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Since its inception in 2009, Uber has exploded into a wide-reaching, multi-million dollar company, operating in over 600 countries worldwide and employing thousands of part and full-time drivers. The ride-sharing app has taken up residence in most of our phones, its widget waiting patiently for the occasional drunken Saturday night click, and slowly gathering a loyal following of regular riders.
Unfortunately, as with most expanding businesses, in its rush to success Uber has cut more than a few moral corners. Recent trouble with the city of London has brought these missteps into glaring view, and as someone who has used the service myself multiple times in the past, and has a slew of friend's driving for it in their spare time, the information that's come to light is more than a little troubling. Since I'm sure that most of you have either experienced an awkward, do-I-talk-or-not trip in the back of an Uber, or have considered becoming a driver to make a little extra cash yourself, I figured we'd take a look at a few of these short comings together.
1. Uber's Business Practices are Sketchy AF
Every business has competitors, and Uber is no exception. Their primary rival, Lyft, is another ride-sharing app with a focus on friendliness and community—and a much smaller pool of riders.
In 2014, the larger company allegedly made an attempt to sabotage Lyft drivers by giving 177 brand ambassadors burner phones and credit cards and instructing them to request rides from the other company, only to cancel them moments later. A reported 5,560 fake Lyft rides were submitted as a result, and although Uber denied the accusations, former and current employees of the company gave a number of interviews confirming that not only did the event take place, but they were regularly encouraged to take similar actions. This was further supported by documents obtained by Verge a few weeks after the claims surfaced, in which they discovered evidence of an internal program called "SLOG," that used contracts to systematically book and cancel Lyft rides.
Lyft also claimed that the other company had regularly ordered recruiters to take short rides in an effort to convince the drivers to move to Uber, and later that same year, Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick told Vanity Fair magazine that their executives had tried to derail a fundraising attempts made by their competitor as well, saying:
"We knew that Lyft was going to raise a ton of money, and we are going [to their investors], 'Just so you know, we're going to be fund-raising after this, so before you decide whether you want to invest in them, just make sure you know that we are going to be fund-raising immediately after."
In addition to snatching their rival's drivers and undercutting their fundraising, Uber hired Travis VanderZanden, former COO of Lyft, in 2014, a move which once again cast suspicion on the transportation giant. VanderZanden was accused of taking confidential documents with him when he left his position and was subsequently sued by his former employer for violation of his contract.
2. They Screw Over Their Drivers
Many of Uber driver's were drawn to the position by the promise of easy cash. Unfortunately for them, Uber greatly exaggerated the amount potential drivers can earn. And I mean greatly. It's fairly common to hear- from Uber itself—that by driving Uber X, you can make $90,000 a year. To quote Maury Povich, "That is a lie!"
The average Uber driver barely makes more than a cabby, and in order to achieve that famed five digit number, they'd have to work almost 70 hours a week, with no vacation or sick days. And even on top of that rigorous schedule, such a salary would only be achievable if they were working in New York City. Not to mention, that "90,000 a year," doesn't account for gas, maintenance, insurance, or car payments.
Uber driver's potential earnings dropped even lower in 2015, when the company cut fares, claiming that cheaper rides would cause a rise in demand and driver's paychecks. Unfortunately for the drivers, the claim turned out to be false. Their pockets were dealt another heavy blow only a year later, when Uber again slashed fairs by up to 45 percent in a number of areas, resulting in drivers making less than minimum wage, even before they paid for gas and other expenses.
When drivers took to Twitter to speak out against the cuts, they found themselves blocked from Uber's pages.
3. They Sweep Sexual Assault Under the Rug
Uber has a troubling history with sexual assault allegations. Although they've managed to sweep most cases under the rug without too much trouble with the the media, a few have managed to slip past their PR team and into the spotlight to the company's great displeasure.
Thankfully, authorities are finally taking a deeper look at the problem, particularly with London having cited it as a large part of their decision not to renew the transportation service's license to operate within the city. Thirty-two Uber drivers were investigated for the rape or sexual assault of a passenger just between May 2015 and May 2016. Thirty-two. Just in London, in the span of a single year.
And London isn't the only city where this is an issue. Countless other complaints have been made against the company, by both drivers and passengers worldwide, and yet assaults continue to be a largely unaddressed, and rampant problem within the ride-sharing system.
In August, the head of Metropolitan Police's taxi and private hire unit in London, Inspector Neil Billany, informed the Sunday Times that Uber has failed to notify police of criminal activity among its drivers on over half a dozen occasions, despite having been made aware of the incidents. Uber responded via blog post, their London GM making it clear that the company considered it the victims' responsibility, not Uber's, to report sexual assault allegations against their drivers to the police.
4. They Can't Handle Criticism
In 2014, the endlessly controversial former Senior VP of Uber, Emil Michael, came under fire again when he was caught discussing his plan to hire a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on their critics. This delightful tidbit was paired with another troubling suggestion that the company should employ the potential team to spread the personal information of a female journalist who had previously criticized the company.
The woman in question, Sarah Lacy, was at the time the editor of Silicon Valley website, PandoDaily. In the past, she and the site had addressed what they believed to be sexism and misogyny in Uber's business practices—something they were neither the first nor the last to point out, particularly after CEO openly referred to the company as "Boober," and launched ad campaigns in France featuring lingerie clad woman and promises of 20 minuter rides with models. Following a report that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service she stated that she would be deleting her Uber app, writing, "I don't know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn't respect us or prioritize our safety."
Although after his remarks were published Michael claimed they in no way reflected his or Uber's actual views, many still find his statements unsettling. Particularly as he was quoted as responding to suggestions that the proposed opposition research might cause trouble for Uber with, "No one would know it was us."
5. They've Been Repeatedly Accused of Misusing Software
We've already touched on one instance of Uber employing questionable programs in an attempt to slow its competitors, but "SLOG" isn't the only automated system the company has up its sleeve.
Authorities and critics finally took a closer look at the company's software following a report in The Information. The program, referred to internally as "Hell," reportedly used fake Lyft accounts to acquire pictures of drivers who were working, as well as when they worked and various other personal information in an effort to ascertain which drivers could potentially be poached, and how.
While the software is no longer in use by the company (as far as anyone can tell) Uber's underhanded history with its competitors doesn't paint the most trustworthy portrait of the transportation service.
While dialing a cab company and speaking to an actual human might not be your cup of tea, maybe its time to give the old school way another shot. London isn't the only city to suspend or ban Uber, and if trends hold, it won't be the last. Countries like Italy, Denmark, and Hungary have all done their best to push the company out of their borders, citing the same rule-breaking, troubling behavior as London.
No ride in the back of a stranger's car is ever going to be purely pleasant or entirely safe, but at least most Taxi companies and their employees are held to a strict frame of rules, and the company employing the drivers is suitably responsible for their activities. So next time you find yourself sitting on a curb at two in the morning, squinting at that too bright, black and white logo, maybe give it a second thought and call a cab instead.