The concept of Uber is pretty simple: It’s a ride sharing service that works to connect costumers to drivers through a smartphone app. A person in need of ride can open the app, locate a car and get picked up in minutes. The service is oftentimes cheaper than taxis and more convenient than public transportation.
Because of it’s convenience and affordability, Uber has grown quickly in the past few years — the company could possibly be worth about $50 billion, according to CNN Money.
However, the company seems to be constantly entangled in controversies. Just last month, Uber drivers held a strike. The strike took place around the country and had a particular presence here in Fort Collins.
Those drivers participating in the strike were hoping to put pressure on Uber to add a tipping option to the app and raise minimum fares and cancellation fees.
“First of all, we’re not employees, we’re independent contractors,” said one Fort Collins Uber driver, Mike Lesebvre, or as his business card says, ‘The Uber Dude.’ “You can only go on strike if you’re an employee, so it was really more like a protest.”
Although the effectiveness of the strikes are hard to measure, the problems with Uber may be becoming more apparent. The conversations about the ails of the ride-sharing app have been star-studded, including comedian Russell Brand and presidential candidate Governor Bernie Sanders.
Russell Brand, popular for his work as a comedian, but currently working as an activist, produced a video in which he asked his fellow citizens to dump tax-evading Uber in favor of local “cabbies.”
Brand posts about the importance of supporting local cabbies as part of his political series “Russell Brand The Trews.”
Sanders takes issue with the service’s unregulated nature. According to Bloomberg Politics, Sanders has a “serious issue” with the company. Like other service workers, Uber drivers’ income is inconsistent and has the possibility of dipping below livable wages.
The Uber website boasts, “no office and no boss.” The idea of working on your own time is exactly what attracts their drivers, despite inconsistent incomes. Lesebvre sees a lot of issues with Uber, but is a fan of the model.
“I’m fine with Uber, I’m not putting them down. I think that what they’re doing is very commendable in many ways,” Lesbvre said. “Now from the drivers standpoint, it certainly has its problems.”
Lesbvre sees that Uber drivers are sometimes making less than minimum wage.
“Uber likes to say drivers are making all this money, but they’re not taking into consideration gas, maintenance, wear and tear on the car, all this stuff, so when you put the time in and you only have two rides within the hour and you’re only getting $3.20,” Lesbvre said. “That’s way below minimum wage.”
Another controversial piece of Uber is the price surges. In an interview on “The Late Show with Steven Colbert,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick explained how when demand outstrips supply, the price goes up.
When asking about price surges, Colbert specifically referenced an incident in Australia. This algorithm created problems when a threat of terrorism drove of up demand and consequently price. Suddenly, while people are trying to escape a situation, they are being charged four times as much as usual.
Kalanick interviews on The Late Show with Steven Colbert.
Surge pricing demonstrates how Uber and similar companies are, according to Lesbvre, tech companies and not transportation companies. The concern is how to best make the technology work, as opposed to how to best get people from point A to B.
One major competitor with Uber is Lyft. Nearly identical to Uber, Lyft is a ride-sharing service accessed through a smartphone app. The two have minor differences — mainly in how the drivers are treated by the company.
When Lesebvre drives down to Denver, he’ll turn on both his Lyft and Uber app and be a driver for whichever app has the consumers. He says there’s a noticeable difference between the two services.
“It’s a vibe thing, when you’re driving for Lyft, same driver, passenger, car, it’s more pleasant,” Lesebvre said.
Perhaps contributing to the better “vibe” is the ability of Lyft passengers to tip their drivers, while Uber’s app does not provide a tipping option. Lesebvre said that for Uber, the rating system is supposed to function as a tip. If a costumer liked the ride, they can give their driver a good rating. Although maintaining a good rating is part maintaining the job, the virtual stars do not translate into actual money.
“Just from personal experience, Lyft drivers are nicer. I’m from Denver, so I have the choice back home,” said freshman political science major Bryan Mendoza. “I think that because Lyft drivers are payed more, they’re kinder. It’s too bad Lyft isn’t up in Fort Collins.”
As the company simultaneously grows and becomes more controversial, there’s no predicting its future. Lesebvre expressed a common idea among Uber drivers — that the company just doesn’t care about their drivers. This concern was increased when Kalanick spoke about the possibility of driver-less cars in his Late Night interview.
“There’s a lot of things they can do to improve, but it’s kind of a moot point, I really don’t think they will, I don’t think they care to,” said Lesebvre. “It’s not a dig or a knock for Uber because they’re in the business to make money.”
Collegian Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tatianasophiapt.