Letter writer: Why the #DeleteUber movement gets it wrong

Graphic by Lori Deaton

After the Trump administration’s recent decision to restrict immigration from seven largely Muslim nations, New York City taxicab drivers entered into a work stoppage at JFK airport, creating enormous demand for Uber drivers. Uber responded by eliminating their surge prices, which ultimately broke the taxicab drivers’ strike and increased Uber’s ridership and revenues at the expense of the protesters. As a result, those that supported the drivers advocated [that] Uber users delete their accounts. And tons of people did, downloading Uber’s competitor Lyft instead (which came to Asheville this past December).

As the founder of Cab Hound, an Asheville-based software business focused on helping taxicab companies and drivers adapt to the changing transportation climate, I admire the #DeleteUber movement, as I’m well aware that the wide adoption of Uber has had a negative impact on the taxicab industry, here and around the country. But downloading Lyft isn’t the fix.

Consider this: Historically, becoming a taxicab driver was a great way for many people to provide for their families. In the past, taxicab drivers made a bargain with their cities. They agreed to be strictly regulated (fingerprinting, background checks, pricing restrictions), and in return, they had a monopoly. Today, cities aren’t enforcing that monopoly. And drivers’ most profitable trips are largely skimmed off by Uber and Lyft. What was once a solid path to the middle class has been destroyed in the name of lower prices.

In other words, the #DeleteUber movement — and its Lyft “solution” — is misguided at best. It seemed for a moment to reflect the nation’s solidarity with the people impacted by the new gig economy, which undermines their livelihood. But only for a moment. 

— George Wheeler
President and founder
Cab Hound

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12 thoughts on “Letter writer: Why the #DeleteUber movement gets it wrong

  1. The Real World

    In more recent news about Uber. http://fortune.com/2017/02/19/uber-susan-fowler-sexual-harassment/

    Oh yeah, Tesla too: http://nymag.com/thecut/2017/02/tesla-lawsuit-female-engineer-harassment.html

    Like I said before, stomping in the street wearing goofy hats will not change the harassment and discrimination still happening in the workplace. Including from Silicon Valley lefty liberal enterprises. Surprise! (not) I’m holding back, trying really hard not to type hypo…. but am being overtaken cosmic karma….crites!

    • luther blissett

      “Including from Silicon Valley lefty liberal enterprises.”

      Uber was founded by an arch-libertarian, is backed by VC billions, and has spent years using those billions to break local laws and demand they be changed to its benefit. Tesla’s another libertarian outfit. All of this is well known. That you consider them “lefty liberal” says more about you than anything else.

      Anyway. I’m never enthused by letters that are thinly disguised adverts. The MX ran a good piece on taxi and taxi-adjacent services not long ago, and the old taxi monopoly was insufficient and averse to change until the regulation-busters showed up and bought off state and local governments. Uber’s billionaire backers are subsidizing each ride in the hope that robot cars come along fast, and when they do, they’ll have driven the competition out of business. Lyft isn’t that different. The other side of that bet is that robot cars won’t be around as soon as the backers hope, and that if you want to get somewhere without driving yourself, you’ll need to pay more to ensure the drivers will be there in the future.

  2. WAVL

    Politics aside, what makes Uber (and Lyft) more appealing to me than traditional taxicabs isn’t so much about price. I often feel I’m being undercharged when I ride Uber, and wouldn’t mind paying a few more dollars to ensure the driver earns a decent wage. But for years in this town I could never get a taxi – I’d call and they wouldn’t answer, or they’d answer but not show up, or show up and someone else would hop in. Not to mention I needed cash for the driver. Present me with a regulated, living-wage paying, but also convenient and dependable local option and I’ll happily switch back. Does this exist?

    • WAVL, Thanks for the comment. My company Cab Hound, which is HQ’ed here in Asheville, provides all of the features of Uber but with taxicab drivers. You can compare drivers based on ratings, track and call/message your driver, get notified when he arrives and pay for your trip with a saved credit card. We are partnering with Yellow Cab, Beaver Lake, New Blue Bird and A-Red taxi here in Asheville. So yes, it exists. Check us out at https://cabhound.com/passenger

  3. David B

    Without Uber and Lyft to spur innovation in an otherwise stagnant and non-competative monopolized marketplace, CabHound would not exist. It took a lot of pressure to force the local taxi industry to adopt more modern and tech-friendly methods to provide taxi services, and I am thankful that the existing industry has taken up the challenge. I still feel that it is far too difficult for new drivers to be allowed to participate in the traditional driving industry, as our cab companies are not open to more cabs on the streets – that’s why it has been difficult to get cabs in peak demand times. New drivers need a way to participate without huge barriers to driving (and background checks are not real barriers, but they do not guarantee a safe driver, either). Until local cab companies can provide reliable service at reasonable prices AND allow those who want to drive to do so within the traditional companies, the marketplace will continue to innovate with tech-saavy competition.

  4. George, you may have created a great product, but you’re a lousy historian.

    Uber had surge pricing on during the 6-7 pm strike and tweeted around 7:30 that surge pricing was off—-well after the strike had ended.

    Push your product all you want, but don’t push fake facts,. I’ve abandoned using cabs in Asheville because they are horribly unreliable. Since I assume you are getting $ from someone and thereby taking a piece of the action, how are cabbies here going to become more reliable in Asheville?

  5. Chris Moe

    People like Uber and Lyft because it’s dependable, cheap and most of the time the cars are really clean. You can’t stop the wave. The days of cabby cartels are over. Classic case of consumer demand overrunning the establishment. Isn’t that what the free market is all about? I remember numerous times calling a cab dispatch and being told it would be 10 minutes only to wait 45 minutes for someone to show up completely unapologetic. They knew that there was no other choice and you had to take it. Then they would tell you there credit card machine was down and would break out the carbon copy swiper. 2 hours later and 50$ you get home. Now we have a choice and if you are a jerk your driver can vote you down and vice versa. I know a lot of people that subsidize their income by driving when they want and however often they want. It’s a win!

    • luther blissett

      It’s a win for as long as the prices are subsidized by venture capital money. That can’t last.

      • Chris Moe

        That’s an interesting thought and it’s a very smart move on Uber’s behalf. Most startups are funded or as you say subsidized by VC until they are profitable. Its a conundrum, where you can take money in your early years and grow quickly or take less and grow organically. Then you risk getting beat to the punch. Hence Uber vs Lyft. Ride share is here to stay though. It’s a matter of who will win. The fact that we can Uber in WNC is a big step. Whoever wins small town America will be king of ride share and once that happens VC will not be needed. I have my money on Google getting in the mix at some point or Amazon. Give it 4 years/ Lots of surprises to come.

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