’s drivers sabotaging its competitors’ operations. While not illegal per se, most of these actions could have seriously damaged other companies’ budget. That being said, operating within the law is one thing, being ethical – another. Such unethical actions have since drawn the attention of numerous ethics-focused organizations, some of which claim that they are preparing – or have done that by now – even more lawsuits against Uber.
All in All
So – to sum it up – the matter of Uber is not the simplest one out there. Though the startup’s reputation is not damaged beyond repair, it has suffered a lot in the two, three past years. The Uber is doing its best to repair the damage, reaching agreements whenever possible, and working to positively bolster its image. So far, it’s going quite well, but there’s still a lot to be done here.
All things considered, however, one can’t disagree that the services it offers – and the pricing system it employs – are really top-notch. Let’s face it: even if Uber has a little bit of a “cutthroat company” reputation, it’s not like the regular taxi companies are saints. Unfair competition seems like just another part of doing business. And this time – it is really quite a business.