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Ezra Rogers
Ezra Rogers


Uber Technologies, Inc. (Uber), based in San Francisco, provides mobility as a service/ride-hailing (48% of revenues), food delivery/package delivery/couriers via Uber Eats and Postmates (34% of revenues), and freight transport (18% of revenues).[1][3][4] Uber sets fares, which vary using a dynamic pricing model based on local supply and demand at the time of the booking and are quoted to the customer in advance, and receives a commission from each booking.[5] It has operations in approximately 70 countries and 10,500 cities[2] and, with 131 million monthly active users and 5.4 million active drivers and couriers worldwide, it generates an average of 23 million trips per day.[1]


Like other ridesharing companies, Uber classifies its drivers as gig workers and independent contractors, where allowable, which is the subject of legal action in several jurisdictions. Ridesharing companies have disrupted taxicab businesses and allegedly caused an increase in traffic congestion. Ridesharing companies are regulated in many jurisdictions and the Uber platform is not available in several countries where the company is not able or willing to comply with regulations. Controversies involving Uber include various unethical practices such as aggressive lobbying and ignoring and evading local regulations. Many of these were revealed by a leak of documents showing controversial activity between 2013 and 2017 under the leadership of Travis Kalanick.

In 2009, Garrett Camp, a co-founder of StumbleUpon, came up with the idea to create Uber to make it easier and cheaper to procure direct transportation. Camp and Travis Kalanick had spent $800 hiring a private driver on New Year's Eve, which they deemed excessive, and Camp was also inspired by his difficulty in finding a taxi on a snowy night in Paris.[6][7] The prototype of the mobile app was built by Camp and his friends, Oscar Salazar and Conrad Whelan, with Kalanick as the "mega advisor" to the company.[7]

Following a beta launch in May 2010, Uber's services and mobile app launched publicly in San Francisco in 2011.[9][10] Originally, the application only allowed users to hail a black luxury car and the price was approximately 1.5 times that of a taxi.[11] In 2011, the company changed its name from UberCab to Uber after complaints from San Francisco taxicab operators.[12]

The company's early hires included a nuclear physicist, a computational neuroscientist, and a machinery expert who worked on predicting arrival times for Uber's cars more accurately than Google APIs.[6][13] In April 2012, Uber launched a service in Chicago, whereby users were able to request a regular taxi or an Uber driver via its mobile app.[14][15]

In July 2012, the company introduced UberX, a cheaper option that allowed drivers to use non-luxury vehicles, including their personal vehicles, subject to a background check, insurance, registration, and vehicle standards.[16][17] By December 2013, the service was operating in 65 cities.[18]

In February 2018, Uber combined its operations in Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Kazakhstan with those of Yandex.Taxi and invested $225 million in the venture.[34] In March 2018, Uber merged its services in Southeast Asia with those of Grab in exchange for a 27.5% ownership stake in Grab.[35][36][37]

In June 2020, in its first software as a service partnership, Uber announced that it would manage the on-demand high-occupancy vehicle fleet for Marin Transit, a public bus agency in Marin County, California.[57]

In May 2022, Uber began operations in Italy, forming a partnership with IT Taxi, Italy's largest taxi dispatcher, to integrate the dispatcher's drivers with the Uber platform. Uber had previously done similar deals in Spain, Germany, Austria, Turkey, South Korea, Hong Kong, and New York.[73][74]

Uber has been criticized for its strategy of generally commencing operations in a city without regard for local regulations. If faced with regulatory opposition, Uber called for public support for its service and mounted a political campaign, supported by lobbying, to change regulations.[79] Uber argued that it is "a technology company" and not a taxi company, and therefore it was not subject to regulations affecting taxi companies.[79] Uber's strategy was generally to "seek forgiveness rather than permission".[80] In 2014, with regards to airport pickups without a permit in California, drivers were actually told to ignore local regulations and that the company would pay for any citations.[81] Uber's response to California Assembly Bill 5 (2019), whereby it announced that it would not comply with the law, then engaged lobbyists and mounted an expensive public opinion campaign to overturn it via a ballot, was cited as an example of this policy.[79][82] Taxi companies sued Uber in numerous American cities, alleging that Uber's policy of violating taxi regulations was a form of unfair competition or a violation of antitrust law.[83] Although some courts did find that Uber intentionally violated the taxi rules, Uber prevailed in every case, including the only case to proceed to trial.[84]

In March 2017, an investigation by The New York Times revealed that Uber developed a software tool called "Greyball" to avoid giving rides to known law enforcement officers in areas where its service was illegal such as in Portland, Oregon, Australia, South Korea, and China. The tool identified government officials using geofencing, mining credit card databases, identifying devices, and searches of social media.[85][86][87] While at first, Uber stated that it only used the tool to identify riders that violated its terms of service, after investigations by Portland, Oregon,[88][89][90] and the United States Department of Justice,[91][92][93] Uber admitted to using the tool to skirt local regulations and promised not to use the tool for that purpose.[94][95] The use of Greyball in London was cited by Transport for London as one of the reasons for its decision not to renew Uber's private hire operator licence in September 2017.[96][97][98] A January 2018 report by Bloomberg News stated that Uber routinely used a "panic button" system, codenamed "Ripley", that locked, powered off and changed passwords on staff computers when those offices were subjected to government raids.[99] Uber allegedly used this button at least 24 times, from spring 2015 until late 2016.[100][101]

More than 124,000 Uber documents covering the five-year period from 2012 to 2017 when Uber was run by its co-founder Travis Kalanick were leaked by Mark MacGann, a lobbyist who "led Uber's efforts to win over governments across Europe, the Middle East and Africa",[137] to The Guardian newspaper and first printed on 10 July 2022 by its Sunday sister The Observer. The documents revealed attempts to lobby Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz and George Osborne; how Emmanuel Macron secretly aided Uber lobbying in France, and use of a kill switch during police raids to conceal data. Kalanick dismissed concerns from other executives that sending Uber drivers to a protest in France put them at risk of violence from angry opponents in the taxi industry, saying "I think it's worth it, violence guarantees success".[138]

Using detailed trip-level taxi and for-hire-vehicle data and new incident-level complaints data, we study how the entry of Uber and Lyft has affected the quality of taxi services in New York City. In a panel setting with 263 NYC taxi-zones over the time period from 2014 to 2017, we find that increased competition measured by the number of daily Uber/Lyft trips in a given taxi-zone has led to more complaints regarding a variety of service quality dimensions such as unsafe driving, rude behavior and fare refusal. Our results are robust to accounting for potential simultaneity in the determination of complaints and Uber and Lyft penetration.

The narrative that's been overlooked, thus far, is that traditional taxis have traditionally sucked, and companies like Uber and Lyft have played a key role in changing that. Recent examples from Seattle and Los Angeles help make the case.

A little over a year ago, Seattle sought to determine the quality of TNCs like Uber and Lyft relative to taxi services, and the result was a stinging indictment of traditional taxis' speed, convenience, and ease of payment. The Seattle Taxi Report found that:

The message to Seattle taxi drivers: get your shit together. Taxi passengers in other U.S. cities, the majority of which have had to depend on sub-par taxi service for decades, would undoubtedly agree.

And, god bless 'em, some taxi companies seem to have listened. In response to competition from the Ubers and Lyfts of the world, taxi operators across the country have done more than complain about the loss of their monopoly on for-hire transportation (though they've done that too), and actually worked to improve service to be competitive with their upstart brethren.

In Los Angeles, for example, the Taxicab Commission is working on requiring all licensed taxis to use e-hailing apps like Flywheel, which will reduce wait times, ease the payment process, and make it easier to hold drivers accountable through a simple app-based review process. Their goal is to offer similar convenience to existing TNCs, without the questions about driver background or concerns about "surge" prices when taxi demand is high.

Back in Seattle, the local Yellow Cab service is already on board with their own e-hailing app, which it first introduced a year ago in response to the competition from Uber and Lyft. And though the app started out rough around the edges, a new version was released a few months ago and it looks to have evolved into a smooth, easy to use service. Payments can't yet be made by phone, but that's expected to be added in a month or so.

And here's the crazy thing: Since GPS-based dispatch was adopted via the e-hailing app, Yellow Cab's response times have almost been cut in half. A service that has existed for decades, with negligible changes and consistent customer displeasure, finally got its act together, and it wouldn't have happened without pressure from rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. Amin Shifow, GM of Seattle Yellow Cab, admits this freely in an interview with the Seattle Times: 041b061a72


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