Ah, Uber, the taxi service that we love and hate in equal measure.
Well, I do, at least.
The service is great, of course. The ease of using the app, the speed of getting a car, the lack of hassle – and the price, of course. Uber is cheap, right? (except when it’s raining and it’s not, but that’s a different blog).
Uber promotes itself as the epitome of the tech wave that is disrupting our institutions and changing our lives. Ooooh, sleek and shiny, new and funky and achingly cool, right? See how hip and west coast we are as we plug into the best ‘the Valley’ has for us.
Only it’s not new. It’s the same old exploitative capitalism in a shiny new coat of tech.
Ah, but they are enabling the ‘gig’ economy, aren’t they? Well, by pretending that their drivers are independent businesses they are enabling them to switch paid employment for precarious self-employment, then yes, they are. And also avoiding all their responsibilities and costs as employers, which they actually are ‘de facto’.
Oh, and they get to outsource the cost of their vehicle fleet by getting their drivers to pony up the money for their own vehicles.
Mmm. But freedom, right?
Yeah, the freedom to take on debt without any guarantee of the income to pay it off. That kind of freedom is widely available.
Their latest wheeze is to put a surcharge on fares (or ‘price increase’, as we might more properly call it) in London to pay for new electric vehicles and so help the Mayor in his drive to reduce air pollution.
How generous of them, right? And public spirited. Except they are in deep shit with mayor already, so this is a sop to get in his good books. It’s a bit of PR in their lobbying for their licence renewal.
“Our £200m clean air plan is a long-term investment in the future of London aimed at going all electric in the capital in 2025.” they witter.
Only it’s not their investment, is it? It’s ours, the passengers, who are paying the higher prices. And the drivers, who will be expected to stump up for these lovely new electric cars.
But it’s OK because they’ve wheeled out some oleaginous Californian to explain it to us in reassuring honeyed tones. So that’s alright.
Same old exploitation in a shiny new wrapper. Same crappy values and cheap tricks.
Are we going to continue falling for this schtick? Uber obviously think so.
Despite their undoubted technological advantage at present, their focus has been on gaining an ‘unfair advantage’ through exploitation of their drivers, avoiding regulation, offloading their investment and pollution costs onto others and generally being an irresponsible member of society.
They could have built an unfair advantage through their values and ethics and their contribution to community. Then they would have been welcomed into cites and not banned or thrown out. Then they could have really been part of the future and not a hang-over from the past.
Unfortunately, they seem to think Ethics is the county at the eastern end of the Central Line.
And whilst they do, I will keep looking at the alternatives.
Perhaps the end of the line for Uber is closer than they think.