Uber's model of work and its problems

The other day, Uber received the Crunchies award as the “startup of the year” - and at that time, next to the award-winning building, San Francisco taxi drivers protested against it. An unusual business model made the company the most expensive startup in the United States, but at the same time brought a lot of problems. However, many, even constantly using Uber, consider it simply a “taxi call” and do not understand what is the difference from applications like Yandex.Taxi - therefore it’s worth saying what exactly causes so much indignation and why the company is so interested in unmanned vehicles.

While most people perceive Uber as a transport company, it claims to have a completely different status - software developers that provide not transport services, but only intermediary ones. All interested drivers and passengers using the application simply find each other, and then the driver directly provides services to the passenger, while not being an Uber employee. While, for example, Yandex.Taxi is also an intermediary, the licensed taxi fleets, and not any interested driver, turn out to be the party providing the service.

What does it change? If Uber is not a taxi service, then it is not required to obey the relevant laws, pay the appropriate taxes and generally deal with a large part of their work. This allows him to provide services cheaper than a traditional taxi. It is not surprising that the startup began to grow at a tremendous speed: starting less than five years ago, it is now valued at more than $ 40 billion (for comparison: the closest American startup, Palantir, costs only $ 15 billion). However, the positioning on which his entire business is built is very controversial.

Yes, the words about mediation are partly true: after all, when sellers and buyers find each other on eBay, it does not occur to anyone to call sellers the employees of the site. However, Uber tightly controls the process: with eBay, the parties decide most of the issues on their own, but here the company itself sets the tariffs, talks about which cars can participate in the system, and even forbids drivers to tip. And reckoning the company to the segment of the sharing economy, where everything is based on mediation between users and the ability to share some kind of asset (like Couchsurfing, where you can find an “overnight stay”), is also not quite true. In the sharing economy, it’s usually not about professional earnings, and the word ridesharing describes the situation more correctly: “I need to go to another city by car, if I find a fellow traveler, he will pay for gas and will be more fun on the way ”(for example, BlaBlaCar acts as an intermediary in such a case). And in Uber they don’t “share the trip” and they don’t “seek communication”, it is only about providing professional services for money.

All this leads to the first problem: no matter what the company says about itself, the authorities have the last word, and they do not always agree with it. Uber is already active in more than 50 countries, and situations vary. In some places, the service was simply recognized as an unlicensed taxi and demanded to cease operations. In others, there is a lengthy debate about status, and it is completely unclear how they will end. The company does not want to make concessions to local legislation in specific regions (probably fearing that any concession will immediately become a precedent for the rest). As a result, the giant, represented in many markets, may suddenly be without the key ones.

The second problem: traditional taxis are unhappy that their competitor can supply deliberately lower prices, and are looking for ways to prevent this. For example, London taxi drivers said that in the case of Uber, the driver’s smartphone de facto acts as a taximeter that cannot be used without permission. Mayor Boris Johnson admitted that the case is complicated and that a decision must be made with the help of experts.

Third: since drivers are not employees, and the company is not responsible for their actions, it means that she also cannot completely control them, even when these actions harm her. Of course, there is quality control, and when complaining about drivers, they are denied access (positioning this not as “dismissal”, but as a “ban of the offender”). But this does not relieve stories like the recent “Indian user Uber said that the driver raped her”, which are hard to imagine in a traditional taxi (the charge has not yet been confirmed, but the service has already responded by adding an “alarm button” to the application on the Indian market). Such scandals are still isolated, but they hit the project in terms of reputation.

Fourth: drivers themselves, not being employees, can easily show discontent. For example, in 2013, the company received several lawsuits from drivers at once, stating that the phrase "tips are already included" it misleads users.

And at the same time, everyone in the company also has competitors with a similar business model like Lyft, who want to entice drivers to themselves.

Subjected to pressure from five sides at once, Uber then resorted to dubious tactics (Lyft complained that he ordered and canceled trips in batches, loading drivers with meaningless unpaid work), then, as it is reported, he worked at a loss: he wants to grow so much that he it became difficult to ban, and for rapid growth, you can throw drivers money. But investment money cannot be allocated indefinitely - therefore, the company, being successful in many metrics, may be completely unsure of its future.

And in this situation, the recent news that Uber was engaged in unmanned vehicles looks very logical. The robot will not rape a passenger, will not arrange a strike, will not go to a competitor and will not be indignant at the lack of a tip. A large-scale investment allows you to throw resources on it, which competitors do not have smaller, and break away from them.

It just turns out that the company, declaring "we are only intermediaries", wants to completely remove one of the two sides, between which it is an intermediary.

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