On Uber

The reality of the transportation technology company

I keep running into people who love Uber or can't wait to try it. Maybe it's not available in their city, or they don't yet have a need for it.

While I've used Uber's service in other cities, it hasn't yet been available here in Portland, until they launched without the city's approval last Friday. Many of my friends are surprised to hear that I'm bummed about this and that I'm not a fan of Uber. This post is about explaining some of the reasons I am not a fan of Uber and I don't want it operating in my town.

That said, here are a list of major concerns I have with the way Uber operates:


Uber (and Lyft) has been sued for failing to provide an accessible service for users with wheelchairs.

Uber is also seeking to change legislation that would require them to increase the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles they provide:

Uber wants to avoid any requirement to report the numbers of wheelchair-accessible trips requested and provided to passengers. Uber successfully has fought all past attempts to force the company to report trip data, claiming it is proprietary. In this case, Uber has requested the reporting requirement apply only to public for-hire vehicles: the District's approximately 7,000 metered taxicabs.

Want to phone in a reservation or hail an Uber? You're out of luck unless you have a smartphone with the app or can acces their website. Want to pay with cash? Sorry, Uber is credit card only.

Dishonest business practices

Lyft, an Uber competitor, received 5500 canceled ride requests from Uber employees between October 2013 and August 2014. This hurts Lyft by tying up their drivers leaving them less available to take actual customer requests, and it also hurts the income of Lyft drivers.

Predatory Loans

Uber has been encouraging and offering drivers sub-prime auto loans for new vehicles. They are specifically targeting those with no credit or poor credit and claiming that they can guarantee income, when they have a history of lowering their rates (or raising commissions) in a way that hurts drivers.

“UberX is said to include a 20% tip,” an UberX driver and speaker yelled to the crowd. “Uber is charging a commission on those tips, this is tip theft. That’s illegal. Uber black cars are not even allowed to accept tips. We’re service workers, we work on tips. Uber kept prices artificially low by asking drivers not to tip.”

Privacy issues

Take for a second and imagine all the data Uber has about their customers travel habits. Of course you would assume they take security vary seriously. But a job candidate at Uber said that he was given access to their customer databse as if he were an employee:

He got the kind of access enjoyed by actual employees for an entire day, even for several hours after the job interview ended. He happily crawled through the database looking up the records of people he knew — including a family member of a prominent politician — before the seemingly magical power disappeared. "What an Uber employee would have is everything, complete," said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the company.

They've also been known to broadcast live information about their customers on screens at a launch party in another city, without the user's permission.

Safety issues

Good luck sorting out liability issues with a comapny that claims it isn't even in the tranportation business. Uber spokesperson Taylor Bennet said of their drivers:

"They're independent contractors," he said. "We don't hire drivers. We're a technology company. We provide the app that they use, that connects passengers with drivers. They have the flexibility of being their own boss."

There are numerous cases of assault by Uber drivers. One of those cases even invovled a convicted felon that somehow passed Uber's "zero-tolerance" background check.

Sexist company culture

Last but not least, this is a company that has a persistent culture of sexism. CEO Travis Kalanick has been known to make a wisecrack about having women on demand:

Yeah, we call that Boob-er.

With that kind of leadership it's not hard to imagine how they came to publish a blog article (since deleted - archive) claiming that they could identify which of their customers participate in one night stands (so called "rides of glory").

All around scuminess

A few weeks ago a story broke that at a private dinner that Uber hosted for journalists, executive Emil Michael suggested that the company should consider a smear campaign against journalists that aren't favorable to the company, particularly focusing on personal lives and families.

There were several attempts to refute this story by other journalists and friends of Uber executives, but even those fail to address a bigger issue, why was Uber hosting a private dinner for journalists in the first place? And if some of the other invited journalists come to Uber's defense, is that really a surprise?

Even if it was an off the record joke, it is still in exceptionally poor taste, especially in the presence of other journalists. However given Uber's track record on other issues, this story doesn't seem particurlaly disbelievable or far fetched.

Godspeed, Portland

For along time I hoped that our city wouldn't be bullied by Uber, but here in Portland, they started operating without approval of the city. The city of Portland has already started targeted enforcement efforts trying to catch folks and today announced that it is suing Uber for "operating illegal, unregulated transportation service."

I never thought I'd say this when I first heard of Uber, but I hope if anyone can do it, that Portland can stand up to Uber.

Michael Prasuhnconfusing archeologists since 1981