Think Uber’s Problems Stop at Its Management and Culture? Think Again.

Uber and Silicon Valley have much deeper problems as well.

Uber and Silicon Valley have much deeper problems as well. (Illustration by Heske van Doornen.)

This post appeared in The Minskys.

Keep track of all of Uber’s problems with The Big List of Uber’s Controversies.

In February 2017, Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing the sexual harassment and gender discrimination she experienced during her time as an engineer at Uber, the ride-hailing company. Although this was not the first time that Uber had been accused of creating a workplace where pervasive sexism and discrimination thrive, Fowler’s piece struck a chord. It built on a wave of criticism of the company from an earlier public relations disaster — Uber’s missteps following protests of President Trump’s racist executive order at John F. Kennedy Airport starting on January 28th and the resulting #DeleteUber campaign — and emboldened others to report sexual and other misconduct at the company (215 complaints about its corporate workplace have been filed).

While the criticisms levied at Uber are generally applicable to Silicon Valley as a whole, public ire was now focused on Uber, which was having a public relations crisis seemingly every week. The one-time $70 billion-valued private company (five times more valuable than the grocery store Whole Foods, which has 431 supermarkets, and was recently acquired by Amazon) was under immense pressure from even investors too. In response, it agreed to two investigations, both led by law firms. One investigated the workplace complaints that had been lodged against the company, leading to the firing of over 20 employees as well as disciplinary action against others. The second’s task was to investigate Uber’s corporate culture and develop recommendations to restructure the company to try to address the root causes of the problems. This team was led by former Obama administration Attorney General, and former Uber advisor, Eric Holder.

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Uber and Lyft Are Threatening to Expose Poor and Elderly to Predatory Practices

An Uber driver with a fare

A driver using the Uber app at night (via Noel Tock on flickr).

This post appeared in Truthout.

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have grown increasingly popular in the last few years. During this time, both companies have faced numerous challenges to their business models, including lawsuits involving passenger safety and the misclassification of their drivers as independent contractors, as well as accusations that both drivers and passengers discriminate based on race and other factors.

Despite these problems, ride-hailing companies are being further enmeshed with social life. Uber and Lyft are often preferred transportation partners for events and businesses, and cities are even integrating the companies into their transportation systems — some via privatization. Services that use ride-hailing companies for social purposes have also developed. My Ride to Vote provided promo codes for no-cost Uber and Lyft rides to and from polling places in the recent presidential election.

As this process happens, it’s important to point out who is being left behind: mainly, those who cannot use these services, or who can only use them via intermediaries (which are sometimes predatory). For example, in the United States, both Uber and Lyft generally require a smartphone and a credit card to use the service. This leaves out people who don’t have, or cannot obtain, a smartphone and a credit card, as well as those who don’t want to use either for their transportation. (These services have a record of their passengers’ trips.) While the My Ride to Vote service was probably well-intentioned, it likely didn’t target people who actually needed to use the services to cast their vote, i.e., poorer people who are the least likely to vote. The problem? It used promo codes, which meant that passengers needed a smartphone and an active Uber account tied to a credit card to make use of the service. And as Helaine Olen points out at Slate, it also made the companies involved some money.

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Cities Need More Public Transit, Not More Uber and Self-Driving Cars

A SEPTA bus in Philadelphia.

A SEPTA bus in Philadelphia (via Jarrett Stewart on flickr).

This post appeared in Truthout and Moyers & Company.

New transportation technologies — self-driving cars, electric vehicles and ride hailing services like Uber — promise to revolutionize transportation, especially in cities. While there are certainly potential benefits to these technologies, they have been called “solution[s] in search of a problem” because many of the benefits touted by advocates of these technologies are benefits that public transportation, walking and cycling already offer in abundance.

One thing rarely mentioned in the enthusiastic boosterism of these technologies is how their widespread adoption will affect the poor. Like other expenditures (especially those on necessities), the poor often pay a large portion of their income on meeting their transportation needs.

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