Uber – Problem or Solution?

Uber?

Uber-disruption

As the myth goes, the concept of Uber was first discussed as a concept in Paris, France in 2008 by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp as they had trouble hailing a cab; whether this is true or not is irrelevant – Uber has firmly, and forever, opened Pandora’s Box and disrupted the taxi industry – there is no way we, as the public, can go back now as we’ve seen the art of the possible. Cheaper fares, ease of booking cabs and convenience.

For those of you that might dispute my last statement, Uber is now operating in 632 cities worldwide at the time of this blog post being written.

What is evident in these 632 cities is that the industry stalwarts; the cab firms already present that have enjoyed stable market share and dominion over the rates and fares that the general public have paid up until Uber, are not happy.

Stop Uber

Public safety, perceived lack of tight regulation regarding it’s operating practices through to protests against the company itself, have all served to illustrate genuine anti-Uber sentiment and actions. The announcement on the 23rd September 2017 by Transport for London (TfL) that it has rejected Uber’s application for a new operating licence was greeted by cheers from a minority of industry competition and affiliated supporters; however, for the commuters that utilise Uber on a daily basis, this was both a shock and disappointment. Having said that, Uber’s cars will not disappear immediately as its current licence expires on 30 September 2017 and it plans to challenge the ruling; for this reason, Uber an continue to operate in the capital – where it has over 3 million users – until it has exhausted the appeals process, which could take a number of months.

 

Uber versus Taxi

Uber-comparison

I’ve used Uber in London on numerous occasions and in the USA in places such as Los Angeles and Anaheim; I have found these experiences to be very positive bar one time where I dropped the needle too far away and I had to cancel the pick-up (costing me $5) – I’ll put that down to user-error. The process of booking, the transparency of the driver details, the cost (fare) and the ease of payment have all added to the experience; on a personal level, I’ve found the drivers to be personable and happy to chat about anything from their day, why they drive for Uber and the general state of the weather (*a very polite British way of starting any conversation).

In contrast, two recent experiences of ‘professional’ and ‘established’ taxi firms have left me over-charged by £12.00 for one journey and in the other journey, the cab driver threatened to make us leave the cab because we asked him to wear his seatbelt. To protect any other individuals working for these firms, I will not name the companies, however, both trade-off of their aforementioned ‘professional’ and ‘established’ status. Where I was clearly over-charged (by more than 100%), I phoned the company to discuss this and they said they’d investigate it and come back to me…..that was over a week ago. With regards to the cab firm where the cab driver was slightly challenging, I spoke to the cab company and they said they would have a conversation and ‘deal with it’ as they didn’t want a poor reputation – I’ve heard nothing from them either. Interestingly, I had the same cab driver over the course of the weekend and I managed to resolve the issue with him personally and he appeared to have had ‘zero conversation’ about the previous issue otherwise, why would he have been designated to pick me up again?

Having read these two accounts of my experiences, and given the press attention on Uber, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the former was a more established company and the latter was Uber right?

Auto

Uber-future

Whether you’re a user or not of Uber, you surely cannot deny that it is an innovative company looking at ways to create solutions for greater social mobility at a cheaper cost to the user.

Evidence of this innovation is readily available on the Uber engineering blog found here and many articles are being written about the company’s testing of autonomous cars in Pennsylvania, Arizona and California. In March 2017, Recode reported that they had secured documentation that stated that Uber had 43 active cars that had driven 20,354 miles autonomously and the report went on to state that Uber uses specific metrics to measure its progress with autonomous vehicles and they are:

  • The average number of miles a car drives itself before a driver has to take over for any reason
  • The average number of miles between “critical” interventions — when a driver has to avoid causing harm, such as hitting pedestrians or causing material property damage
  • The average number of autonomous miles between “bad experiences” — things like jerky motions or hard braking, which are more likely to cause discomfort than damage

One of the key metrics has been illustrating a positive increase and that the requirement for a ‘critical’ intervention where a safety driver has to take manual control of the car; this has steadily increased to 200 miles per critical intervention.

All this evidence serves as a reminder that the company continues to innovate in a sector that has been dormant, apart from rising fares, for a number of decades. Isn’t this evidence of Uber as a solution rather than a problem?

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