I started using Uber in April, and (according to my Uber page on the Web), I’ve had fifteen rides so far. Given all the bad news that’s going down, my patronage of the company is at least suspended. As an overdue hedge, I just signed up with Lyft. I’m also looking at BlaBlaCar here in the U.K. (where I am at the moment), plus other alternatives, including plain old taxis and car services again.
But here are a few learnings I’ve gained in the meantime.
First Uber isn’t about “ride sharing.” That’s just marketing gloss at this point. Instead Uber is what’s coming to be called an “app-based car service.” Let’s call it ABCS. I mean hey, if that’s what the New York Attorney General calls it, that’s what it is. At least for now.
ABCS is a new category, growing within and alongside two existing categories: taxis and livery. These are both old, established and connected enough to be regulated, in New York City for example, by the Taxi and Livery Commission.
My first few Uber drivers were dudes picking up some extra bucks, or so it seemed. The rest — including all the recent ones — have been livery drivers taking advantage of one more way to get a fare. Some had as many as three dedicated cell phones on their front seat: one for Uber, one for Lyft, and one for whatever car (livery) service they otherwise work for. Here are their names, in reverse chronological order: Jeffrey (whose real name was Afghanistani), Heriberto, Malik, Abdisalam, Fernando, Jourabek, Maleche, Namgyal, Mohammad, Rafael, Maged, Shahin, Imtiaz, Shaafi and Conrad. That last one was my first, in Santa Barbara.
Rather than being a new way to “share rides,” ABCS is a great hack on dispatch — a function of taxis and car services that has long been stuck in the walkie-talkie age.
But it also hacks much the whole car category as well. Why spend $300/month on a lease, or $30k for a car, plus the cost of gas, tolls, insurance and upkeep, when you’ll spend far less just calling up rides? And every ride is friction-free and fully accountable? (Even to the extent that every charge is easy to post in an expense account.) Cars are already becoming generic. And already we have a generation coming up that gives a much smaller damn about driving than did previous ones — at least in the U.S. All that aspirational stuff about independence and style doesn’t matter as much as it used to. How long before GM, Ford and Toyota start making special models just for Uber and Lyft drivers? (In a way Ford did that for years with Lincoln Town Cars. Not coincidentally, several of my Uber drivers in New York and New Jersey have been in black Town Cars. Another fave: Toyota Avalons.
Anyway, I think we are amidst omany disruptions that caused by app-based ways to shrink the distance between supply and demand. Changes within ABCS are happening rapidly and in real time. Example: SheRides. Here’s one story about it.
Whatever else ABCS does, driving still won’t be a way to get rich. At best it will be a stepping stone to jobs that pay better and involve more marketable skills. So to me one question is, What are the next stones? And, Does the emergence of ABCS give workers on the supply side — other than those running the companies — a lift?