I recently tried out Uber, the ridesharing program that is all the rage. I liked it. It seemed so modern, cooperative, empowering. I felt better when I rode around with some guy in his car in the front seat instead of the back chatting up the Giants or the weather or whatever. I wanted to love it.
Instead, I ended up really, really disappointed, so much so I doubt I’ll ever use it again.
A recent open letter to Uber in the San Francisco Examiner took those nagging thoughts I had whenever I rode Uber and brought them to the surface of consciousness. The writer, Beth Powder, illustrates the problems better than I, so it’s worth a read if you are serious about understanding this issue and making an informed choice when you spend your money.
Confused? Let me explain, because for all it’s savvy PR and techno-advances and feel-good people-helping-people vibe, Uber is in fact far more like a Company Town of the Robber Barron Age. So what if the Robber Barons wear hoodies. They are still focused on money, still taking advantages of hard working people to make their millions and still basically full of shit when it comes to their so-called goodwill. Uber makes a loan shark look like a member of the Chamber of Commerce.
Sound harsh? Don’t believe me? Consider what Uber charged those unfortunate enough to be at the first clusterfuck in what will likely forever be a clusterfuck that is the new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara (don’t get me started on how much I hate this new stadium, how much I think it will ruin my beloved 49ers, and how much it will likely be empty once people figure out how horrid it is to get there… see, I told you not get me started). Hundreds of bucks for one ride.
But if you think it’s an anomaly, think again. They charged $450 just to get a ride from the outside lands concert in the city of San Francisco.
The price gouging goes on every day. On a Saturday morning when the true busy time hadn’t even heated up yet, The Bride and I were doing some shopping. We almost always take Muni or BART or walk, but when you have arms full of groceries, it’s easy to grab a ride. We planned on getting Uber. Then I realized (after buying the groceries) that it was Fleet Week in the city. Tourists a plenty. Not that anyone was up and at ’em yet. It was early. Still, Uber had its gouge on trying to charge me three times its normal rate for a less than two mile ride with no traffic to speak of.
Gouging people is one thing, but edging taxi drivers out of work takes it to a whole new level. For a city where working class people are constantly shoved aside by six-figure earners in the tech industry, the few middle class jobs that remain need to be protected.
The deeper I looked I learned many of the Uber drivers are getting screwed as well. They lease cars and take risk and then are dealt with poorly by an employer who is dodging employment rules and obligations of a business owner by contracting instead of employing. The Uber drivers have few rights and many are fed up.
“They’re running a sweatshop with an app. They don’t have the balls to come down and talk to us. We’ve been here for two hours,” said Raj Alazzeh, a driver with SF Best Limo who is serving as the group’s spokesman during a 2013 protest here in the city.
The idea of ride sharing to save people money has tremendous merit. The idea of a few venture capitalists making billions at the expense of everyone else associated with it — the drivers, those customers, the competition, the city itself — well, that’s enough for me. I’m done.
Argue the facts all you want. I know I’m painting with a broom. I haven’t spent days and days researching this complicated problem. I just want to spend the few extra bucks I have when I need a ride on something better. Uber isn’t it.
Lyft? Well, see ya. We never really had a chance. I tried them once. Every time I tried to hire their driver they were in a “demand” time period and wanted to charge me excessively. They simply can’t compete on price or availability.
What then will I do in the City when I need a ride? Just as I’ve always done before. I’ll hail a cab. I know the fee when I get in the car. I know the practices are legislated, the owners are contributing taxes and operating within the law. I know the drivers are earning a living.
Most importantly, the number one reason I chose Uber in the first place: I could hail a cab from my smart phone and pay it directly. Guess what? Flywheel allows me to do just that and still use a cab. Their slogan: The same price 24x7x365. In other words, no ride pricing with the vigorish built in.
Uber is to thank for Flywheel. I’ll give them that much. But we don’t need you any longer, so … hit the road jack, and never come back… no more, no more…