Uber lost $5 billion in a single quarter
August 8, 2019 6:15 PM   Subscribe

 


Congratulations! All of you have netted over $5.2 billion more than Uber this quarter!

Yer a millionaire, Harry!
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:28 PM on August 8 [41 favorites]


It sucks that the people who are running these businesses can't make them work because the service is such a huge improvement over what we had in places where you couldn't just hail a taxi off the street. Calling for a cab was a coin flip of whether they'd show up or not, the price was just whatever the driver decided I owed for the monumental favor of giving me a ride, I had to supply the directions myself and if I didn't know how to get there they were hugely annoyed at me, and "their credit card machine is broken, let's drive to an ATM" which felt kind of like being temporarily kidnapped.

If there was some kind of fair compromise that let me keep the app and gave drivers a fair wage without the corruption of the taxi industry it would be a good job for drivers and usable for passengers. I have heard of stuff like the taxi app in Vancouver etc maybe that's just the way to go.
posted by bleep at 6:40 PM on August 8 [70 favorites]


Austin banned Uber and lyft (well they left) and had a nonprofit ride share company that seemed to work fine. Then the big bois came back and I wonder if it survives. I don’t live there anymore, but it seemed possible.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:44 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Now, to be fair, as the article says:
But the company said that almost $4 billion of that amount is due to stock-based compensation that the company had to pay out as it went public.

Even if you exclude that IPO-related cost, the company still lost $1.3 billion — more than a 50 percent larger loss than during the second quarter of last year.
So, they're still burning roughly $1B per quarter. But since they raised a bunch of cash from the IPO, they're sitting on around $12-13B in cash, giving them 3 to 4 years of runway at the current burn rate.
posted by mhum at 6:46 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


the price was just whatever the driver decided I owed for the monumental favor of giving me a ride

Never encountered this - cab fares have been pre-determined when I've taken one - were you being asked for more than the tariff?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:48 PM on August 8 [10 favorites]


I didn't own a car and I once absolutely needed to get somewhere that would have been a 45 minute walk in the rain during my lunch break, so I called a regular taxi, the driver aggressively cursed at me once he found out it was only a 5 minute drive.

I walked 45 minutes in the rain instead and got drenched.

The cab drivers keep having strikes and blocking the roads to protest Uber encroaching on their business.

Count me in as among those hoping Uber / Lyft / Grab / Didi manages to keep going, they provide an invaluable service.
posted by xdvesper at 6:49 PM on August 8 [15 favorites]


Uber will eventually leave a $50b hole in the ground but I'm guessing we won't see the board at the food bank any time soon.
posted by klanawa at 6:53 PM on August 8 [20 favorites]


Does it contribute to anyone else’s existential dread to consider that this is even possible?
posted by STFUDonnie at 6:54 PM on August 8 [16 favorites]


This was a real headline from yesterday: Lyft Stock Spikes As It Expects To Lose Less Money In 2019. They only expect to lose $850 million this year, an improvement over their previous projection of $1.15 billion in losses.
posted by peeedro at 6:55 PM on August 8 [8 favorites]


Yeah, nobody ever, ever called cabs where I live. EVER. Calling for any ride that isn't L or U somehow never worked.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:57 PM on August 8 [9 favorites]


The day that Uber/Lyft declare bankruptcy and have net zero books will be their most profitable day.

Good riddance to these rent seeking SV companies.
posted by kzin602 at 6:59 PM on August 8 [24 favorites]


Given the rate at which Uber and Lyft are burning through venture capitalists' capital to subsidize rides, is this currently our most effective means of wealth redistribution?
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 6:59 PM on August 8 [71 favorites]


The general failure of Uber to be profitable is baffling to me because, outside of basically NYC and Chicago, cabs are a terrible way to get around and the apps are so so so so so so much better. I remember the our pre Uber days and trying to get a cab in, say, Atlanta, was just a nightmare. I waited over an hour several times after calling the dispatch. I would definitely pay more than I pay now for Lyft (I only use Lyft) if that would keep it around. A lot more. I think they could double their fares and keep people interested.
posted by dis_integration at 7:00 PM on August 8 [12 favorites]


i still miss kozmo.com
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:01 PM on August 8 [16 favorites]


Still seem to be plenty of cabs in LA, and apps like Curb make it easy.

That said, all of these services are so expensive --- my car was broken for a week recently and it was much cheaper to just rent a car than to use Lyft, even accounting for gas/tax/etc.

I really hope Uber/Lyft go out of business. Their whole model was "lets ignore the law and ask for forgiveness", and I don't want to see that rewarded.

If some new company replaces them that actually works with cities/etc, thats fine with me (I don't hate the concept, I hate the business practices. Uber especially, but Lyft is not much better).
posted by thefoxgod at 7:01 PM on August 8 [24 favorites]


I prefer buses, trolleys, subways, and trains, but they do not seem to be popular ideas in the USA, despite being a much more sustainable economic proposition than all the marvelous ways we seem to be determined to try to cling to a personal vehicle that carries a handful of people at great cost. And yes, I took a Lyft today because I didn't feel like carrying a large pot and a hanging fern on the bus. I didn't say I was consistent.
posted by Peach at 7:19 PM on August 8 [21 favorites]


They're also getting pretty creative with the accounting in their S-1 filings. In 2018 they "spent" $1.4 B on "customer discounts", which was around 12% of their revenue. This was treated as a marketing expense.

Imagine selling $100 bills for $87 and claiming that you're losing $3 on every sale separately from spending $10 per sale on "marketing". It makes it look like you're a lot closer to profitability than you are, because this kind of expense has to scale up with your total revenue, and can't be scaled back without impacting consumer prices or driver wages. That doesn't sound like a "marketing" expense to me.
posted by 0xFCAF at 7:22 PM on August 8 [14 favorites]


Hmm... I also notice a nearly $800M increase in the "Accrued expenses and other liabilities" line without any apparent explanation. I guess I'll have to wait for the actual SEC filing to see if they explain it.
posted by mhum at 7:22 PM on August 8


Completely a situation where there was innovation in the private sector (good UX for hailing a cab, instantly making anyone a taxi driver if they wanted, providing a ride almost anywhere) that should be used as a model for improving something for the public good.

Instead, we have taxis, which work well in some places and not others (some cities have good hailing apps, some don’t), wildly uneven public transit systems, and these two companies that are breaking laws as they please, not to mention depositing scooters on *public* sidewalks all over the place.

This needs to be outgunned by strong public transit, for everyone’s betterment. Seriously. Steal the good ideas from Uber and Lyft and then let them die.
posted by hijinx at 7:23 PM on August 8 [16 favorites]


It always find it strange how people present their taxi horror story anecdotes as reasons why Uber is good, actually. Presumably the idea is that you don't have to worry about Uber drivers being rude because their situation will be too precarious and they'll be too afraid of you?
posted by Reyturner at 7:24 PM on August 8 [66 favorites]


Re: Austin. They were not banned, but rather quit and went home when they failed to change the local law via a popular vote, despite millions of spending on advertising campaign. Then, they gambled (correctly) that it would be cheaper to buy the whole state govt of TX than comply with the laws that were enacted to treat them like a car-based transportation company that charges customers based on distance and time.

It’s almost like we have a word for that...

Way to show who you really represent, state of TX!
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:24 PM on August 8 [14 favorites]


Presumably the idea is that you don't have to worry about Uber drivers being rude because their situation will be too precarious and they'll be too afraid of you?

If by "precarious" you mean "accountable whatsoever", yes. Needing a job doesn't mean you can drive like a maniac, deny people rides on the basis of their race, drop people off in the middle of nowhere because you don't like them, take people on the scenic route, lie about taking credit cards, or show up 45 minutes late to take someone to the airport.

If you're an asshole to customers at your job, you get fired. This is normal literally everywhere else and doesn't represent Uber's unique iron grip on its workers.
posted by 0xFCAF at 7:28 PM on August 8 [28 favorites]


Please explain how insurance works with uber/lyft etc? If the drives app is on your covered if it is not on your are not covered? Overall I am uncomfortable getting in someone else's car. Thank You
By the way recently I took Radio Cab in Portland OR and it was superior. And the conversation with the driver regarding uber/lyft most interesting.
posted by robbyrobs at 7:30 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Taxi cabs were never a high margin business. While getting your employees to eat all the upkeep and employee taxes might have helped with the company's income, it doesn't help with employee loyalty. That's how I see it. They don't have a sustainable money making business model.
They merely have a screw you disruptive business that Wall Street mistook for genius.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:31 PM on August 8 [13 favorites]


I have heard of stuff like the taxi app in Vancouver etc maybe that's just the way to go.

Everyone here haaaaates it, presumably because the lack of VC subsidy means it's as expensive as taxis, and the requirement to be an actual regulated taxi means there isn't an oversupply of drivers willing to grab any fare to their own detriment.

We do have a ton of car and bike shares here, though, which are working really well.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:32 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Then, they gambled (correctly) that it would be cheaper to buy the whole state govt of TX than comply with the laws that were enacted to treat them like a car-based transportation company that charges customers based on distance and time.
It's more insidious than that. The regulation at issue was background checks with fingerprinting, which the city was imposing. It's not that it would have been particularly expensive to comply so much as the companies simply refuse on principal to comply with any regulation they can avoid. So yes, they bought the state lege and had it made illegal for cities to impose their own rules on transportation networks (The Texas lege loves to make it illegal for cities to do stuff, because they're all Republicans and support local control…at the level of locality that gives them control).
posted by adamrice at 7:34 PM on August 8 [19 favorites]


Uber and Lyft account for 13% of traffic in San Francisco. It's lower in other cities, but we could make life so much better for everyone by shutting these companies down now and funneling all that money into mass transit.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:41 PM on August 8 [40 favorites]


Toronto cabs are great. I always call them, of course, because hailing is just weird and doesn't exist outside downtown. When I lived in a working class neighborhood, they were always there in 1-2 minutes, because we were near their stand.

In New Haven, Connecticut these is - or at least was - an excellent local cab company. They were small, so you wouldn't assume you could get a cab immediately. But they were also happy to pre-book cabs for catching trains or buses.

In both places, the fares are always visible and metered, and never subject to surge pricing.

Traditional cabbies are my neighbours and I support them.

Traditional taxis are also the only ride hailing service that is accessible to poor people. They take cash, which is great because not everyone has a credit card, and they can be called with a phone - because not everyone has a smart phone.
posted by jb at 7:44 PM on August 8 [22 favorites]


Presumably the idea is that you don't have to worry about Uber drivers being rude because their situation will be too precarious and they'll be too afraid of you?

Research in Canada has found that the rating system pressures Uber drivers to engage in unsafe driving if customers want them to. Report here.
posted by jb at 7:49 PM on August 8 [14 favorites]


personally, I find it interesting that the subtext in this news is: “paying human beings an acceptable rate to be at the beck and call of other human beings who want to be transported for an acceptable price is really hard, you guys.”

Both TFA and the article that someone linked immediately as a response point out that Uber’s path to long term profitability is to get rid of humans, and that the competition that they displaced were more efficient at this game and generally better as businesses, but consumers wanted better service, yet it is impossible to offer it to them at a realistic price.

And, I could be biased here because I have never used either Uber or Lyft, and have just relied on bikes or public transportation, but I wonder how much of this is just the unrealistic expectations we place on being able to get around in communities that are overoptimized for automobiles and therefore always wanting access to one even if we don’t want to own one ourselves.

Or rather if the main reason why people want Uber to succeed is because they want taxi prices with better service, when is someone going to recognize the economic reality and just start a fractional chaffeur service that will charge you a premium price for genuinely good professional service and break out of this gig economy nonsense?
posted by bl1nk at 7:49 PM on August 8 [16 favorites]


The taxis in my city are basically nonexistent outside of downtown and the airport run but I find it absurd that I could hail a Lyft to be at my house in a weird out of the way neighborhood of the city that no one goes to unless they live here in [checks app] 2 minutes. That indicates to me a ludicrous oversupply of drivers. And indeed there are days where I'm walking around and it seems like every car I pass has a Lyft and Uber sticker on the windshield. I don't see how anyone is making money at this, least of all the drivers.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:49 PM on August 8 [15 favorites]


I had a two month temp gig for a tech company in downtown Seattle. I have pretty much aged out of tech jobs so I busted my ass to show that I would be a valuable resource to convert to f/t. I had fun and liked my coworkers and the product they had deployed was really interesting, a kind of crowdsourcing platform for many potential clients - image tagging, survey refinement and A/B testing, all sorts of possible deployment modes.

But they finally hit revenue when various autonomous-vehicle dev groups associated with pretty much all the autonomous vehicle initiatives began using the service to generate training imagery, which is what led to my temp gig.

Among the cohort of temps I worked with was a CDL-holding OTR and local delivery driver originally from Tennessee who had decided to bail on driving because he understood that the end of driving jobs was “two years out”. Within the company, this “two years” common-knowledge citation was repeated a lot.

If you haven’t read the first link posted in-thread, you should.

Anyway, my boss told me tried to convert me to F/T. It was great to hear! I’ve still got it!

But he also told me he was overruled by his boss, who sat behind me sighing in agony as I took a 56-year old’s time to ascend the learning curve on the tasks I was presented with. I bear him no ill will. His sighing eventually struck me as comedic and I feel compassion for him.

After thinking about how “two years” is suspiciously like “two weeks,” the traditional delivery horizon for poorly specced software projects, I looked into wages for driving jobs and hiring opportunities. Guess what? Nobody wants to become a professional driver, and veterans are retiring.

I don’t want to drive a bus, or a train, or a semi. I only got my license at 37, and I am the actual opposite of a car or automotive enthusiast. But if people that love cars and driving are quitting in droves due to Uber FUDganda, I can navigate a clear path to fifteen years of strongly unionized work, primarily as a driver, for the USPS.

The kicker? The company I was skyhooking in as a last-shot tech gig was acquired by Uber last month. I have dodged a fucking bullet, friends.

(The essential weirdness and alienness of USPS culture to my prior experience is a post for another day).
posted by mwhybark at 7:50 PM on August 8 [20 favorites]


Driverless cars went from technology people expected to see tomorrow to technology we expect to see in ten or fifteen years. Uber or Lyft was well positioned to take advantage, but now?...
posted by xammerboy at 7:54 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Am... am I the only person who has ever been left standing on a corner by an Uber driver? More than once, even?

Most of my interaction with Uber/Lyft drivers is when they drive dangerously and aggressively in ways that threaten vulnerable road users, and they're less accountable than traditional taxi drivers there. I can report taxi drivers to the appropriate regulatory body, but Lyft and Uber won't let me file complaints unless I was a passenger.

My complaints about the app-taxis companies in no way negate the crappy experiences people have had with some traditional taxi companies, but it's not like we have to accept one or the other. Regulation and good public transportation, y'all. We can do this.
posted by asperity at 8:00 PM on August 8 [16 favorites]


Well, I have bad news for the investors. Since I’m never taking another Unter, they will lose $5,200,000,005 next year since they won’t be able to steal $5 from me after their driver fails to show up. I am extremely glad I have my own car and even gladder that I don’t have to drive for one of the Driver Exploitation Platforms.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:09 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Horace Rumpole's link is excellent.

Uber drivers are making less than traditional cabs, even with the terrible medallion systems.
posted by jb at 8:12 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Uber and Lyft would be a fine idea... if they actually paid the people who drive as if they were employees.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 8:26 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


If there was some kind of fair compromise that let me keep the app and gave drivers a fair wage without the corruption of the taxi industry

I'm sure cab-hailing apps are going to survive in some form - they just won't be (relatively) dirt cheap as Uber et al. often are, or have the same level of availability.
posted by atoxyl at 8:55 PM on August 8


I live in a city with good public transportation, that at least used to have a decent local taxi service. I still see their livery around sometimes, so they haven't been totally driven out of business.

The only major change I've noticed with Uber/Lyft (Luber!) moving in is that their drivers seem to be on a mission to park in bike lanes/block one-way streets.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:56 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Cab-hailing apps were the useful part. Dispatch has always been the weakest link in the chain.

The bit where the parent companies are vigorously trying to become a monopsony in every market, instead of just selling the app to cab drivers, is...not useful.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:58 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


and "their credit card machine is broken, let's drive to an ATM" which felt kind of like being temporarily kidnapped.

Whenever I see a taxi, I think back to having a broken leg in a cast and going to a doctor appointment, when the driver tries to drag me out of the back of the cab when I said I'd need to use a credit card to pay, in order to keep records.

I'm glad taxis are being replaced. I hope Uber figures out their business model. Taxis are a mob business and I'm glad they are being eliminated.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:59 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


The thing is, cab-hailing apps aren't that hard to make. The technology to hook up cabs to cab-hailing apps has existed for at least a decade - the cab radios these days all come with GPS, and their management software polls the cab's locations. The cab companies just... didn't do it.

Part of it is that it helps sustain the polite fiction that cab drivers are independent business owners, in the same way that Uber drivers work for themselves.
posted by Merus at 9:22 PM on August 8 [8 favorites]


I doubt Uber and Lyft will need to go to automated cars- or rather, automatiin is the cover story they are giving the public. Their actual plan is to drive all competition out of business, and then jack up the prices to the point of profitability.

So everybody here talking about how much better and cheaper Uber is than taxis? Get ready for a nasty surprise.
posted by happyroach at 9:22 PM on August 8 [21 favorites]


Amazon took like a decade to turn a profit, but then look at all the great things they've done for society, small towns, and workers!
posted by xammerboy at 9:26 PM on August 8 [34 favorites]


Given the rate at which Uber and Lyft are burning through venture capitalists' capital to subsidize rides, is this currently our most effective means of wealth redistribution?

Well, given that individuals with a college education use Uber/Lyft at triple the rate of those without a college degree, and individuals making over $200,000 use them at triple the rate of those making $50,000-$200,000, who in turn use them at triple the rate of those making under $50,000 -- I'd say that wealth redistribution is yet another thing these services do poorly.
posted by chortly at 9:27 PM on August 8 [21 favorites]


Taxis obviously should have a single app network that connects all service providers in an area and lets you see your cab on the way. I suspect though that people would see that on Saturday night there are more people wanting a cab than there are drivers and wait times are very long.

I have not read any detailed analyses but having cars and drivers available to meet peak need just seems like it will be very expensive as those resources sit idle 80% of the time, unless you do exploitative things like use your own workers' capital as backup supply, without paying them for depreciation.

I think this is just a case where the bottom line is that what people want can't be offered at a price they think is remotely "fair" and the app and UI would prove to be beside the point.
posted by mark k at 9:40 PM on August 8 [8 favorites]


Actually, given the OP, I should point out that it's not possible to offer this at a good price even if you do exploit workers and ignore regulations.
posted by mark k at 9:41 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


If Uber wasn't loosing $1B a quarter people would like them a lot less. It's the subsidization that is letting them compete with conventional taxis on service and availability. these people aren't smarter than the companies who have been doing this since the cabs were pulled by horses; they just have a huge stack of money to burn.

I doubt Uber and Lyft will need to go to automated cars- or rather, automatiin is the cover story they are giving the public. Their actual plan is to drive all competition out of business, and then jack up the prices to the point of profitability.

Short of regulatory capture (maybe a per car licence; they could call it a medallion) there is no barrier to entry in the taxi business. The second Uber tries to raise prices exploitatively someone will come along and eat the bottom out of their market. Just like Uber is currently doing to conventional taxis. In fact the way they've tripled down on their drivers being contractors it's likely that the people undercutting them will be their own drivers.
posted by Mitheral at 10:00 PM on August 8 [9 favorites]


Carsharing, guys! And we can start supporting local, carsharing co-ops like modo.

Car2go seems like a promising model in many ways. If someone works out a way to have it cover areas underserved by transit and easily link with it through good parking options, it could be revolutionary. Fewer parked cars in cities (those parked at popular locations are especially likely to remain active).

Add to this: good bike lanes and bike parking/storage, bike-enabled urban trains and buses for commuters on certain strategic routes, and more space on the streets for people who actually need to use a car.
posted by ipsative at 10:27 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I hope Uber figures out their business model.

Uber has figured out its business model. It's to underprice and underpay until all alternatives are driven out of business, then enjoy the benefits of monopoly.

I get people's individual frustrations with taxis, really I do, and I'm not blind to the abuses of the medallion system, but I do not understand how anyone here in 2019 thinks that Uber is a benign entity.
posted by praemunire at 10:39 PM on August 8 [43 favorites]


there is no barrier to entry in the taxi business

There is, though, in meaningful senses. Yes, without mandatory licensing, no one can stop you or me from declaring ourselves to be a taxi and driving people around for money (the fact that I can't drive notwithstanding!). But, to actually make a living off of it, you need access to a pool of customers. If you're not the one dude with a car in a tiny remote town, that means you need either very dense street traffic or some kind of dispatching system shared with many other drivers and actually used by customers. That's where the difficulty comes in.
posted by praemunire at 10:42 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


(Also, keep in mind that in that kind of situation, you are liable to end up with an uncoordinated mass of insurgents competing away all profit in a race to the bottom which will also compete away user safety and mean constant turnover as individual rando entrants attempt to and fail to make a living at it. Not a happy picture.)
posted by praemunire at 10:47 PM on August 8


Can someone explain the "the credit card machine is broken" thing to me? People often mention that in threads discussing taxis, and I don't quite get what the scam is. Is it literally just that the driver wants cash so they can underreport their income to the IRS?
posted by jcreigh at 10:47 PM on August 8


Uber/Lyft cars ( as opposed to bikes and scooters ) are making urban cores less livable in terms of increased traffic and pollution. They're also cutting into revenue and ridership for public transit which is really not good.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:47 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Sorry, meant to link this in above comment.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:49 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Is it literally just that the driver wants cash so they can underreport their income to the IRS?

This plus CC processors take 1.5-3% of the gross.
posted by Mitheral at 10:52 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


keep in mind that in that kind of situation, you are liable to end up with an uncoordinated mass of insurgents competing away all profit in a race to the bottom

Well ya, but in the mean time Uber isn't able to charge monopoly prices.
posted by Mitheral at 10:57 PM on August 8


Uber has figured out its business model. It's to underprice and underpay until all alternatives are driven out of business, then enjoy the benefits of monopoly.

I've heard this a lot and it doesn't make any sense. Uber can't do that; the second they try to turn the screws on either drivers or passengers, a new copycat competitor will show up with their own fistful of VC cash and undercut Uber.

The barriers for a new rideshare company to come onto the market, particularly if they start modestly in just a single city, are not high. You need an app and a couple of drivers; the recipe may have been revolutionary at one point, but it's pretty established now.

As long as there's another Lyft waiting in the wings, their ability to achieve a monopoly, much less push rates through the roof, is pretty limited.

Really the only way I see this working for them is if they achieve regulatory capture. That's the real bad scenario, for consumers and everyone else: it's if Uber decides to stop taking all those "marketing" dollars it's spending subsidizing rides unsustainably, and decides to spend it on political bribes contributions instead, and somehow make it impossible for a competitor to emerge. Then they really could start charging whatever they want.

Then again, the taxi companies frequently had almost total regulatory capture—which is part of why they sucked so much—and it didn't really help them when Uber showed up.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:40 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Is it literally just that the driver wants cash so they can underreport their income to the IRS?

This plus CC processors take 1.5-3% of the gross.


That, plus if you pay with a credit card, you're likely to tip with a credit card, and that means they're less likely to end up with that tip.
posted by kafziel at 11:59 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


I've heard this a lot and it doesn't make any sense. Uber can't do that; the second they try to turn the screws on either drivers or passengers, a new copycat competitor will show up with their own fistful of VC cash and undercut Uber.

There is not unlimited room in the mental markeplace for competition, even competition that is ostensibly providing a better service. "Take an Uber" has become almost generic, Uber has defined this service so thoroughly. Uber is not going to be unseated by some new company that does the same thing they do, slightly cheaper, once taxis are dead. We've seen this in any number of other industries that have gone through the same process - there's room for maybe two companies out there, those slots are both taken, and Uber and Lyft have no interest in getting in a race to the bottom against each other. Especially as Uber expands into additional services like UberEats, as awful as it is for the stores that provide it and the drivers that have to do it, Lyft is increasingly still an also-ran.
posted by kafziel at 12:06 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


And Uber has the luxury of having investors who have shovelled billions and billions of dollars into the business. You're not going to find a VC who wants to fund an Uber-killer on their dime.

Based on what I know, the OP's argument is actually bang on - it's very, very thorough, impressively so.
posted by Merus at 12:28 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I am living in an economically depressed part of town. It isn’t even the worst/poorest part, but it’s impoverished for sure. I’m embarrassed to say I never really witnessed this kind of low income neighborhood up close before and so didn’t understand much. I still don’t, but maybe I do more?

Get ride of Uber and Lyft, and you’re going to fuck over a lot of people who are just now starting to get access to work.

Yes, I get it, it doesn’t pay real livable wages, benefits, etc. cost of car maintenance. But Uber drivers who see where I’m living have been more willing to open up, just chat about ride share and how it’s helped them. Many are working ride share as a second job, some do it full time and then some.

But it’s not just the drivers. I was surprised at the number of Uber/Lyft vehicles in the neighborhood dropping people off, picking them up. To jobs, to pick up kids, for groceries. Because many people don’t have cars. Or they have cars that aren’t running right now, etc...

As for the poor not having credit cards, maybe? Maybe they just have paypal, idk. Cash is king but somehow everyone still uses apps. Same with cellphones; I’ve noticed in a few different places where people I presume to be homeless are charging their phones, the cheap gym I go to, the local university’s union. I’ve been paying attention too, having felt I was close to being homeless. Also there are really way more homeless people on the streets in just the past few years. It’s hard not to notice if you’re spend any time out in the city. But that’s another story for another day.

Oh and the bus line is pretty good here. Like surprised me good. But even the proximity of the bus stops, you’re still walking in a pretty rough neighborhood. I actually got off the bus today about a mile and a half from home while still in a nicer part of town, and called Uber. I did for a couple reasons- the first was I had a bunch of heavy bags and didn’t want to deal with the 3 block walk home- they were heavy, I could carry, but felt I was in a compromising position. After a man a few months ripped my bicycle from my hands as I tried to carry from my car to the house, over my objections, insisting I couldn’t carry on my own, I didn’t trust that not to happen with carrying some heavy ass bags. But my point is that it is dangerous enough that walking to and taking the bus is dicy. Probably fine, but maybe not. Uber will drop you right to your door.

(Other reason was I was verbally harassed/assaulted I don’t know what you would call it, by a guy on the bus after refusing to engage in a conversation. Got off in a crowded stop near a hotel, walked into the hotel lobby and called an Uber. I’d already considered because of the bag issueS And I’m grateful I could do just that, call Uber and get me home. Quicker than anything else I could have done. )
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:35 AM on August 9 [17 favorites]


(And I should add, at least some of that vc stupid money is subsidizing some impoverished people’s access to transportation. )
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:38 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Uber and Lyft don't work because they're a way of pretending that something costs less than it does. To pay a living wage to a driver and cover all expenses of a car ride is expensive. It just is. If you're getting a cheap individual ride somewhere, someone is getting screwed. Lyft and Uber are screwing their drivers and burning venture capital to keep prices down so that they can pay big salaries to their higher-ups and perhaps fuck over the transit market enough so that people will be trapped when they run out of venture capital and raise prices.

It is a canard to present Uber and Lyft as some kind of "solution" for poor people. The "solution" is "screw over drivers so that poor people can get to shitty jobs that screw them over and then when the venture capital runs out the whole house of cards collapses". It's like saying that we have to have sweatshops and fight unionization because otherwise how will poor people afford clothes, or the idea that a strike is an offense against working class people. I mean, sure, yeah, if the choice is between calling a Lyft and losing your job, fine, we all do what we have to do, but let's not kid ourselves.

We've built up this whole society where poor people live on the margins with no access to buses and no reliable work schedules, so everyone is always, like, on Facebook asking for someone to Venmo them cash to they can get a Lyft to work at 2am on a Tuesday because their nightmare job is all they can get, there's no bus and they don't even actually make enough to get Lyfts, not really - this is literally a thing that I see on the internet very regularly. Lyft is not a solution to this kind of criminal exploitation of the poor; it too is exploitation.

In some parts of the country, a government-run and tax supported taxi-like service is probably the only thing that makes sense because the density isn't there for buses. For temporarily or permanently disabled people, some sort of state-run Lyft-like service makes sense. But we can't run our society on the assumption that everyone is going to just be driven everywhere at all hours by a whole fleet of underpaid drivers.
posted by Frowner at 2:57 AM on August 9 [52 favorites]


Presumably the idea is that you don't have to worry about Uber drivers being rude...

Women have more to worry about than rudeness. Not that taxi drivers never, ever do it, but there's been an epidemic of UberLyft drivers arrested for rape and assault of women passengers. Those background checks that the companies reject would help.

Long ago, I drove for a suburban taxi company. There was no profit in it, for a driver. The company had a monopoly in a cluster of suburbs, but is long gone. The towns have mostly established public minibus transit systems that augment regional bus systems.

Taxicabs are expensive, and can be prone to service inadequacies and abuses. As with most profit-based systems, the answer is closer regulation. That requires governments that haven't been bought by the regulated industry. Good luck!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:14 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


Also, and this obviously won't work for most people, someone you know may be able to help get you where you want to go. I'm retired, and I have a car. About once a week, I drive the daughter of a family we know to her dance class, then bring her home. I get a few bucks, they don't have to worry about their daughter being with a stranger. Do you know anyone with a car who's retired or otherwise not working? They would probably be willing to drive you, for the same or less than a ride share.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:21 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]



Uber/Lyft cars ( as opposed to bikes and scooters ) are making urban cores less livable in terms of increased traffic and pollution. They're also cutting into revenue and ridership for public transit which is really not good.


Yeah, no. Human density makes urban cores less livable. Because accompanying mobility demands exact a cost. If they are met and if they are not.

Uber has figured out its business model. It's to underprice and underpay until all alternatives are driven out of business, then enjoy the benefits of monopoly.

This is absurd, because monopoly isn't really an option. Those bemoaning Uber's potential for regulatory capture can celebrate: it already exists with the medallion system. Uber and the like broke it. Something that seems to cause so much consternation among concerned people everywhere. Furthermore, the concern extends to all the underpaid drivers. So much so that it would be preferable that they not be paid at all, all to assuage your concern. If you were concerned that my job didn't pay me enough, well, thanks, I guess. If your concern meant that my job should go away because you're so concerned, well, fuck you very much. Let my job, and those of Uber drivers, stand on something other than your sense of propriety. Like whether or not it can sustain itself.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:42 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


I have not read any detailed analyses but having cars and drivers available to meet peak need just seems like it will be very expensive as those resources sit idle 80% of the time, unless you do exploitative things like use your own workers' capital as backup supply, without paying them for depreciation.

I think this is just a case where the bottom line is that what people want can't be offered at a price they think is remotely "fair" and the app and UI would prove to be beside the point.


I spent 45 minutes reading the first link in the thread - which I still highly recommend - and this is basically what it says, with lots of facts and references and some history on deregulation.

But, of course, it goes into more detail, and I learned interesting things: the market for traditional taxis was bimodal - they are more likely to be taken by people with lower incomes and higher incomes (number in the article) than people with middle incomes. In fact, lower income people are the bulk of taxi customers. But, as noted above in this thread, they are not the customers being served by app-services. This fits with my anecdata: the working class people I know don't have smart phones and take cabs.
posted by jb at 5:42 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


As for the poor not having credit cards, maybe? Maybe they just have paypal, idk. Cash is king but somehow everyone still uses apps.

This "everyone" is very selective - if you spend time with lower income people, especially older and/or working class people, you'd find out that many of them don't have smart phones, don't have data, and still use cash. I live with 4 adults - only two of us even have smart phones.

Heck: I have a middle-income and a smart phone that I use constantly (mostly for reading metafilter), and I still use cash for purchases under $10 everywhere but chains, where I might use debit. I always have cash, since smaller businesses might not accept debit (and power to them, it's expensive).
posted by jb at 5:48 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Uber has figured out its business model. It's to underprice and underpay until all alternatives are driven out of business, then enjoy the benefits of monopoly.

Their business model was to build up a massive infrastructure of ride-need data, coupled with electric self-driving cars scattered throughout cities. At that point taxis don't matter because if you're not paying a driver, you'll be the cheaper option by default. Of course this was supposed to be in place by 2018.

Human drivers and hemorrhaging money are just the means to the end here. Get rid of ppl, you get rid of 50% of your expenses overnight.
posted by splen at 5:51 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I just realized there is a big national difference in this conversation: I'm in Canada, where our debit system doesn't use credit card numbers, and our data rates are (usoriously) high. In the US, where debit cards work like credit cards and data is affordable, apps may be more likely to be used by lower income people.

But as noted up thread, app-ride services are much more likely to be used people with higher education and/or higher incomes. Certainly, those lower income people I know in Canada who use app-rides all have university degrees.
posted by jb at 6:22 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


So they raised (IIRC) $8.2 billion in the IPO, and immediately gave $4 billion of it away as stock-based compensation?

Welp, I guess we know what the IPO was for.
posted by clawsoon at 7:03 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Also, $4.2 billion left over from the IPO divided by $1.3 billion in losses per quarter means that the IPO only gave them... let's see... 9 or 10 months of extra survival time.

It's like MoviePass, but for cars.
posted by clawsoon at 7:07 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


In Inner London Uber is essentially a luxury item for those who would previously have got the tube or a night bus, or maybe splashed out on a black cab. It's popular enough to have had a noticeable effect on bus journey times and bus usage*. This has led Transport for London (who run the buses, but have little control over Uber) to go crazy trying to speed up the buses to attract people back.

The need to keep buses flowing is leading TfL to design junctions with very long wait times for pedestrians and to veto bike lane schemes, despite a stated policy about designing "Healthy Streets" (good for walking and cycling). And due to restrictions on bus lane design, it's very hard to speed up buses without also speeding up general traffic, so car drivers are having their journey times shortened too.

So at a time when we're meant to be encouraging people to be using sustainable and especially non-motorised modes, we're actually doing the opposite.

In short, fuck Uber.

(* there's some debate about whether Uber et al is the actual cause of this, but TfL decision makers think it is, and that's what matters)
posted by grahamparks at 7:23 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


Never encountered this - cab fares have been pre-determined when I've taken one - were you being asked for more than the tariff?

I live in NYC, arguably the most established taxi city in the US, and this happens to me. I'm pretty assertive, so I insist they turn the meter on, but at least every couple of months and driver will try to pull the "just give me 10 bucks" trick.

I also can't help but notice that the alternatives often proffered (bus, bikes, scooters) are much easier if you're able-bodied, don't have multiple small children, live close to the bus line, etc.

And hailing a cab has never been easy for people of certain colors, or those in certain neighborhoods.

I don't think Uber is a good thing. But it's meeting a lot of people's' needs, on both sides, and those needs don't go away even if the company does. Every driver I've spoken to has told me it offers more flexibility and income than taxi driving did. My sister moved to Dallas and didn't get a car because light rail and Uber were enough. She's not alone; a surprising number of my cousins' peers feel no urgency about getting a drivers' license, and they're in Michigan. Private car ownership is expensive and wasteful. Is Uber worse than better mass transit? Of course. But in areas of low density, it's a better solution to the "last mile" problem then households owning multiple cars.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:35 AM on August 9 [13 favorites]


Uber let me get rid of my car when I lived in the US. There is not functional mass transit where I was from.

Calling taxis was scary because you never knew when they would show up, often a car with a different cab company name showed up, the card machine didn’t work, their meter was “broken”, and no one had any idea where I was.

I would be willing to pay more to have safety.

I want the people who drive me around to be paid fairly. And I want to be safe.
posted by sio42 at 7:44 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Those bemoaning Uber's potential for regulatory capture can celebrate: it already exists with the medallion system. Uber and the like broke it.

I guess it's exciting when one mob boss kills another one and takes over the syndicate, but I'm not sure it does much for the neighborhood? The protection rackets don't go away.

Let my job, and those of Uber drivers, stand on something other than your sense of propriety. Like whether or not it can sustain itself.

It's been clearly demonstrated that Uber cannot sustain itself. You're advocating for lawlessness, not sustainability in the marketplace. In an environment where regulatory power can be freely ignored (pardon me, "disrupted") or bought off (see Texas state legislature), you really think the working poor are who will prosper? What you call propriety is actually justice. The suffering of the poor is always leveraged by the rich whenever they argue that democracy should take a backseat to crony capitalism, and it's frankly offensive. By defending Uber, you allow them to both exercise and innovate upon the very methods that created the massive underclass you're ostensibly sympathizing with.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 7:51 AM on August 9 [12 favorites]


All of you have netted over $5.2 billion more than Uber this quarter!

I wonder if small businesses can use this on loan and grant requests. "I run a dog-taxi service, taking people's pets to the park and the vet, and last quarter, my profits were billions of dollars higher than Uber's."

There are two potential approaches to the problems that Uber/Lyft are trying to (profit from claiming to) fix:
1) Government provides transit, a whole lot of it, adjusted for the actual needs of the community, not a profit schedule;
2) Communities offer each other rides. This requires a lot of trust in several directions, but we should be working towards a society that has that kind of trust.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:04 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


I've heard this a lot and it doesn't make any sense. Uber can't do that; the second they try to turn the screws on either drivers or passengers, a new copycat competitor will show up with their own fistful of VC cash and undercut Uber.
Except for the part where they do this all the time and get away with it. That this is how they behave has been well-known and documented for literally years. The deliberate undercutting or elimination of regulations that Uber and its ilk has caused has been directly linked to deaths, and Uber et al. have never been as great on race as people think. There is also evidence that Uber drives down wages for all livery drivers, not just their own. One of my favourite and most comprehensive pieces on the problems with Uber is a bit old, but was written by MeFi's own Adam Greenfield, and pretty much still holds true.

The service the company offers is useful for many people—it wouldn't have hung around this long if it wasn't—but how it goes about it is unbelievably toxic and in the long-term the company bad for most of the cities it operates in. (There is also mounting evidence that Uber isn't actually cheaper for most rides—a total shocker for what is essentially a middle-man operation.)
posted by Fish Sauce at 8:07 AM on August 9 [13 favorites]


I remember the our pre Uber days and trying to get a cab in, say, Atlanta, was just a nightmare.

Atlanta was where I learned not to get in the cab without asking if their credit card reader was “working.” (After some asshole tried to dump me out at a sketch AF gas station with an ATM to get cash, when I was trying to make a flight in the middle of rush hour traffic.) And also where I once tried to share a cab with another student headed to the airport when the cab I’d called had failed to show up, the dispatch had assured me they were sending another, then that one was also 15+ minutes late, and the driver of the other student’s cab insisted sure, he’d drive me to the airport, but only if we BOTH paid a full fare.

In summary, fuck Atlanta cabs.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:58 AM on August 9 [5 favorites]


Uber and the like broke it.

Which took billions of dollars and constant lawbreaking.

Something that seems to cause so much consternation among concerned people everywhere. Furthermore, the concern extends to all the underpaid drivers. So much so that it would be preferable that they not be paid at all, all to assuage your concern. If you were concerned that my job didn't pay me enough, well, thanks, I guess.

Don't thank me, thank the millions of union members over the past century and a half who fought and suffered and were even murdered to establish the idea of a minimum wage, the idea that we should not have a class of people so wretched and exploited that their betters can confidently declare that they ought to be grateful to be paid anything at all for their labor, the idea, in short, that we are a democracy, not a serfdom.

(Or, you know, what Frowner said.)
posted by praemunire at 9:05 AM on August 9 [13 favorites]


Am... am I the only person who has ever been left standing on a corner by an Uber driver? More than once, even?

Nope. Happened to me a couple of times. They don't want the fare, so they drive in circles hoping you'll cancel before the passenger cancellation penalty expires, so they get five bucks or whatever it is for essentially nothing.
posted by Automocar at 9:13 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Their whole model was "lets ignore the law and ask for forgiveness", and I don't want to see that rewarded.

If by "ask for forgiveness" you mean bribe/intimidate city councillors or have the mayor's brother as a major investor. Uber is like Theranos. They collected powerful people on their boards and/or gave their kids in cushy jobs so they could just flat out break the law with impunity.

Part of me wonders if Uber is some sort of weird play not just to disrupt the cab industry but to disrupt the economy all together. Maybe some deep pocketed capitalists see it as a way to utterly crush any and all regulation and labor protections. Then the willingness of deep pocketed investors to continue burning money on a clearly garbage economic model makes more sense. It will have spillover effects they can deploy in their more profitable domains when they turn everyone into piecework contractors with no protections at all.

.....the aristocrats!
posted by srboisvert at 11:43 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


The general failure of Uber to be profitable is baffling to me

It's because the only reason they are cheaper than taxis is the ride is partially subsidised. You're costing Uber money when you use them.
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:31 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


> Yeah, no. Human density makes urban cores less livable. Because accompanying mobility demands exact a cost. If they are met and if they are not.

this is wrong. it's so on the face of it wrong that i suspect that you are simply generalizing from your own personal dislike of cities.

human density makes urban cores awesome. density generates demand for services. because there's enough demand for services in genuinely dense urban cores, people who live there end up with (for example) multiple decent grocery stores in walking distance. and multiple worth-visiting bars in walking distance. and multiple worth-visiting restaurants in walking distance. if you're the dating sort, you can draw on a large pool of potential dating partners. if you have niche hobbies — esoteric board games, say, or bdsm, or black metal — you can expect there to be other people who share your esoteric tastes. it's pretty neat.

as you note, "mobility demands exact a cost"... if we decide that mobility and car-based transportation are identical. they're not. some modes of transportation get better the more people use them. if you live in a neighborhood where a lot of people bike, biking becomes a better mode of transport — you can expect drivers to watch out for bikes, you can expect there to be municipal bike infrastructure, and so forth.

if you live in a dense neighborhood, buses can run frequently, and thereby become a viable mobility option — if you know there's going to be a bus outside your house every five minutes, you can ride it without having to adjust your schedule around the bus schedule — you can ride it without even consulting the bus schedule. if there's a lot of people riding the buses, municipal bus services can recoup more of their costs from fares, allowing for more frequent bus service and setting up a virtuous cycle where more bus service results in more bus service. if there's sufficient frequency, the buses won't even be that crowded.

and then once you get to real density, the type of density where buses can't keep up no matter how many buses you throw at the route, genuine mass transit becomes possible — and once it's built out providing genuine mass transit in a dense urban core is actually cheaper for municipalities than providing frequent bus service. the lexington avenue line in nyc carries well over a million people a day. and it is awesome. trains come through continually — it's the next best thing to being able to step on an asimov-style conveyor belt. it gets crowded, but it beats driving any day of the week.

zooming back out a bit from mobility, being in a dense environment makes you safer — you know there's other people on the street at whatever time of day, and that discourages people from getting up to shenanigans. the danger is the middle densities, where there's a lot of strangers around, but where it's possible for miscreants to isolate potential victims.

hope that helps! i know you don't like cities, but please don't let that preference lead you to say things that are wrong.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:56 PM on August 9 [32 favorites]


returning to the subject: by suppressing the demand for public transit, uber and lyft are a social bad. after taxi services like uber and lyft reach the threshold where one can reasonably expect a taxi to come in a reasonable amount of time, they become worse once more people start using them. as observed in several of the links posted in this thread, they result in more cars on the road — and car transportation is one of the modes that gets worse the more people use it.

the most rational play for municipalities is capping transit services at the lowest possible level such that one can reasonably expect them to come in a reasonable amount of time, while also providing more transit and paratransit services, while also encouraging the use of bikes. i'm probably alone on this, but i also think that cities should encourage more alternate-transportation services like rental scooters.

anyway.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:29 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


> the most rational play for municipalities is capping transit services

* capping taxi services, rather.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:40 PM on August 9


I think people are dead wrong about the inability for new competitors to emerge in the marketplace, and I think calling Lyft an "also ran" is laughable; Lyft is in better shape financially than Uber (not profitable, but losing money less quickly), and I think they have the better brand. People may call it "taking an Uber" generically, but that doesn't mean much. The fact that some people call tissues "kleenex" doesn't mean that there aren't other brands that do pretty well.

Also, anecdotally, basically everyone I know uses Lyft now, not Uber. That's probably not true everywhere, of course, and most drivers are clearly playing both sides of the street (i.e. working for both Uber and Lyft, not sure if simultaneously or what). And Lyft is doing the scooter stuff too, not that I think it really matters that much—it's another game with a low barrier to entry.

There are lots of regional Uber/Lyft clones, too:

"Uber’s competitors in NYC are growing like crazy"
"Uber, Lyft, Gett, Juno, and Via: Which of these 5 NYC taxi alternatives is right for you?"
"8 Uber and Lyft alternatives: Taxi, cab and other ride apps that are cheap — and just as easy to use"

Via, probably the #3 service in NYC and DC, is notable for taking a much smaller slice of revenue from drivers (only $1, I think?), making the attraction to drivers pretty obvious. A few others are actually frontends to traditional taxis, e.g. Curb. (Given the shittiness of pre-ridesharing DC cabs, I'd say that seems like a questionable marketing point, but in a place with civilized taxis with meters and stuff—which DC cabbies fought tooth and nail to avoid, the better to rob tourists—it could have some appeal.)

Personally, I'm waiting to see arbitrage apps for both riders and drivers: basically services that will sit on top of multiple ride-sharing companies' APIs and let you optimize in real time what service is offering the lowest fare wherever you want to go, or for the driver the highest rate. It's true that there's a fair amount of 'stickiness' in getting people to install a new app, but if you have an aggregator, suddenly that doesn't matter and the entire transportation company gets pushed "below the API" to become just another commodity itself.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:53 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Why do you think the people in charge of Uber even have a plan for eventual profitability? People like that will take their giant pile of personal compensation and let the wreckage of Uber fly straight into the ground.

So they raised (IIRC) $8.2 billion in the IPO, and immediately gave $4 billion of it away as stock-based compensation?
posted by heatherlogan at 4:04 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I only use Lyft, which I believe to be marginally better than Uber. Sometimes I will ask drivers about their experience with the ride services--and yes this is biased by being a Lyft pickup, but sometimes the cars are co-branded--and they consistently say that driving for Lyft is better. I also ask them whether ride sharing (multiple pickups) is good or bad for them and they generally say good.

That said, I choose mass transit when that is a viable option.

The way I expect this to shake out is two ride-sharing companies, one of which is Lyft, and, eventually, union or other worker protection for the drivers. I also expect it to be twice as expensive. And that's OK for me in the odd cases where it's my best option.
posted by sjswitzer at 4:11 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


I refuse to use Uber because I'd always heard of how poorly they treated their drivers, drivers assaulting women, the CEO yelling at a driver, the initial inability to tip using the app and so on.

When I'm in a Lyft I always talk to the driver and ask them how's business, do they make a living wage driving, do they prefer Lyft over Uber, has anyone ever thrown up in their car (that one never fails to make them whip their head around and try to assess my level of drunkenness), what's their other gig, where are they from, blah blah blah. Invariably they've said that driving for Lyft is more lucrative.

I was in a Lyft a couple of weeks ago and the driver - who drives for both Uber and Lyft - told me that Lyft is tightening the screws on them, paying them less, charging them more and basically getting closer to Uber-level in driver compensation.

I used to take Radio Cab whenever I needed one until a ride from the airport cost me twice as much as the same ride in a Lyft.

I don't use Lyft much, mostly when I'm downtown and it's late and the bus isn't coming for 20 minutes. The ride is always cheap enough that I have no qualms tipping the driver $10.
posted by bendy at 6:00 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]


In NYC, Uber is breaking into the helicopter business, flying people from Manhattan to JFK or the Hamptons or wherever wealthy New Yorkers want to go.
posted by bendy at 6:07 PM on August 9


Research in Canada has found that the rating system pressures Uber drivers to engage in unsafe driving if customers want them to. Report here.

Also the reason they treat public infrastructure like bike lanes as their own private loading zones. They're too afraid the lazy yuppies they cart around will ding them a star for not dropping them off directly in front of the door.

Anyone who has ridden a bike in an urban city knows that the streets have become much, much more dangerous (despite gains made in cycling infrastructure) because these rideshare drivers are complete and total amateurs who have their noses stuck in their phones, oblivious to everything around them, with no fucking clue where they are going.

But cabs were soooooo bad so it literally justifies anything including their exploitative labor practices, their direct violation of local laws, their shitty corporate culture and practices, the fact that they have increased traffic, increased car ownership, and done zero of the positive things they claimed.

A lawless company with zero hope of ever realisticly turning a profit, and people line up to defend them. Makes no sense to me, as someone who lives in a downtown area I sure wish you'd all just walk or take the train so we can be rid of this plague.
posted by bradbane at 6:54 PM on August 9 [7 favorites]


This whole issue reminds me of the arguments about public schools; they have problems, so instead of fixing them for everyone let's fuck up the whole system for everyone because it works for a few.
posted by bongo_x at 7:41 PM on August 9 [10 favorites]


I do credit Uber (et al) with providing the fig leaf that allows cities to reduce/eliminate parking requirements in new buildings-- something that will affect the built environment for the next 50 years, long after Uber has collapsed, and will allow for the density and demand that will support more robust public transit in the decades to come.
posted by alexei at 8:19 PM on August 9 [5 favorites]


Among the cohort of temps I worked with was a CDL-holding OTR and local delivery driver originally from Tennessee who had decided to bail on driving because he understood that the end of driving jobs was “two years out”. Within the company, this “two years” common-knowledge citation was repeated a lot.

What does this mean?
posted by tzikeh at 9:22 PM on August 9


I assume it means the people believed that in two years automation of the majority of driving jobs will have occurred, and hence it is a dead career and they moved jobs accordingly.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 11:26 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Which is ridiculous, honestly - I know enough to cut myself when it comes to automated driving systems, so will defer to an actual expert, but everyone having a private robot chauffeur is not on the cards. Certain, specific driving tasks like long-haul trucking probably are under threat, but that's because you don't need to worry so much about unknown threat management or pedestrians. You point the truck down a road, it follows the road, it stays out of the way of other vehicles. Suburban driving, or really anywhere where a kid or dog might run out onto the street or something that deviates from the training, like a branch falling or something, will be too hard for computers for years to come.
posted by Merus at 12:54 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Part of the missing component seems to be how hands off your governments seem to be. Over here, there's a looooot of handwringing and unhappiness, but the govt went ahead, and amongst the raft of regulations introduced, basically e-hailing and taxi drivers are now subject to the same regulations*. It's basically been a process of incrementally getting these drivers to be normalised into the public transit solution (Grab and other outfits now have to provide group insurance; drivers are now eligible for SOCSO which is basically workers welfare protection fund, and they and other gig economy workers can now contribute to their Employee Provident Fund, which is I think like a 401k? But govt-backed investment agency). And the official position is explicitly encouraging competition -- when Uber left the whole of Southeast Asia, well partly because of SoftBank injecting capital into apps like Grab, there was a moment when Grab was increasing their fares, which then opened the space following public outrage, when the govt explicitly used their platform to announce and publicise other options. And yeah, that includes the taxi cabs who are finally getting onboard providing mobile solutions (in fact Grab originally was a third party solution to find taxis), because unlike the US, this region is heavy with mobile users AND our apps take cash.
posted by cendawanita at 1:28 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Streetsblog's article from yesterday on Uber goes into the traffic increases caused by Uber and other rideshare.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:18 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


I assume it means the people believed that in two years automation of the majority of driving jobs will have occurred, and hence it is a dead career and they moved jobs accordingly.

Correct. Read the first link posted in thread, it details how Uber’s venture funding is predicated on short-term imperial success of autonomous vehicles and how Uber has focused in generating a propagandistic tech-culture expectation of this. I understood “two years” to be a literal transposition of the traditional “two weeks” development cycle horizon, where, in-culture, “two weeks” means both “as soon as possible” and “there is no realistic time frame” with regard to a given software development planning goal.
posted by mwhybark at 11:28 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


oh and CDL means “Commercial Driver’s License” and OTR means “Over the Road,” the industry term for long-haul, non-local driving.
posted by mwhybark at 11:30 PM on August 10


Streetsblog's article from yesterday on Uber goes into the traffic increases caused by Uber and other rideshare.

It's also gotten harder to park because of all the ride share drivers (see above re intentional oversupply) sitting around waiting for a fare.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:55 AM on August 11


Uber suspended drivers for getting commercial vehicle registrations, although when asked about it, they said that wasn't the policy. (California DMV said Uber drivers needed commercial registration, but has since walked that back and decided it's a grey area.)

They discourage drivers using advertising to make extra money, but they insist that doesn't make them employers establishing working conditions. (That one's a few years old; this one is new.)

While looking for info on the commercial vehicle situation, I ran across a discussion thread that I've now lost, that points out that Uber's advertising for drivers heavily on apps and social media means it's not working: A business that's well-known and successful doesn't need to advertise for workers.

Everyone knows Uber exists. If Uber driving were a great way to make money for part-time work, college students would be flocking to it. Instead, people who've done it for a while realize that the combination of insurance and maintenance eats most of their "profit": “After gas, added monthly rideshare insurance, wear-and-tear, constant oil changes and taxes that $300 for 30 hours of work I thought I made in a week actually averages down to about $90 after expenses,” said Mead. (So: instead of $10/hour, a mediocre wage at best, it's $3/hour after business expenses that an actual employer would be required to cover.)

I have no idea why anyone thinks Uber's going to shift to robot cars to cut out the driver expense; payment to the drivers is a small fraction of the cost of operating a fleet of cars. And Uber-owned cars that need maintenance will need to rent a place to park, unlike driver-owned cars that will be stuck in the owner's driveway when they're out of service.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:05 AM on August 11 [6 favorites]


I don't think that there's any danger of Uber (or anyone else's) autonomous vehicles supplanting human drivers any time soon. They all seem to have been stuck in the "we're 90% done" stage of development for a few years now.
posted by octothorpe at 12:22 PM on August 11


The problem with saying that Uber needs to go because its existence is keeping us from putting more money into public transit is that, while this isn't totally untrue (I would point out that we had bad public transit for many years before Uber got here), it ignores that a lot of people need Uber right now. It's a little like saying that you should vote for a third party candidate in 2020 instead of whoever the DNC picks to run against Donald Trump. "Democratic candidates are hopelessly compromised and out of touch! Electing one only kicks the can down the road, and continues a tragically flawed system instead of bringing about real change!" Again, not totally wrong! But wrong enough that voting for a third party candidate in 2020 is going to fuck over a lot of people until 2025. If you're insulated from that reality, good for you. But don't tell me to vote like I'm insulated from that reality, because baby, I am not. There have been occasions where Uber meant I kept my job. Are you gonna pay my rent? If you aren't -- and you aren't -- then I'm not trying to hear your opinion on why society would be better off without it, on a long enough timeline.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:20 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


kittens for breakfast - that's a good argument for allowing Uber in places with no 24-hr public transit.

But Uber isn't just seeking to serve places without public transit; they broke our local law to enter this market, which already has 24hr public transit. They continue to use predatory pricing to undermine other forms of transportation.

My city has 24hr public transit which covers even the far corners of the city. These buses run infrequently and sometimes you have to walk up to 20 minutes to one of the 24hr routes, but they exist and I have used them to get home from late jobs, or get to an early job. One reason that I won't move out of city limits, despite the cheaper housing, is that I can't drive and I feel better knowing I have 24hr bus service within city limits.

Frankly, when I was taking that 24hr bus to/from work, I could not have afforded an Uber anyways. No Uber was going to take me most of the way across the city for a cost of a bus ticket (now $3). I was working at a bar, not going to a bar, and (as a cook) I made minimum wage.

What the immediate reality for many people is that Uber takes higher-income people off public transit, which undermines both the income of and political support for public transit. If we lose that public transit, it will cost MORE to get to work.
posted by jb at 9:57 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


How many cities in the US have 24 hour transit with good coverage? New York and ...? My cities bus system shuts down after midnight so if you want to get home from a bar, its either Uber/Lyft or drunk driving.
posted by octothorpe at 11:35 AM on August 12


I don't know how many cities in the US have 24 transit, but apparently Toronto's is the "largest and most frequent night network" in North America. I'll have to remember that for the next time people are complaining about the TTC. The system has been sorely neglected and desperate for more capacity, but it's still damn good compared to what other places have.

in addition to New York City and Chicago, it seems that the following American cities have some 24 transit: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco.

24hr transit also exists in other large cities, like London, where Uber is trying to make inroads. (I'd forgotten about London but of course they have a "Night Bus" - it's in Harry Potter).
posted by jb at 12:17 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


So that's great if you live one of that tiny handful of cities but the rest of us are stuck without some kind of car service.
posted by octothorpe at 12:25 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


ErisLordFreedom: Everyone knows Uber exists. If Uber driving were a great way to make money for part-time work, college students would be flocking to it. Instead, people who've done it for a while realize that the combination of insurance and maintenance eats most of their "profit": “After gas, added monthly rideshare insurance, wear-and-tear, constant oil changes and taxes that $300 for 30 hours of work I thought I made in a week actually averages down to about $90 after expenses,” said Mead. (So: instead of $10/hour, a mediocre wage at best, it's $3/hour after business expenses that an actual employer would be required to cover.)

I recently heard about Turo, which seems like it'll have a more successful long-term business than Uber. (Report from friend: "I have a buddy who's basically paying off his $300/month car payment by renting it out for $100 each weekend.") Turo is in the car rental business, though, not the taxi business. The car rental business has never needed the kind of regulation that taxis needed in order to protect everyone involved, which is why I expect it to ultimately be more successful. It's hard to make a successful business out of a business which has never been successful without government involvement, even if you do Add The Internet.
posted by clawsoon at 1:29 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Am... am I the only person who has ever been left standing on a corner by an Uber driver? More than once, even?

Nope. Happened to me a couple of times. They don't want the fare, so they drive in circles hoping you'll cancel before the passenger cancellation penalty expires, so they get five bucks or whatever it is for essentially nothing.
Happened to me once, the second time I tried an Unter. I called the guy, who had driven to the wrong location a block away—I could see him. He canceled the ride and Unter charged me five bucks. I am not a super smart consumer, but I hold a grudge forever, and I won’t be taking one of their rocket cars to Vesta in 2215, that’s for damned sure.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:17 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]



So that's great if you live one of that tiny handful of cities but the rest of us are stuck without some kind of car service.


That's an excellent argument for increased public transit, you realize.

In fact, some areas have tried to use Uber or the like as public transit. The perfect crime! All the convenience of public transit, without the pesky unions or pensions or fixed costs! Only independent contractors beneath a delicious intermediate layer of chronically unprofitable Silicon Valley voodoo!
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:30 PM on August 14 [5 favorites]


That's great in theory but the rural Republican legislature in my state is never going to increase funding for public transit and the city can't afford it on its own.
posted by octothorpe at 5:38 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


One solution which works is a regional transit authority, like the three-county TriMet in Oregon, or the eight-county UTA system in Utah. Even an infrequent-service system is better than none, and if the local county and city legislators can do an end run around an obstructionist state legislature, hey, it wouldn't be the first time.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:48 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


My city has 24hr public transit which covers even the far corners of the city. These buses run infrequently and sometimes you have to walk up to 20 minutes to one of the 24hr routes

So, considerably less than useful if you're not able-bodied enough to walk for 20 minutes.

Currently, in a lot of urban areas, public transit works to get you to and from work. You may need to be careful with scheduling, allow two hours to travel 30 miles, and transfer systems twice, but you can do it. But that won't necessarily get you to and from the grocery store (with bags of groceries on the way back), or get you to a potluck party with a fragile cake, or get you to a doctor's office with enough time left over to get back to work for the rest of the day.

Uber (Lyft, Ola, Careem, Didi, Taxify, Yandex, etc.) got huge quickly because they filled a need that public transit doesn't, even in urban areas that are riddled with bus and train routes. Combine that with paying in advance - avoiding taxi driver scams of "my card reader is broken" and picking the route through heavy traffic to drive up the meter - and it's not surprising they've become so popular that many teens are not bothering to learn to drive.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:47 AM on August 16 [2 favorites]


The percentage of teens with drivers licences has been trending downward since before Uber and is effecting countries/areas without Uber.

Increasing urbanization, rising costs, increased competition from other activities (you can have a car or gaming rig) are what are driving the reduced uptake of driving licences in youth. The availability of Uber is a small blip in the trend.
posted by Mitheral at 10:51 AM on August 16 [2 favorites]


so that's great if you live one of that tiny handful of cities but the rest of us are stuck without some kind of car service.

this isn't aimed at you specifically, but more generally:

I have heard people talk about living in a city with good transit as a form of privilege, and it is. But it's also - for those of us who cannot drive - essential. We have to make choices that other people don't and also sacrifices.

We cannot find cheaper housing outside of transit limits. We can't take better jobs that don't have good transit access - my mother lost a good job when the office moved out of city limits. When we travel, we have to think and calculate and take much longer - my niece is seeing her grandfather, and will take an intercity bus there; on the way back, that bus has a 4 hour lay-over.

No driving severely limits our lives. And not everyone even has a choice about learning: my mother and my niece - and a couple of my friends - all have disabilities that mean they can never legally drive. One is trained as a teacher, but cannot work as one, because the only boards that are hiring are in the transit-less suburbs. Her whole career has been derailed due to her disability, or rather, due to the lack of transit infrastructure outside of our immediate city.

For anyone who does not currently drive, living with transit is a necessity. Being able to afford to do so may also be a privilege (though I know people who have been homeless and/or spent money they can't afford to live in bad conditions, just to stay where there is transit and services).

But our real solution is that we need better transit everywhere, not a wild-west of unregulated car services (that are already too expensive for anyone I know to use on a daily basis). This is the true equity issue.
posted by jb at 7:39 AM on August 19 [6 favorites]


And that solution is one that actually existed, at least WRT transit in the suburbs of most major US cities. I am referring to the extensive streetcar network we had up until it was dismantled by a criminal conspiracy* of auto, tire, and oil companies. It's not an accident or an expression of consumer preference that we are so dependent on autos.


* Yes, I see where the Wiki article labels the conspiracy an urban legend. The fact remains that there were criminal convictions of some of the companies involved, and that they did collude in effecting the demise of a functioning transit system..
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:22 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


In writing my previous comment, I also had a realization: I've always thought of myself as having been just "lucky" to have been raised in a large city with good transit. But the reason that we stayed here was also because my mother did not know how to drive. We might have moved to cheaper and better-quality housing elsewhere if she had been able to drive. It was a trade-off: worse housing (roaches, drug dealers, occasional shootings), but also 24-bus access.
posted by jb at 10:45 AM on August 19


It is horrible indeed that no public transit system has ever theorized a service for people with disabilities.

My dad uses one of these services infrequently when he has to go farther than his motorized wheelchair can go. It's a pain the ass to coordinate, but it does exist, and it's cheaper (for him) than Lyft, et alia.

Again, it might make sense to expand a public transit system with a legal mandate to provide service, rather than to rely totally on a wildly subsidized, wildly unprofitable private sector model?
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:00 PM on August 19


(Actually, I should clarify: it's cheaper for my dad to use a paratransit service, for the large distances he's traveling, between one city and the next.)
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:04 PM on August 19


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