Uber is one of the most controversial and most hated companies in tech. It is also beloved by many of its regular customers. But a seemingly never-ending series of scandals, hyper aggressive tactics and questionable business practices have brought the San Francisco-based company critics all over the world, from taxi drivers, competitors and journalists to politicians, union leaders and activists.
Most of the criticism involves aspects related to the human drivers of Uber. But Uber plans to abandon its drivers. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has made it clear in the past that his long-term vision is to make use of self-driving cars. A few days ago a report confirmed that the company is already actively testing the potential of autonomous cars.
Today no one knows when Uber’s self-driving cars will become reality and actually hit the streets, ready for passenger pickup. But assuming that not all experts are mistaken, self-driving cars will become reality, and Uber will use them.
That leads to an interesting question: What will be left to hate about Uber once its drivers are gone?
- …no more exploitation of people desperately in need of a job.
- …no more sudden cuts in driver commissions.
- …no more complaints about the lack of social benefits for drivers.
- …no more complaints about passengers being rated by drivers.
- …no more Uber drivers who go crazy or even attempt to rape passengers (there have been a few limited cases; as have been with taxi drivers).
- …no more discussion about the lack of legal permissions to commercially pickup and transport people (one of the major obstacles for Uber in many countries).
- …cheaper fares, because the major cost factor will be gone. Purchasing/leasing and operating autonomous cars will be certainly a new cost factor, but it is unlikely that it is going to outweigh the savings from not having to pay drivers.
- …no or less debate about surge-pricing. Adding additional cars during peak times should be no problem, so ideally steep surge-pricing won’t be needed.
- …no more limitations about geography or time. Autonomous Uber cars can be operated 24 hours, pretty much everywhere.
So, what’s left to hate?
Mabye the fact that Uber puts tens of thousands of people, taxi drivers as well as former Uber drivers, out of job? No, we cannot blame Uber for the dynamics of capitalism and automation. This is just a tiny part of a major trend that affects many industries. Uber is simply playing the game that everyone plays – maybe at a little faster pace. Also, the taxi industry is not really known for having a clean slate. Few other than the drivers themselves will miss it.
The devastating consequences of automation to our traditional employment system are one of the biggest issues of the next decades in my opinion though and reason enough to seriously consider the introduction of a basic income or a similar approach. But again, this is nothing that Uber has caused.
The way I see it, once Uber switches to self-driving cars, 90 % of the reasons to hate Uber will simply be gone. I’m leaving 10 % on the table, just in case.
It’ll take at least many years until we get to that point. So we can keep hating Uber for a while. But we should mentally prepare for that one day, we’ll wake up, and we’ll have to focus our anger on something else. For sure something will show up.
(Photo: Flickr/Monika Hoinkis, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)