At the end of last month, Uber launched a subscription service in five cities across America for a flat rate of $14.99/month, $24.99/month in Los Angeles. (On a semi-related note: Lyft just launched their competing subscription service at $299/month for rides up to $15 in value, where the customer compensates the difference in cases exceeding. Sounds appealing, huh?) The CEO of Uber has stated, multiple times, that his ultimate goal is to, “make car ownership a thing of the past,” and to essentially dominate the ride-sharing market (which is every business’ goal in a competitive market, to be fair). While I think there are certain, albeit very particular, upsides to this, I think that this conquest to utterly eliminate private ownership of cars and to usurp the existent system of public transportation isn’t in the best interest of the general public; only in the best interest of the corporation and its shareholders.
One of the main things I would like to address is the issue of reducing pollution. A common argument in favor of this is that by reducing the number of cars on the road, we would lessen the amount of air pollution given off by said cars. While this makes sense at face value, I believe the end game of having the general public give up their private vehicles in favor of taking personalized ‘public’ transport wouldn’t make much of a difference. While you get rid of the fact that most individuals would have a private car to themselves, the logistical aspect of having still having one car to Uber one person to any given place isn’t any more of a solution to this problem. Also, the issue of having multiple people take one Uber doesn’t make any difference, because you don’t need an Uber to carpool. You can pick up your friends and drive somewhere in one car just as much as you can all take one Uber to that same place. While it might make a slight difference in terms of using an Uber, I do not believe the collective difference will reach a point to where it will matter.
Another issue is the privatization of a public utility. I am highly against taking age-old institutions and revamping them in the name of profit. While people do still take taxis and buses and trains, it seems that the general public consensus is leaning towards the other direction. When Uber became highly popularized, the value of taxi medallions plummeted; medallions in New York City which were valued at over $1.3 million were auctioned off at prices as low as $160,000, a fraction of their original price. It’s almost ironic in this particular case, because data shows that in most cases, in New York City, a taxi is typically the cheaper option. Truly shows the amount of research consumers do. In October 2017, the number of passengers opting to take an Uber had finally surpassed those who chose the yellow cab, with 289,000 going for the Uber and 277,000 taking a taxi.
Truthfully, it’s unsurprising. With the cost of an Uber being cheaper in almost every circumstance and in almost every major city, it makes complete sense for Uber to be outclassing taxis. However, it is what Uber does with this money that bothers me. One of my main grievances with this is where the money that Uber collects for fares goes into. When someone takes an Uber, a cut of the price of the ride goes towards to the driver and the remainder goes to Uber themselves. What does Uber do with this money, one might ask? Well, after pocketing a more than decent profit, and paying for the massive amounts of insurance a service like this must cost, most of it goes into research and development. Into what? Self-driving cars.
I’ll attempt to keep this short. When Uber invests in self-driving car technology, it effectively means the same thing as investing in self-driving taxis. The problem with this, I think, is that once you have a self-driving car (or even, hypothetically, Uber could develop some sort of add-on to your car which enables it to be self-driving), the Uber driver could then sit at home and have their car go out and do rides for them, while the driver sits back and collects money for doing effectively nothing, other than having the opportunity to get a self-driving car/the aforementioned add-on. I have more problems with this than I can go into in an article of this length, so for now, I would like to say I simply disagree with the direction in which this is going.
Overall, ride-sharing app services have, in a short time, overcame and dominated the transportation market. While the services are already in place for cheaper options in buses, and traditional options in taxis, the public has responded and has favored a private company who can do what they choose with their proceeds, instead of the public options. The problem with having Ubers be so prominent is that anyone with a car can pick up the profession and do it, entering a socially embedded industry which has pre-set standards and regulations. I think moving forward, regulating the industry would be the most logical option in terms of social welfare, where the market will no longer be a free-for-all for different groups of drivers, and that there will be standards and expectations set for those who do choose to operate in this market.