Taxi app Uber is known the world over for providing fast, purse-friendly transport - plus for its ability to ruffle feathers. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick claims that despite its controversial status, his company’s boost to economies and job creation figures are unparalelled.

In London there are over 20,000 drivers on the Uber platform. In L.A there are 40,000 people. Chicago and Illinois can count 25,000 and Paris over 10,000. But is it really the great job creator it claims to be?

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Techworld reveals one LA taxi driver’s perspective on what he describes as the Silicon Valley startup’s lax attitude to privacy, labour rights and ethical payments. Buckle up.

Dear Uber,

Since your launch, Uber, you’ve improved customer wait times, driver accountability, vehicle cleanliness, and the cost of services as a whole. Yes, the public may like you, but it’s also because they don’t really know anything about you, other than what they observe from a backseat.

Let’s start with your claim about creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. It’s true, you’ve done that incredibly well, but since you’ve also put many taxicab drivers out of work, you’re really just helping to replenish the void you single-handedly helped create.

You also routinely promote your efforts to put more women and war veterans (in the US) to work by offering them a chance to drive with Uber, but have also made comments about replacing all of your drivers with self-driving cars.

Passenger privacy

I’m not sure it even exists anymore, and I wish I was kidding. Currently, you reserve the right to access a passenger's location at any time - provided the app is running in the background - and can access and save the contacts in a passenger's phone. This is incredibly disturbing. People rarely force-close their apps whenever they're not using them, which means they can easily be tracked by you at any given moment.

Further, what could you possibly want with every contact in someone’s phone? Is this being done for future advertising purposes, or are you intentionally trying to come off as Orwell's 1984?

While your passengers can allegedly "opt-out" of these provisions (on certain devices), most people don't even realise you’ve been afforded these types of permissions.  

The death of tipping

As far as driver compensation goes, let’s start with tips and how they’re not included in a large majority of your fares, including Uber X. According to class-action lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan, you began telling passengers a tip was included in the fare, so that the money a passenger spends on “your service” is considerably less than if they had chosen a competitor - like Lyft, who encourages you to leave a tip for a job well done.

As a result of these actions, drivers have begun suing you for tips they never received, and yet this practice of “no tipping” is still how things are being done today. As far as I’m concerned, this is what’s really happening: Passengers have a few different ways they can be picked up. One of those ways is called an Uber Taxi, and that particular type of ride does includes a tip built into the fare. But when a passenger orders an Uber X, they mistakenly think a tip is also included with that fare, as you haven’t exactly gone out of your way to differentiate between the two when it comes to gratuity.

Unfair fares

Next, let’s have a look at a typical driver scenario that tends to happen whenever there’s traffic in any congested city, at which time a driver can work for 50 minutes (from the time they receive a call to the time they end a call) and still only make $3.46 for their respective services. 

If a 50 minute driver utilisation period comes back at $8.00 and you deduct your 20 percent commission, the net amount drops to $6.40. Next, subtract $1.00 for a safe-ride fee and the amount drops to $5.40. And since drivers are taxed by the government like everyone else (say 15 percent), the amount actually comes out to $4.59. But what about petrol? If petrol costs an estimated $4.50 a gallon or £2 a litre in the UK and you’ve just used up a fourth of a gallon during that 50 minute period ($1.13), the amount actually drops to $3.46. This amount also fails to take into account vehicle maintenance or personal auto insurance, so it’s possible to take home nothing when events like this occur.

Surge pricing

We've all experienced it, but since it doesn't consistently happen, and not every driver will experience one of these fares during their shift, you can’t factor that into the median hourly wages, because what you've done for one driver you must invariably do for all.

So, why do you consider us independent contractors, - and why does it matter to the prosperity of the workforce?

By labeling drivers accordingly, you are exempt from paying an hourly minimum wage, healthcare coverage, social security taxes, or sick days. Which is why you’re predicted to make upwards of $2 billion (£1.2 billion) in profits this year alone.

That amount, as you can imagine, would be considerably less if you had the aforementioned expense of having to "employ” your drivers.

Acceptance rates

Shouldn’t your drivers at least have the choice to decide how much their services will cost, in addition to the ability to choose what calls they’d like to take? For example, what if a driver gets a passenger who’s wants to be driven into a bad neighborhood, but the driver feels uncomfortable?

Shouldn’t the driver have a right to decline that call? Well, for arguments sake, let’s say they do, and now they only have time to take one more call for the night, which will also be their last call for the next two weeks. What does their acceptance rating end up being for that week? According to my calculations, it’s 50 percent, which is well below the 90 percent required in order to maintain access to your driving platform.

Driver rating system

You’ve improved driver accountability through the utilisation of a driver rating system, but have yet to address any of the fundamental flaws that came along with it. Currently, customers can still rate a driver one star if they’ve had a bad day, are running late, or because they don't like surge pricing, and yet these ratings have an ability to get drivers banned from the app.

What if a driver with a “strong accent” routinely gets low ratings because some people have trouble understanding what they’re saying? Does your system account for that, too? Likewise, a driver can rate a passenger one star for throwing up in their car, and then get matched with them again at some point in the future.

On that note, have you checked in with your PR team lately? If not, please take a moment to Google “Uber news.” Once there, I’m certain you’ll find horror stories about disability discrimination, drivers fondling passengers (or themselves), homophobia, drug activity, or pedestrian injury. And yes, while these incidents were once considered an anomaly, I bet you’ve noticed an increase in their occurrence, right?

Maybe all those drivers were just exhausted and not thinking properly? The truth is, an underpaid driver - who needs the money - can drive for as many consecutive hours as they want, is motivated to do so, and you’ve just given passengers access to their backseat? Shouldn’t the life of a driver or passenger hold greater significance?

Just stop working for Uber then

I believe your service to be nothing more than a payday loan, which is why it continues to be relevant in today’s capitalistic society. You see, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you (Uber) make yourself out to be a great supplemental income, but all you’ve really done is allow ordinary middle class citizens the ability to trade-in the unused equity on their vehicles for a high interest payday loan. You know, where the financier generally takes a 20 percent fee for their services up-front?

Complicating things even further are your employment ads that don’t mince words. “Make $16/hr. or $696/wk. as a Partner Driver with Uber,” which manage to flood websites like Craigslist and Indeed on a daily basis, even though the amount you’re referring to generally applies to a driver who’s willing to work 40 hours or more in a seven day period.

Your amount also fails to include the cost of gas, taxes, insurance, or wear and tear on the vehicle, which can easily drop the hourly rate back down to minimum wage.

It’s also worth noting your intentions to flood the market with as many new drivers as possible, in that you’ll always receive a 20 percent commission on every call you can collect, with seasoned drivers waiting around longer and longer for their next call. And if drivers don’t like it, they can quit, right?

Many drivers are forced to continue driving with you even if they don’t want to. Why? Because you might be the only income they currently have, or perhaps it’s something as simple as an obligation to continue paying off their vehicle, which they financed or leased with your assistance.

And with predatory payments, it’s no wonder drivers are upset about their wages. This, however, can’t even compare to the drivers who are routinely being harassed, robbed, or injured in some way, and who continue to go through it alone, as you’ve done nothing to reassure them of their continued safety, and have not introduced any provisions that would prohibit a criminal or mentally incapacitated individual from getting into their vehicle. Tell me, if passengers are entitled to a driver background check, what type of safety assurance does a driver have?      

Insurance

Thousands of drivers are currently without the necessary type of car insurance to drive for Uber. When a driver has a passenger in the car, Uber’s insurance is supposed to cover any damages that may occur. When a driver does not have a passenger in the car, or is on their own personal time, their personal auto insurance is supposed to cover any damages that may occur.

It all seems pretty straightforward, except for the fact that a driver’s personal auto insurance does not cover commercial use at any time. However, as instructed, let’s go through the motions and see what happens to a driver when they are logged into your driver app, are on their way to a call, and are in a head-on collision: Step 1) The driver is supposed to refer the claim to their personal auto insurance carrier for coverage; Step 2) If their personal auto insurance carrier denies the claim, it’s up to you (Uber) to cover such losses under your insurance, and therein lies the problem.

First of all, drivers should not be seeking insurance coverage through their personal auto insurance carrier, as the accident didn’t occur on “personal time,” albeit the obviousness of such benefits to your (Uber’s) premiums.  

As of right now, thousands of Uber drivers are without a voice, as many of them are too afraid to speak out against you whenever a passenger asks if they like working for you, and passengers are left unable to act - even on their own accord - because they have not been properly informed. Accordingly, I’m asking you to please take a moment and think about why so many driver complaints never materialise in the news.

Perhaps it’s because our survival depends on our driver rating, and because passengers would likely rate drivers pretty low if we spent the entire ride complaining about the company we drive for?

“I really like the flexibility Uber affords me, and I get to meet a lot of cool people,” is what I tell my passengers.

As of September, 2015, you’ve updated your terms and conditions to include the following warning: “Uber does not guarantee the quality, suitability, safety or ability of third party providers. You agree that the entire risk arising out of your use of the services, and any service or good requested in connection therewith, remains solely with you.” In other words, “We know we accidentally approved former convicts to drive for our service at one time, we know we track you and save your contacts, and we know we’ve had a lot of incidents with drivers in general, but you’re on your own.” How are we supposed to keep picking people up and acting like everything’s OK?  

Regards,

Uber Driver, Los Angeles, California

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