Uber VS Everyone: A Mobile App At War

I wrote the below article about Uber almost two years ago. Uber is an extremely hot topic right now with news of the company firing 20 employees due to complaints and subsequent investigations into harassment, discrimination and inappropriate behaviour.

Additionally, senior executive Eric Alexander was fired yesterday after the website Recode published an article that revealed Alexander obtained the medical records of a woman who was raped during an Uber ride in India in 2014 and shared them with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael, among others. It is alleged these top tier executives pondered the possibility of the woman falsifying her claims in order to damage Uber’s reputation in India, thus strengthening the business of local competitior, Ola.

Why would Uber executives suspect such an underhanded scheme and go to dangerous lengths from a legal standpoint, to investigate it? In the below article, I discuss Uber as an app at war. War includes underhanded schemes, espionage and outright deception if the old adage is to be believed (the first casualty of war is the truth). From this perspective, the behaviour of these men makes a little more sense.

Indeed, since it’s inception Uber has been engaged in confrontation from legal battles to riots and now it seems the war has opened on another front: from within the company itself. From within the CEO’s own person if news reports about Kalanick’s brash public outbursts and equally public apologies are anything to go by. There is also a scandal revolving around a leaked email Kalanick sent to his employees in 2013.

It’s an interesting time for the company with news of new hires who have an interest in fixing the company’s culture, a culture that has been branded toxic far and wide.

If you’re interested in the complex beast that is Uber and its history on the battlefield read the below article.

Uber VS Everyone: A Mobile App At War

There has been rioting across the globe, vigilantism, acts of terrorism and a rise in the kind of political fervour I usually associate with the big socio-political movements of the 60s and 70s. Feminism, Civil Rights and Communism come to mind. It’s changing the world at a rapid pace and there are people who genuinely fear for their livelihood. I am not talking about ISIS—I am talking about Uber.

Uber, the mobile app that has started a war.

When Uber first launched in 2011 it was only available in San Francisco. Now the transport app is available in over 60 countries around the world. That’s hundreds of cities. And the app is still growing. This is what world domination looks like in the digital age. It’s not warlords taking over the world—it’s entrepreneurs.

For those of you out of the loop, Uber is an app that allows you hail a taxi, private town car or rideshare straight from your phone. In Australia these services are called: uberX, uberTAXI and UberBLACK (spelling is verbatim).

uberX, known as uberPOP in some countries, is Uber’s cheapest and most controversial service. You see, in most places around the world, uberX is technically illegal.

uberX resembles a rideshare service, drivers are everyday people who use their own cars to drive you around. To qualify as an uberX driver you must have a registered and insured four-door car in decent condition, submit to a background check and have full driver’s license. Uber will also conduct a safety check on your vehicle.

Once you qualify as a driver you are ready to hit the road. You can work as much or as little as you like, at any time of day or night. Going to work is as easy as getting into your car opening your Uber app.

uberX is a service for the everyman. People can use it to get a cheap ride and they can use it to generate an income. It represents a new way of doing business and it’s the reason Uber has gone to war with governments and taxi industries worldwide.

There are two main issues governments and taxi industries have with uberX.

First, uberX drivers are not qualified professionals. They don’t have to undergo the tests and training professional drivers must undergo. They don’t have to pay associated taxes, pay for special licenses or insurance fees. Basically, uberX drivers work outside the bureaucratic framework developed around the taxi and hire car industries, enjoying the perks of the trade without paying dues.

As you can imagine, this has caused a lot of anger. CEOs, politicians and the average cab driver are equally pissed off. Uber-rage is blurring class lines.

The second issue governments and taxi industry personnel have with uberX is that it is potentially unsafe. uberX drivers are amateurs and are not part of “the system”. Customers are not protected by the appropriate insurance, which means if they were to be injured in an uberX vehicle, the chances of compensation are slim, if non-existent.

The fact that uberX drivers can literally be anyone is also risky. Your driver could be a lawyer or a lunatic axe murderer.

A campaign run by the US-based Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association called Who’s Driving You?, details every reported incident worldwide involving Uber and Lyft (another popular rideshare service) drivers. The list is unsettling with fatalities, violence and kidnappings included in the roundup. There’s risk involved for the uberX drivers too. Passengers could also swing either way on the sanity scale and Uber does not have the safety mechanisms taxi industries have put in place to protect their drivers.

The forums on the website, uberpeople.net, are filled with stories of drivers being harassed or taken advantage of by passengers (or “pax” as they call them). In one incident that made the news, a male passenger used Uber’s Lost and Found Feature to track a female driver to her home (he had left his phone in her car).

In a similar incident recounted on uberpeople.net, a former passenger unexpectedly arrived at an uberX driver’s house to retrieve an iPhone she had left in the vehicle the night before. The passenger used the Find My iPhone app to determine the location of the driver’s house.

The driver, who goes by the username RachelD, was unsettled by the experience and wrote the following:

It was a crazy, drunk passenger I’d picked up the night before at a strip club with 6 of her other crazy drunk friends. The first thing she said when she got into my car was “Does anybody have any heroine?”. She was a complete a-hole passenger, and I would’ve kicked the whole group out of my car if we’d been anywhere near civilization, but we weren’t since the strip club is outside of city limits……So for THAT terrible group of people to show up where I live, I was SERIOUSLY unhappy. My husband was even more unhappy and wants me to stop driving, but I’m not ready to do that yet”.

See the full text here.

The safety of services like Uber is indeed a serious discussion, one that needs to continue if safety features are to be optimised and monitored. However, while there may not be a comprehensive list of reported incidents involving taxi drivers, they do exist. Earlier this year a taxi driver was filmed verbally abusing and threatening four women in Melbourne. In Perth a taxi driver was charged with indecent assault against a 22-year-old female passenger. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

So where does violence, terror and war factor into all this?

Well it’s obvious there is a serious rivalry between Uber and traditional taxi industries worldwide. What has turned this rivalry into an all out war is the feeling of injustice felt on both sides.

Those with the taxi camp feel that Uber is unfairly, nay illegally, stealing business away from those who deserve it (licensed drivers). Uber and its followers see their taxi industry foe as stick-in-mud traditionalists who refuse to accept progress. Uber is innovative. Uber is the future. Uber offers a smarter and more reliable way of doing business. Taxi frameworks try to control people and force them to work within a system, Uber offers autonomy and freedom from bureaucracy.

War gets complicated when ideals come into play. A battle for territory is simple, the winner takes what they conquer. When people fight for ideals, things become more fervent, people become radicalised and no one can accept the final outcome. 

In our globalised and digital world, Uber’s war is more convoluted. There are no set battlefields. Attacks and parries come from all directions and are played out on many levels.

On the ground level the war is a gang fight between Uber drivers and taxi drivers and those who support either side. There have been cases worldwide of Uber drivers being attacked by angry mobs, or groups of angry vigilantes. In Paris, protests staged by taxi drivers against Uber turned violent with attacks against uberX drivers and their passengers. uberX vehicles were also set on fire. In Sydney, a man took it upon himself to locate Uber drivers and place them under citizen’s arrest.

Taxi drivers also troll the Internet, leaving tirades in the comments section under relevant articles and in forums like uberpeople.net.

On a political level it’s a battle for policy. Politicians, lobbyists, commissioners and business heads are all fighting for policy changes that best serve their interests. Taxi lobbyists would like to see Uber regulated or outright banned. They want Uber and its drivers to pay fees and taxes and obtain professional licenses like all other drivers by trade. They also want to make sure Uber doesn’t take any more of their business.

In Australia, the government has successfully passed a bill that makes GST apply to Uber rides and is looking into other ways to regulate ride sharing.  French politicians are standing their ground and have made it very clear that Uber is illegal in France. Due to protesting and political roadblocks, uberPOP is suspended in France.

On a financial level the battle is all about market share. Who is getting the most business? Are Uber drivers getting a bigger piece of the pie or do taxi drivers still monopolise the industry? Statistics are inconsistent. It’s still a new field of analysis. Some studies reveal that Uber is barely affecting the taxi industry while others paint a grimmer picture.

On every level customers play a huge role. The way you decide to get around makes a huge impact on which battles are won. Uber is not just illegal in France, it’s illegal in many of the places it operates but governments have largely been ineffective in stopping the app because customers won’t stop using it.

The outcome of the battle between Uber and taxi industries is becoming steadily obvious. In most cases, governments and taxi industries will have no choice but to adapt. Uber will not be allowed to continue operating without paying some kind of tax and license fees.

Taxi industries will realise that fighting against Uber to keep the status quo is a strategy with a time limit. Top tier executives will have to adapt their business models and standards to better suit the changing taxicab industry. They will begin to make their own innovations to meet Uber and other rideshare companies head on.

In fact, it’s already happening.

In China, the Beijing Municipality unveiled its own car-hailing app, introducing a state player to the market.

Uber also faces a different rival in China, a huge taxi-hailing firm called Didi Kuaidi. Didi Kuaidi is a company that came into being in February of this year when two of China’s biggest taxi-hailing apps merged to create one mega-business. One reason for the merger was the intense competition in China’s rideshare and taxi market.

What’s happening in China is indicative of what will happen, or what is already happening, throughout the world.

The rideshare and taxi market will be fragmented and diversified. Rideshare apps and taxi companies will merge. Governments will eventually give in and vie for a piece of the pie.

Uber is battling for legitimacy around the world but in fighting this battle it is also paving the way for more competition. It may win authenticity but the war won’t be over for the company. New battlefronts will open.

So while the end of a battle looms near, the end of the war is nowhere in sight.


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