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May 12, 2015

the undercover uber driver

Well now that Uber is rumored to be valuated at $50 billion, this is as good a time as any to share this, my favorite bit of reporting on Uber. Oh, and for the record, the market cap of McDonalds is a little over $90 billion, so yes you live in a world in which a taxi pimp is worth more than half of largest fast food chain on the planet.

Back to the story. Part of the gospel preached by Uber and its disruptionist acolytes is that Uber is an awesome place to work and its drivers have all sort of flexibility and make ninety large per year! So Emily Guendelsberger of Philadelphia CityPaper decided to put it to the test and got a job as an Uber driver/independent contractor.

It is deeply researched and well-reported and I can't recommend it highly enough.

But I already said that I didn't like the idea of using other people's data -- all that was secondary to my own. And after 100 rides, I felt like I had enough to work with. Over that duration, during which I maintained a 4.83 adjusted rating, high enough to qualify me for Uber's VIP program, Uber would say I "earned" $17 an hour in gross fares. But subtract the 28 percent that went to Uber and the 19 percent that went to expenses, and I actually made $9.34 an hour (plus a grand total of $16 in tips, $10 of which were for meeting up with a guy who left his Porsche keys in my backseat).

But the point is not just that Uber is stretching the truth when citing how much its drivers are earning — this is just one more facet of the strange dissociative disorder that is the Disruption Industry, the need to believe the utopian crap that should be limited to the press release. Uber is nothing but a taxi pimp. They have no responsibility as an employee, they have no responsibility for the vehicles (though they do lean on drivers to invest in new vehicles for better customer service) and they have limited insurance coverage (all of which Guendelsberger goes into). They make third parties take the risk and Uber gets paid either way. Which is fine, hey, late capitalism, go for it. But Uber has to insist that this is not plain old money-grubbing but rather some sort of force for social good, not just for the customer but also for the "employees" without whom Uber has no johns.

This is to say, what is so galling is not just they are abrogating livery regulations and employment laws (both of which are there for a reason), and not just because they are nakedly exploiting a naive workforce, which workforce will be thrown to the curb once driverless cars are widespread, but mostly because they insist that they, and the rest of the disruption industry, be venerated as enablers of social good. Which is hooey.

But back to the piece: it is a piece of journalism, so there's nothing rant-y about it. It is really worth your fifteen minutes

Posted by mrbrent at 11:46 AM