Losing rider safety when losing Uber

The authorities of Colombia said they are planning to enforce existing laws that could cause drivers of on-demand transportation apps such as Uber and Cabify to lose their driver’s license for a duration of up to 25 years, according to CNN Español. In other words, if you drive for Uber or competitor Cabify (headquartered in Madrid) and get caught, your whole livelihood would be in danger.

This is great news for the country’s taxi lobby and cab drivers, but bad news for riders, whether locals or tourists. For several reasons, taking an Uber in Bogota or Medellín is much wiser than hailing a cab.

Taxis in Medellín protesting against Uber

Locals I met during my travels to Medellín had all bad experiences about taxi drivers to tell, from having been robbed by a driver to having been harassed. Also, many cab drivers possess surprisingly little knowledge of the roads and seem to be unwilling or unable to properly use smartphone apps to find their best way through the traffic (that’s based on my own experience as well as what I have been told by locals). Presumably, the real black sheep are in the minority. Yet, it’s enough for the younger generation of locals who live in areas with good Uber coverage to prefer Uber over taxis. Of course, even using Uber doesn’t guarantee total safety, but thanks to the ratings systems and the driver tracking, the probability of a seamless ride increases significantly.

In addition, the yellow taxis are an easy target for robbers who tend to operate on motorbikes and who threaten passengers at gunpoint to get valuables. While regular cars can be a target as well, when sitting in a taxi, one makes it particularly easy to those looking for a victim.

Furthermore, most taxis in Colombia are rather small vehicles, often without (working) AC, and some are not in the best condition. Generally, the Uber X rides I took happened in cars that were of better standard and size than the average taxi would be.

In the moment in which transportation apps are forced to cease operations in a country such as Colombia, it significantly reduces people’s ability to opt for safety when having to go somewhere.

Other than during travel in developing countries, I personally hardly ever use Uber (nor Taxis). I am in no way an Uber evangelist. But in certain markets, aside from potential savings for riders (which are a more controversial topic, in my eyes) there are undeniable benefits to Uber which – if removed – would make life harder for locals. And naturally, for visitors even more.

What Uber’s crisis means for the company

Here is a German version of this article.

After a chain of scandals and negative reports, Uber is dealing with a gigantic PR and trust crisis. The criticism of the company’s culture, business practices and overall business model is mounting and its ability to survive being questioned.

But does the negative press and a damaged reputation actually matter for Uber? Let’s have a look at the five groups that Uber is relying on. Continue Reading

Facebook, Uber and the outsider’s harsh perspective on Silicon Valley

Two companies based in the Silicon Valley (which not geographically but culturally includes San Francisco) have been making headlines over the past days: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published his globalization manifesto and Uber was confronted with the extensive, high-profile revelations of a former female engineer about the company’s systematic ignorance of sexism and generally hostile work culture.

Both stories have led to widespread criticism. In the case of Uber, it’s obvious why. But even Facebook’s manifesto, despite having been an active PR effort, was not received too well in the media. When the leader of the arguably most powerful company in the world outlines how he wants to use that power to shape the world, few are getting enthusiastic. Two of the negative responses to these stories stuck out though: They didn’t come from the usual suspects who professionally cover or comment on technology but from representatives of other firms. They also didn’t only focus on the specific matter, but used the occasion for a direct attack on the Silicon Valley way of doing things. Continue Reading

Uber, Lyft and tipping

I rarely use Uber, and even less often its biggest competitor Lyft, since the latter one is only active in the US. However, I attended the two most recent editions of the SXSW Festival in Austin, which gave me the opportunity to compare.

LyftFor the most, the experience is the same. What’s different is that during conversations with Lyft drivers, they end up telling you that they prefer driving for Lyft over Uber. I have yet to hear the opposite. One key reason for that: Lyft encourages riders to tip their drivers after a completed ride, and tipping is done right from within the app. Uber on the other hand has no tipping option and it specifically states that tipping is not necessary.

During my rides with Lyft I realized: Tipping is not only an appreciated option among the drivers, but even I felt much better knowing that I can reward my driver for good service and a nice attitude. Since I usually don’t carry cash, even if I would like to tip an Uber driver (who until now only is allowed to accept cash tips if the passenger insists), I could not. Continue Reading

An alternative interpretation of Uber’s rebranding

Here is a German version of this article.

Uber

When Uber two weeks ago presented its new branding, the company’s CEO Travis Kalanick explained the changes and elimination of the widely recognized “U” icon with the company’s evolution from being “everyone’s private driver” to becoming a transportation network; one not only for moving people, but also for food, goods, and “soon maybe much more”. It’s a reasonable explanation supported by marketing theory – an evolving company might need a rebranding to update and upgrade its perception among the public.

However, there is another possible interpretation of the move and the departure from the iconic design elements that people around the world would recognize: By giving up on the branding that everyone associates with Uber’s – in many parts of the world controversial – people transportation services, the company might try to change the narrative. It does not want to be seen anymore as the company fighting to out-compete the taxi incumbents and being embroiled in legal battles all around the world. Because this turned out to be extremely challenging. Applying the successful US-strategy of aggressive, ethically questionable and rule-breaking behavior has not led to the same success in many other markets. There Uber often plays the role of an obscure (and often illegal) niche player. Europe is just one example. Continue Reading

Once Uber’s self-driving cars arrive, what will be left to hate about the company?

Uber

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? Continue Reading

Uber, the network economy and why we need a system upgrade

Last week, Uber made an interesting remark in a blog post announcing the appointment of the company’s first chief security officer. In the second paragraph of the text it said:

“In many ways we’ve become a critical part of the infrastructure of cities. We are both in cyberspace and on city streets all at once; a bridge between bits and atoms. And as we get into tens of millions of rides a week, we continue to challenge ourselves to do even better when it comes to safety and data security”.

Uber sees itself as a “critical part of the infrastructure of cities”. This might initially sound like a hyperbole. But especially in some North American cities, this claim actually appears close to reality. Consider New York, or consider San Francisco. 162.037 drivers have completed at least four or more trips in the U.S. during December alone. So let’s go with the proposition that Uber (along with its competitor Lyft) indeed has become a critical part of the infrastructure of an increasing number of cities. This marks a milestone. Continue Reading