Sexual harassment allegations. Trade secrets. A short-tempered CEO. All of these factors contribute to controversy surrounding Uber.
Uber is a transportation network founded in 2009 with employees around the world and headquarters in San Francisco. Lyft, its main competitor, also operates from headquarters in San Francisco, but is branded differently and used to be distinguished by a large pink mustache on every Lyft car. According to the SF Examiner, there are roughly 45,000 Uber and Lyft drivers in San Francisco, and that number continues to rise.
According to a 2017 survey by The Rideshare Guy, a blog and podcast for rideshare drivers, “An astounding 75.8 percent of Lyft drivers agreed with the statement that they were satisfied with their experience driving for Lyft, while only 49.4 percent of Uber drivers could say the same.” Forums on Uber’s website discussed the problems with Uber and the better environment of Lyft, citing Uber’s motto, “Everyone’s private driver”, showing the difference in culture to Lyft’s “Your friend with a car”. In an article from March of 2017, the L.A. Times summarized criticisms of Uber in the past year: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s ties to President Trump and monetary support for his campaign; multiple wide-ranging sexual harassment allegations from former employees; a lawsuit by Google over trade secrets theft, Uber’s senior VP resigning for not disclosing a sexual harassment claim, and videos showing Kalanick shouting explicitly at one of his drivers.
At the Urban School, 85 out of 100 students surveyed on their transportation service preferences said they use Lyft or Uber, with 42 using uber and 25 using Lyft. Some students even attributed the controversies surrounding Uber as a reason to stop using it.
“(The controversies) were one of the main reasons why I used Lyft when I was using a ridesharing service. I didn’t appreciate what Uber was doing in terms of trying to take over the market. Their travel ban protest was probably the main thing that pissed me off about Uber and made me use Lyft instead.” Said James Fusco (‘18), a former frequent rideshare user. When asked if it is valid to not use Uber due to its CEO’s remarks and actions, Fusco said, “Yeah it’s totally valid. But it’s also valid to ignore it because they offer a great product.”
In response to the question of whether it’s appropriate to not use Uber based on its politics, some students shared similar answers.
“I think that it’s totally valid. I mean, I use Uber because it’s cheaper than other options, like Lyft, and my schedule is so jam-packed that I don’t have the time to take public transportation,” said Jia Hui Ma (‘17). Ma, a daily user of Uber, described her experience with Uber as “satisfactory.”
Belle Davis (‘19) had a different critique on Uber. “Did you see the video of the CEO and the young woman in an Uber? The way he yelled at the driver? I don’t want to be associated with that. And that’s just one example. The way Uber took advantage of the travel ban was not ok,” Davis said.
CAPTION: A survey of 100 Urban School students, sent out on May 8th, 2017, students showed that more than 50 percent used Uber as their only rideshare service, compared to 30 percent for Lyft. Only 1 surveyed student used Flywheel/Taxi.
Uber’s popularity may be due to the fact that in some cases it is the cheapest transportation service. However, this may change. Recently, Uber has run into problems with governments around the world that rule in favor of taxing Uber drivers in the same category as other businesses.
The US hasn’t gone through with taxing Uber in the same manner, but given the worldwide trend, it’s a possibility. According to ABC News, “In February, an Australian court ruled that Uber drivers, like other taxi drivers, will have to pay the nation’s 10 percent goods and services tax (GST). Similarly, earlier this week, a London lawyer took the first step to sue Uber and demand that the company pay the UK’s 20 percent value added tax (VAT) on every ride. And most recently, on March 22, 2017, Canada unveiled plans to end Uber’s tax advantage by making it pay the GST, which ranges from 5 percent to 15 percent.”
To address some of this, Uber has partnered with WageWorks, an employee benefits company, to allow employees to use pretax earnings to pay for Uberpool, helping “commuters with WageWorks accounts save up to 40 percent on their UberPool rides under the program,” said Andrew J Hawkins, writer of The Verge magazine.
Teachers received this information at Urban through email on February 23rd, 2017. Kim Rodriguez, Urban School Payroll and Benefits Coordinator, first received the email and was the one who spread this commuter benefits opportunity to staff. “Ethically, I don’t agree with Uber and how they treat their employees … I don’t agree with anything that they stand for, but I had to let faculty know, because it is pre-tax deductions…I just want to let people know their options,” said Rodriguez.
In an interview with The Urban Legend on May 20th, Lyft CFO Brian Roberts said, “To enable commuter benefits (e.g., WageWorks), the vehicles used must hold 6 or more passengers to qualify (think minivans or larger SUVs). We are building our supply of these vehicles in SF and offering special incentives to drivers to deliver a similar experience. We have launched Lyft Line with commuter benefits in other cities. Your readers should expect that SF will have this option in the near future.”
As Uber and Lyft continue to gain popularity in San Francisco and around the country, many are posed with the dilemma of deciding whether personal morals and ethics are more important than price and ease of service. On students using Lyft instead of Uber, Roberts said, “Please thank the Urban student body for riding on the bright side and with their social conscience!”