Since its inception, the widely popular and remarkably efficient ridesharing and food delivery service, Uber, has been subject to various critiques on the basis of so-called “ethical issues” regarding its threats to expensive taxi companies and its dealings with employees.
While taxis, replete with over-priced fares and poor service, have historically been the only way to get a ride on-demand, Uber has emerged as a strong-willed and competitive alternative. Herein lies the first major critique of Uber: their widespread accessibility and competitive drive poses a huge risk to these entrenched groups. Legal regulations and taxi driver protests have already forced Uber out of Alaska, Oregon (with the exception of Portland), Vancouver, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Italy, London, and several others. While this represents a victory for taxi companies and entrenched government interests, it poses direct harm to the on-the-go consumer. Rather than paying between ten and fifteen dollars for a ride from the airport, consumers in these areas are forced to rely on much more expensive taxi companies.
However, the threats of these critiques run far deeper than the dent they risk to consumers’ wallets; they also pose a huge risk to the millions of Americans who have come to depend on Uber for income supplementation or, in many cases, an alternative to on-the-clock work.
In the 2016 Presidential election, Hillary Clinton brought the “Uber problem” to the attention of workers’ rights advocates everywhere.
These “problems” encompass a broad range: in order to expand rapidly, Uber has been known to cut fares for drivers, and drivers, labelled as independent contractors, do not have job security under Uber. Consequently, because these drivers are not labelled as “employees,” they do not receive benefits when they work over 40 hours a week, and Uber does not share data openly with the government. This list of issues continues.
These critiques all rest on an identifiable, morally unjustifiable assumption: because the ride-sharing company has had the audacity to exist, its first and only priority ought to be to the welfare of the worker. While working for Uber is voluntary, and these “issues” can be ameliorated by employment in other industries and services, it is assumed that drivers must be fiercely unhappy with their conditions.
As an Uber driver who has come to rely fully on Uber for income, I can say with conviction that this is simply not the case. Through Uber, I have made as much as $30 an hour after expenses. Its flexibility allowed me to make my own schedule and quit my hourly, on-the-clock job, and has generally increased my overall financial health and personal happiness. This anecdote is not only mine. Throughout conversations with other Uber drivers, I have found similar contentment with the service. Despite the claims of workers’ rights advocates, Uber contractors are almost universally thrilled with its opportunity and flexibility.
Perhaps more pressingly, Uber simply cannot afford to change its business model. Like Amazon, Uber currently relies on heavy investment as a means of growing rapidly. While the popularity of the ride-sharing service almost guarantees gains in the future, Uber has consistently taken losses on its quest for expansion after $11.5 billion of investment. As the company attempts to grow and provide a feasible and universal alternative to its competitors, it simply cannot afford to change its model to allow for the kinds of concessions that workers’ rights advocates demand. Unfortunately, economic reality has never been a factor for these activists.
As a college student who has found unparalleled opportunity and wages in Uber, I have a single, urgent request for those whose plans would otherwise bankrupt the company: I, along with millions of people worldwide like me, am happy; if you do not like Uber, do not drive for Uber or use Uber. But for the love of God, lay off Uber or Uber will lay off me.