Uber, a popular application-based-service that connects people who need rides with people willing to provide them for a fee, has attracted much negative attention over the relatively short time that it has been around. One likely explanation for the bad publicity is its meteoric rise from obscurity to infamy. Uber’s rapid growth has brought about a situation where the service and its affiliated properties have been valued at $40 billion in some estimates, roughly the same as Google’s video hosting acquisition, Youtube.com.
What Uber offers was originally designed to be only a framework for independent drivers to be pointed in the direction of people who need a ride. The fact that the service uses drivers who agree to work on the basis of being independent contractors, while driving their personal vehicles, allows it to be cheaper and more flexible than established taxi companies, most of whom have operated within the traditions of more conventional businesses. However, the company has seemingly stepped on many toes since its arrival on the transportation scene, including those of the politically affluent American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Such unions tend to pull enormous weight in establishing legislative direction, due largely to their representation and leadership of large swaths of the public and their peerless fundraising capacities.
Uber is slowly being pressured to transform into another taxi-like service to remain in business. As detailed in an article on the Lexblog Network by author Anna Gallegos, the primary legal challenges faced by the monetized ride-share service, as it fights to stay legitimate, are its compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), local regulations on the state and municipal level, the insurance model it uses, and the policies of airports around the country and the world.
A lawsuit brought against Uber and its competitor, Lyft, alleges that the companies’ reliance on drivers who generally do not have wheelchair-accessible cars amounts to de facto discrimination against the disabled. A further twist along those lines is whether the software of the apps themselves are in compliance with Title III of the ADA, which civil rights attorneys such as Leiney Feingold and Linda Dardarian assert covers websites. The burning of books which fail to adhere to Title III is yet unannounced at the time of publication.
The insurance angle, while likely the most serious and compelling concern, embodies another example of how Uber is being pushed into a form-mold to shape it into another bland taxi company. The basic argument around that point consists of whether Uber should be held liable, as an employer, in the event of a rider being injured. Uber’s position is that their drivers are independent contractors, and that any injury incurred while driving would be the responsibility of the contractor, who is required to show proof of insurance as a condition of registering with the service. The bureaucracy obviously begs to differ.
While the other top concerns are within a province of government that speaks legalese, and have little practical impact to the public on an individual basis, this article’s contention that Uber “gets a bad rap” is predicated within a belief structure that tends toward libertarianism, let Uber’s continued existence rise or fall based on merit. Outlier articles, which sensationalize unusual instances where maladies befall the members of the unwitting public at the hands of Ubers’ ostensibly nefarious drivers, willfully ignore an entire host of fallacies which lead to the uninformed conclusion that the ridesharing service is, in some murky and ill-defined way, more dangerous than walking, driving oneself, or taking a more regular form of public transportation. The debate is not framed in a manner which divulges critical information, such as how many people ride with Uber drivers per salacious crime, or what the comparative rates are for the alternatives. Rather, it is not staged as a debate at all. The dangers are simply implied.
Uber and Lyft represent the oft-quoted principles of capitalism with which its efficiency as an economic system is explained to function. The services are innovative evolutions of a market economy, which have arisen from a situation where the traditional solutions to transportation problems are inefficient and excessively costly. If Uber is not allowed a certain degree of elbow room within which it may simply exist (without losing the unique properties which make it an improvement over the status quo), it bodes incredibly poorly for America’s self-description as a capitalist society.
Opinion by Brian Whittemore
Photo by Scott Schiller – Flickr License