In the wake of the Chicago City Council passing new regulations on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, Chicago Tribune editorial board member Lara Weber has published a manifesto on why she’ll avoid using those services and opt for traditional taxi cabs instead. She gives at least 5 reasons for her position. And not a single one of them makes any sense.
Let’s break it down.
I live in Chicago and I won’t use Uber or Lyft. Crazy?
Yes. I mean, it’s your prerogative, sure. But, yes.
Here’s why I’ll remain a holdout and keep using taxis.
I can’t wait.
In part, it’s because I can.
As a white woman who lives and works north of the Loop, I have far more transportation choices than many other Chicagoans — and I have never felt the sting of being denied a ride because of how I looked or where I needed to go.
Translation: I believe taxi drivers have a historical reputation for being racist and prejudiced in who they will and will not pick up for a ride, and where they will and will not take someone in the city. Uber and Lyft drivers do not. So, I’ll use cabs.
I appreciate that Uber, Lyft and whatever innovative system comes next are making it easier for people throughout the city to get around — and to earn some quick cash. But I see trouble down the road for any city that falls too quickly for the sharing-economy promise. So until Chicago evens out the playing field for all ride-for-hire businesses, and until Uber and Lyft show a greater investment in their drivers, I’ll wait as long as it takes for the next cab.
Good for you?
I don’t buy the “Uber is safer” argument. Unless someone I know is driving the car, any ride for hire — via taxi, Uber, Lyft or CTA bus — involves getting into a vehicle with a stranger at the wheel. Odds are high that I’ll get from Point A to Point B without incident in any of those options.
Yes, friends who are parents say they like Uber because it seems safer for their kids to use. The GPS systems built into the Uber and Lyft apps track every ride, in real time. I get why that’s appealing to a parent of a teen who needs to get around, but that doesn’t necessarily make a ride safer. It might keep kids more honest about where they’re going, but that’s it. Bad things — from reckless driving to horrifying accounts of sexual assault — have been reported in both taxis and Uber cars.
Translation: Uber and Lyft are not perfectly safe. But Uber and Lyft do offer a host of safety features that taxi cabs don’t offer at all. So, I’ll use taxis.
I see red flags on those ride-share cars. I love the idea of industry disruptors — especially ones that work within existing laws to push new ideas using new technologies. Uber’s business strategy in the first years after it launched in 2009 was to operate outside or just on the edge of existing ride-for-hire laws and to wow the young, affluent and tech-savvy with its supposedly revolutionary app-based system — which looks to me like little more than a tech-assisted taxi dispatcher. An improvement on the taxi system, for sure, but they’re all ride-for-hire businesses and should be held to the same laws.
Could Chicago’s laws use some updating? Definitely, but not in the direction the City Council just took. Slapping tight regulations on Uber and Lyft is a backward move. Instead, it’s time the city eliminated the medallion system and adopted one simpler set of safety-focused, competition-friendly rules for all ride-for-hire businesses.
Translation: It’s not that Uber and Lyft are unregulated. The problem is that taxi cabs are over-regulated. So, I’m going to use taxi cabs, because they are pushing for new laws that apply the over-regulated standards they are forced to endure to Uber and Lyft, which is the opposite of what I just argued for.
I don’t believe Uber and Lyft are creating jobs. The so-called sharing economy changes the way people work and do business, but don’t be fooled into thinking it creates jobs. Uber — now valued at around $60 billion — is a private company that operates in about 450 cities around the world and has just a couple thousand actual employees. In the U.S. alone, Uber has more than 160,000 drivers — literally the engine that drives Uber business — and none are employees with any traditional benefits or job security. Who’s going to cash in if Uber goes public? Definitely some of Uber’s high-profile investors, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ari, and celeb Ashton Kutcher, and definitely not most of the Uber drivers.
Translation: Rahm Emanuel’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate invested in Uber and this for some reason concerns me way more than the thousands of dollars that cab companies are pouring into Aldermen’s campaign funds of late to secure their votes in regulating Uber and Lyft out of town, as we saw recently in Austin, Texas. So, I’ll use cabs.
Also, the bolded statement above is so hysterically nonsensical. Whether or not Uber and Lyft are creating jobs is not a matter of Weber’s opinion or belief, but an empirical fact. As she herself notes, Uber alone has more than 160,000 drivers. Those drivers are working in jobs created by the existence of Uber. Just because Weber doesn’t like the contract work nature of the jobs — which drivers are aware of and have willingly accepted — doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.
What she’s really saying is, “Uber and Lyft are creating jobs that I don’t like or don’t think are good enough.” And, frankly, who cares if she thinks this? There are 160,000 people willing working and driving for Uber on the terms offered to them. I highly doubt any Uber driver thought before accepting their gig, “Gee, I wonder if Chicago Tribune editorial board member Lara Weber thinks this is a good deal for me?”
Uber and Lyft drivers are on a dead-end road. I can see the temptation of becoming a driver. Drive around when you want to and make some extra cash with your car. Great! But the hidden costs of becoming a driver should make anyone suspicious. Gas, auto repairs, interior maintenance, insurance, your time. Those are all real costs. Deduct them from the amount you earn after Uber or Lyft takes its cut and see if it’s worth it. If it is, go for it. But I’ve met too many people who say they’ve tried driving and quit because the math doesn’t work in their favor.
Translation: I’ve met “too many” people that quit driving for Uber. (How many is that, exactly? Two? Five? Anything remotely approaching a representative or statistically meaningful sample?). And even though there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people that continue to drive for Uber everyday in this city, I’m sure I know more than they do about them getting a raw deal. So, I’ll use cabs.
The business model behind a company like Uber demands that it recruit as many drivers as possible so that it can provide immediate service to its customers. But that means a saturated market with thousands of drivers scrambling for fares. Add in variable pricing — with fares set by Uber — and drivers are less able to count on earning enough to make the work worth their time.
If this were actually the case, then the drivers unable to earn enough to make it worth their time would quit. The quitting drivers would reduce the supply until the market reached an equilibrium. Yet we’re left here with the implicit assumption that Weber, in all of her infinite wisdom, believes not only that she knows what kind of jobs people should and should not take, but that she knows better how to “balance” the transportation market for the benefit of everyone. Talk about conceited.
Plus, Uber and Lyft have both confirmed they’re in the race to adopt driverless cars. Driverless. That means — even if it’s a long way off — no more drivers.
Yes, by all means, let’s overly concern ourselves today with the potential impact of a technology that might be decades away from fully coming online. In my case, I’m holding out on buying car because I think the teleportation business just ready to explode on to the scene at some point between now and when I die. Logical, right?
Also, if the technology for driverless cars becomes that prevalent and available, what makes Weber think that the taxi cab companies wouldn’t rush to embrace it to cut out the cost of employing thousands of taxi cab drivers?
It can be a risky investment for drivers. Realizing it needed more and more drivers to build its current business, Uber launched an auto-leasing program a few years ago so that people without cars could still join their ranks. Uber partners with local auto dealerships willing to accept financing through Uber — often to credit-challenged drivers, at not-the-best terms.
Suddenly, people otherwise unable to get a car are lured in by the idea of leasing a brand-new (or almost new) car through Uber. How will they make payments? Easy! Uber deducts the money from the driver’s weekly payout.
Trouble comes when a driver hits some snag — an illness or car accident — and can’t earn enough from driving to cover the car payments, not to mention all the other costs of having a car. Still on the hook for payments to Uber, a now-former driver can end up deep in debt and carless in a flash.
Translation: Risk is an inherent part of life. For some reason this bothers me when it comes to Uber drivers but apparently nothing else, like eating out (I could get food poisoning!), showering (I could slip and fall!), or taking a cab (the drivers there are exposed to the exact same problem!). So, I’ll use cabs.
I do see some good.
Imagine my relief.
Uber is making a big deal about how it benefits riders and neighborhoods that have been underserved by taxis. Despite laws against the practice, taxi drivers have notoriously avoided Chicago’s South and West sides for decades, creating “transportation deserts” that disproportionately affect the city’s minority neighborhoods. A colleague who lives on the Far South Side says that now, because of Uber, she can finally get a ride when she needs one.
Oh? The existence of Uber and Lyft have managed to alleviate a problem created by, in Weber’s own acknowledgment at the beginning of her piece, racism and bigotry. In her mind, this qualifies as “some good” to be mentioned as an afterthought in a column explaining why Uber and Lyft are a bad deal. I have a feeling the people who live in those communities and are in need of transportation might feel different. Just a hunch.
Competition might succeed where laws have failed — but only if Uber and Lyft take care of their drivers. If they don’t, this bubble of expanded transportation will burst.
For now, I’ll stick with taxis.
It’s not that competition might succeed where laws have failed. It has. These traditionally underserved communities now have transportation options not previously available to them. And those options exist because of Uber and Lyft.
But for those of you who live in those communities, Lara Weber is going to stick to patronizing the people who she believes would and do deny you service because of “how [you] looked or where [you] needed to go” for a whole bunch of reasons that don’t even make sense on their face.
I’ll let you decide what that says about Ms. Weber.