Saturday, June 6, 2015

Why I'm Boycotting Uber--And Why You Should, Too

I came across this story some time ago, and it gave me some reason to reflect on my personal experience with Uber.  I share it in the hope that it will provide some context to the story, and to the anger that motivates the protests.

As you no doubt know, Uber is one of the so-called "ride-sharing" services that has sprung up in our so-called "sharing" economy, where personal assets are leveraged in an attempt to turn them into a source of income.  Of course, one of the things that the so-called "sharing" economy has in common with traditional economies is the fact that the profits are never truly "shared."  In fact, Uber is just another example of how the 1% economy works:  profits are privatized by Uber's investors and executives, and all of the risks of a traditional taxicab/limousine service (including those of personal and property injury, as well as day-to-day fleet maintenance) are socialized among Uber's drivers.  A pretty good deal for almost everyone--well, except for Uber's passengers, who may or may not get an experienced driver, or the drivers themselves, who bear the brunt of passenger anger over Uber's predatory pricing practices, or the public, which is at risk of seeing insurance rates go up as accidents began to accrue from the combination of angry passengers and inexperienced drivers.  But, for the investors, for a time at least, beautiful stockholder value will be created.

Anyway, since I'm grinding my axe against Uber, I might as well engage in a little bit of full disclosure:  some time ago, I decided to apply to become an Uber driver.  My wife and I have an empty nest, we both are at a point in our lives where a little extra income wouldn't hurt, and it would, if nothing else, have been an opportunity to report on the so-called "sharing" economy from the front lines.

It might have been.  Except for one thing.  Uber turned me down.

Its reason for doing so, allegedly (or, at least, this is what I was told in their rejection e-mail), was that I had an unacceptable driving record.  That certainly would have been a valid reason for turning me down.

Or it would have been, if it was true.  But it wasn't.  My driving record is clean.  And the copy of my record, which I received from the investigative company that works for Uber, reflected that fact.  But there was something on my driving record that might have given Uber a little cause for pause.

My date of birth.

I'm 58.  I make no bones about it.  I'm not ashamed of my age.  But I suspect that Uber wasn't too happy about it.  I have heard of reports that they don't hire older divers, allegedly because of complaints by customers who want younger, prettier drivers to look at. 

It's fair to ask, however, whether that's the real reason Uber might not want drivers of, ahem, a certain age.  Are they afraid that those drivers will want more money for there services?  Are they afraid that those drivers will be more aware of their rights (especially as it relates to age discrimination?  Are they, perhaps above all, afraid that older drivers are more likely to organize in order to protect their rights?

If so, I think those are pretty reasonable fears.  The Slate story is evidence of that, showing that--sacre bleu!--in France, organized workers are standing up to Uber.

I think that all of us should stand up to Uber.  Don't patronize its service, or any similar service (e.g., Lyft).  Insist on having your local transportation needs provided by a licensed, insured, unionized cab driver who is a true professional and who is being recognized and treated like one by his or her employer.  Yes, you'll pay a little more.  But you may pay a lot more with Uber, if you're a victim of its "surge pricing" practice.  And you won't be contributing to the construction of an economy in which a few get the goldmine and everyone else gets the shaft.

In fact, don't just stand up to Uber.  Stand up to the whole 1% economic system.  Because any system that doesn't work for 100% of us doesn't deserve to survive.  And if history (which conservatives used to study) is any guide, it won't.

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