Everybody Loves Uber!*
Salon.com has a darkly portentous article titled “Why Uber Must Be Stopped,” and in case there’s any doubt about how unscrupulous and even criminal they think the ride-sharing app is, they’ve illustrated it with a picture of Jordan Belfort and Gordon Gekko. Guys, come on. No Mr. Burns?
Defenders of no-holds-barred free-market competition see nothing to be alarmed or concerned about. Riders can only benefit from fierce competition for their services, and the number of cancellations is trivial compared to Lyft’s total volume of rides, explains Timothy Lee at Vox. On the other hand, if you are inclined to see Uber as the acme of ruthless and amoral profit-seeking, then the latest news on Uber’s “deceptive tactics” is just one more confirmation of how the company will do anything to win. Uber’s ambitions are limitless and it has the bankroll to do what it wants.
Indeed, there is some irony to the fact that Uber has so much cash in the bank that it need not comply with the most basic premise of capitalism — the notion that survival is predicated on making more money than you spend. With access to an astonishing $1.5 billion in capital, Uber can simultaneously wage regulatory battles in multiple cities, engage in recruitment wars in which smartphones are distributed like candy, subsidize drivers at below cost, and employ whomever is necessary to achieve long-term goals. The real question we should be asking ourselves is this: What happens when a company with the DNA of Uber ends up winning it all? What happens when the local taxi companies are destroyed and Lyft is crushed? When Uber has dominant market position in every major city on the globe? “UberEverywhere” isn’t a joke. It’s a mantra, a call to arms, a holy ideology.
I have trouble with Salon in its incarnation as a red-faced, bearded, overly earnest dude who gesticulates a lot. It’s hard to nod when you’re getting flecked with his impassioned spittle.
If you’re interested in a counterpoint, Vox offers a mild defense of Uber’s tactics and strategy. Meanwhile, over at Medium, a driver decided to crunch some numbers:
About two years ago I sold my 2000 Lexus GS 300 and replaced it with a sleek single-speed Pure Fix commuter bike. Two years later, I still bike to work every morning. And for anything over 3–5 miles, or when I’m just not feeling up for the workout, I call an Uber. I love the safety and convenience of Uber, the overall quality of their cars, and especially as a young black male, the peace of mind that I’ll never again have to deal with the police.
Before I sold my car I did some calculations to validate my suspicion that owning a car was a huge and unnecessary financial liability. Was it really feasible to ditch the DMV and rely strictly on Uber? After all, I lived in Los Angeles, the most sprawled-out city in the country—a city built on the backbone of the internal combustion engine. This would require some Googling and a little math.
Short answer: yes with an “if,” long answer: no with a “but.” Read on. His calculations are fascinating and blessedly calm. And they won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been cornered and harangued at a cocktail party.
*Dramatization; may not have happened