Opinion: Don’t Overlook Uber’s Dark Underbelly
February 25, 2020
Over the past decade, technology has advanced nearly every facet of daily life. The phrase “there’s an app for that” is no longer so much a marketing slogan than it is a fact of life. So, when you’re at the airport and need a ride home, is there an app for that?
Enter: Uber, a company now worth almost $100 billion, according to NPR. Uber has been made out by many to be an unequivocal force of good for consumers, making rides more accessible and, in some cases, cheaper. With this universal praise, though, comes a dark underbelly that is often ignored.
On its face, no one could argue that a ride in a taxi cab – with its annoying CBS 3 snippets and barrier from interaction with a driver – could beat Uber when comparing customer experience. The rise of Uber and apps like it, however, have caused fates far worse than a bad cab ride. According to a study conducted by the University of Chicago and Rice University, the rise of ridesharing apps has led to a two-to-three-percent net increase in traffic deaths since 2011.
The primary issue with Uber is that its drivers simply do not undergo strict regulation in the way taxi drivers do. There is (thank goodness) a background check and driving record check in place for prospective Uber drivers, but often not to the standards of city taxi drivers. Cities have been striking back against this phenomenon, but to little avail. Take Philadelphia as an example: the Philadelphia Parking Authority, an agency which serves to regulate ride-sharing industry writ-large in the City of Brotherly Love, has reported insufficient funds and workers to properly regulate anything, meaning less safety standards for ride-sharing apps and an increased ability for taxi drivers to fleece those who cannot use apps like Uber or Lyft, for whatever reason, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Those positions are not likely to come back soon.
Another thing to consider in the taxi vs Uber argument is the welfare of drivers. When Uber and Lyft come to a major area, they overwhelm the market with vehicles, bringing in thousands of them in a bid to establish regional dominance over the other. The issue with this market-flooding is that with so many vehicles on top of the taxis already there, it becomes next to impossible for anyone to make a decent wage.
Take, for example, the case of Shah Golamkader, a taxi driver profiled by the Inquirer. In the early days of Uber in Philadelphia, he made the switch from his $500/week job as a taxi driver – enough to pay his bills, according to the profile – to an Uber driver. He was unable to match his earnings consistently as an Uber driver, so he switched back. Now, however, his earnings are down as much as $200/week, a fairly-common occurrence in this flooded market.
In New York, the cost has been even higher. As Uber has flooded streets once lined with signature yellow taxis, the ability of taxi drivers, some who made the investment in a taxi medallion (license) as a promise of new life in the U.S. years ago have suffered extreme financial despair. Last year, five took their own lives, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, attempts by Mayor Bill deBlasio to limit the amount of Uber drivers in the Big Apple have failed due to the popularity of the app and the enormous political influence its lobbyists have.
Even in cases where legislation to limit the damaging effects of Uber have been passed, the company has still managed to avoid it. Uber, for many years, was involved with an app called Grayball, which, according to a New York Times investigation, was designed to deceive authorities in areas that limited or banned Uber.
The crux of the matter is this. There is no argument that Uber is faster and in many cases, cheaper than taxis – although taxi services like those in Philadelphia are beginning to foray into the app world. However, with all of that comes a human cost that may be worth considering the next time you need a ride home from a party.
After all, when it comes to reversing tragedies like suicide and traffic deaths, there is, unfortunately, not an app for that.