Remember when Napster was single handedly dismantling the record business? Remember when Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich, was going door to door threatening to beat up old ladies because their granddaughter's computer downloaded his music? Well, like it or not, Uber is having the exact same effect on the car service business.
And, while there's no famous rock star making a fool of himself dragging a camera crew across the United States, there are plenty of local mayors attempting to keep the peace with their cab companies by ordering cops to hide behind bushes and pounce on the unsuspecting Uber driver, all-the-while knowing this old business model is a dinosaur that's soon to be extinct, yet somehow still lives.
Whereas file-sharing took out complacent, stale music business executives one by one, Uber, and services like it, are shining a long-awaited and desperately-needed light on the monopoly taxi companies have over us sorry pedestrians who've, up 'til now, had no choice, but to haggle, argue and fist fight just to travel the three or so miles from New York to New Jersey, and vice versa.
Let's face it, if you've ever tried to take a cab from NY to NJ it's like Let's Make a Deal. Whether you negotiate an absurdly high rate just to cross the river or promise a $30 tip for the driver, you almost always end up arguing with the cabbie. Well, as much bad as Uber may have done, this one part of urban commuting shall not be missed. Even from the transportation commissioners who will, no doubt, use Uber on the way to court.
The interesting part of all this is that Uber is pretty much illegal. I remember, back in like '95 driving for a cab company, and the one time I used my own car to drop a customer at Newark, it was almost impounded, because you can't have everyone picking up anyone from wherever they want.
But, Uber's founder, Travis Kalanick, thinks there's this "grey area" of the law where, if you don't pre-arrange the pick-up from a fixed base, it's technically not illegal. Whether or not he's right, two things are certain:
1. His lawyers are better than local municipalities.
2. His pockets are deeper than them, too.
You and I both know, it matters not what the law says. If everybody's doing it -- like smoking pot -- you can't put everybody in jail. And, sooner or later, it all comes down to money. Sure, towns like Hoboken are handing out $500 and $1000 tickets to drivers for "illegally" picking up passengers. But, these are the same cops that, in six months time, will be escorting these same drivers to court and protecting them from the cabbies who are rioting in front of city hall because they're out of a job.
The only Achilles heel Uber seems to have at the moment is it's cockiness. Like Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas, it doesn't think it can be knocked out. Case in point, the shitty way it treats its drivers.
First of all, no matter what they'd like you to believe, Uber will hire anyone to drive for them -- anywhere -- and you can get started in just five minutes. No abstract printout required; no background check necessary. Uber hires anyone. Case in point, the 20-minute drive my last driver took when going 15 minutes out of the way because he didn't know the area. But he had the qualifications to drive for them: eyes.
NJ drivers should definitely be better compensated for trips into NY because, without a TLC plate, they're forbidden by law to pick up in the five boroughs, thus 99 percent of the time a NJ driver returning from a NY drop off is useless for the hour-plus ride back to Jersey. With that in mind, Uber needs to figure out something.
Also, probably the most important issue is Uber treats East Coast blizzards as if they're just another Spring day, sending the drivers out to risk their lives with no additional compensation because Uber's "Surge Pricing" algorithm is only designed to respond to demand, not weather. Big mistake. But, aside from driving -- more than once -- in a whiteout, what do I know?
Every Uber user I spoke with stated they'd happily pay more to get a car in five minutes in a blizzard, as most taxi companies never even pick up the phone in a white-out.
Oh, and, Uber drivers should receive coporate discount when using the service.
Uber's upper management has refused to address these area anomalies and thus, because they're already ignoring problems within their loyal workforce. It doesn't bode well for the day when drivers form an Uber union and take each issue to the mat.