What’s not to like? Uber has a current market cap of $70bn and countless happy passengers who know why taking a cab is better than taking a car – or a bus. We get to ride at rates so low they hardly cover the cost of fuel. Uber drivers get to be their own boss and choose the hours they want to drive. ‘Low-cost is king’ and everyone is happy.
What is there to like? Uber is riddled with sexual harassment, a toxic workplace culture, exploitation of its drivers and serious ethical issues. Its affordability has reasons other than ingenuity and scale. Rich with investor cash from platform capital (from Google, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Goldman Sachs), Uber burns their money with permission, for now, as a big sprat to catch a bigger mackerel – to capture all future demand by knocking out every competitor, whether taxi companies or alternative civic startups.
Meanwhile our public infrastructure withers, not least because of the inability of government to tax the profits of hi-tech and financial giants.
If Uber raises fares, it loses customers. If it lowers fares, it loses drivers – or relies on drivers with increasingly questionable backgrounds. If they are reclassified as employees, Uber may as well close its doors tomorrow. But if unregulated and uncontrolled, it can exploit its drivers now and its customers later. Uber is at a crisis point, currently locked in check or stalemate with government – in Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy, Canada. And now London.
Will it be able to turn the story around? And can corporate responsibility be reconciled with ‘the sharing economy’, or has our everyday life become a playground for predatory entrepreneurship driven by the internet? These issues are the invisible passengers in every taxi-ride you take. Join us on 24th October.