Uber’s “sharing economy” assertions are a dangerous nonsense

Apart from the global sabotage techniques employed by Uber and its overt chic marketing practices, there is also an intensifying attempt to intellectualise its services as a legitimate libertarian consequence of free market economics.

by David Sangiorgio

Of particular concern have been ‘experts’ from outside the transport sphere precipitously entering into the conversation, injecting their own views about the benefits of the “sharing economy” on the passenger service framework.

The problem is, that most of these experts are muddling the concept of the “sharing economy” platform and trying to replicate it with a hybrid into the established ‘driving for reward’ found in taxis. The repercussions of intellectually undermining the established transit framework, while embracing a self-effacing alternative such as Uber, is that it fogs the debate for the average transit commuter, entices patronage by deception and eventually encourages vote seeking politicians to jump aboard and politicise the entire process.

Worrying developments, instigated by the juvenile arm of the Western Australian Liberal Party, forced the Uber issue into the political debate at the 2014 State Liberal Party Conference. Likewise, the same proponents of the Young Liberals tried a similar, but slightly more latent strategy at last year’s Federal Liberal Party Conference. Due to the lobbying and infiltrative techniques used by energetic Uber representatives, the results of both motions were unsurprisingly supported by the majority of the rank and file. This has culminated in the Western Australian transport minister’s declaration to legalise Uber passenger services by mid-2016 in line with similar changes in NSW and the ACT.

Equally disturbing has been the way Uber has attempted to infiltrate tertiary students’ consciousness by promoting free and subsidised services in conjunction with the university sector at university open days. These innovative and somewhat unethical marketing techniques have triggered a “herd mentality” following, especially amongst the young intelligentsia, giving Uber continual market success, not just from the misinformed, but also the chattering classes.

The political and intellectual impulsion to promote the Uber model as a genuinely unique transit option, by deceptively galvanising future politicians and intellectuals, raises serious concerns about illegitimacy, lawlessness and misinformation. That has barely fazed Uber’s continued march, relying on the powerful ambiguity of social networking to ramp up its service provisions and wrongfully promote itself as a significant member of the “sharing economy”. This has been achieved while flaunting the law and completely undermining the peer to peer service and reward structure offered by the already established taxi model. Hence, the collaborative consumption model argument used by Uber to justify their upstart radical position, fails to account for the fact that service reciprocation is replaced by the exchange of a fee for services rendered. That alone makes their collaboration mantra, a deceptive form of propaganda and intellectually inapt as they perform the identical services currently deployed by the taxi mode.

Notwithstanding its corporate bullying techniques, Uber offers nothing new to the transit community other than a claim to an innovative algorithm geared towards connecting its drivers with consumers. Inevitably, even that technology is about to be superseded by a number of superior technological alternatives currently being considered by the taxi industry.

Of particular concern has been how quickly the proponents for transit change have neglected the similarities both uber and taxis offer. Like uber, taxi driving is an entry level occupation that permits self-employment, flexible work times, allows for immediate contact and reward with the public through the use of privately owned vehicles, gives the driver the capacity to choose what areas they wish to work in and lastly lets the driver establish a private network of customers. Therefore, the taxis modus operandi premise continues to be entrenched on the same transit fundamentals currently propagated by Uber. In reality Uber has introduced a new lexicon to help define its absurd position, ramping up the notion that they are providing employment opportunities while utilising both underused private vehicles and an apparently latent workforce.

Uber’s primary role has not been to integrate and appropriate itself into the transit sector for the primary service of the community, but to subvert and replace it with an ulterior exploitive model. Its plan has been to use draconian anarchist tactics, economically intellectualise its flawed model and stealthily politicise for change.

The fact that taxis are compliant and regulated should not undermine the significant part they continue to play as members of the transit economy, nor should they be disrupted and replaced by a recalcitrant interloper offering identical service for reward provisions.

Of course it would be a different matter if Uber was altruistically and primarily inclined to set up a ride sharing peer to peer system, where reward came only in the form of service reciprocation. The fact that its “driver partners” are paid and that Uber receives a percentage of that reward signifies their false premise of being legitimate participants of the sharing economy.

Of greatest concern is that the public and politicians are being deceptively led away from questions challenging Uber’s legitimacy, while continuously asserting its uniqueness as a transit provider of the “sharing economy”. Questions encompassing the lack of passenger safety provisions incorporating audio and visual infrastructure, uncertain liability and third party insurance guarantees and deficiencies in driver/vehicle vetting must be answered. The taxi industry adheres to these conditions while maintaining its transit status, whereas Uber continues to try and deviate the argument to thought bubbles and social disruption. It’s an illusionary trick and many have fallen for it in spades.

Evidence indicates that Uber is clearly worth more than the taxi industry, but no one is able to explain what it is Uber brings to the table to warrant these absurd valuations. Uber produces nothing and similar to the taxi industry relies on the service provisions offered by its drivers. If you take the Uber driver away, the Uber factor becomes negligible and worthless. Ironically, Uber and its lobbyists are helping to create the very cabal that the taxi industry has been accused of perpetuating and profiting from in the past. Over inflated taxi plate values are now being replaced by the artificially value inflated top heavy Uber model. Current valuations of Uber make no sense considering that Uber brings minimal infrastructure to the table and is virtually reliant on its “driver partners” to inject it with funds.

The simple facts are that the role Uber plays is a more exploitive defacto version of the prominent role already established by Taxi Dispatch Services (TDS) such as Swans and Black/White. Aside from the disproportionate valuations and misappropriations, the deleterious outcomes for its “driver partners”, tech savvy customers and deceived investors will become more evident once the Uber effect unravels. Certainly at this early stage it is the hard working taxi driver who is having to endure the greatest disruption and loss due to the deregulated atmosphere that Uber has helped to create. As compelling as the “sharing economy” platform may be, in the case of the passenger service industry, Uber’s unique claim to it is flawed and its “Ponzi” business model ultimately unsustainable. •

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OZ Cabbie February 2017

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