Comment Sums Up The Uber Dilemma For Operators

Martin Romjue
Posted on August 22, 2016

(Creative Commons photo)

(Creative Commons photo)

No topic generates as many comments, heat and good ratings on our website like Uber-related fights — about fairness, prices, cooperation, etc. We know many of you like it. How to cover the subject of apps and transportation network companies (TNCs) is our biggest challenge, since the issues can be about as clear as mud.

We hear views from both ends. I get indignant comments whenever LCT covers a legitimate, legal chauffeured ride app such as Blacklane, GroundLink, or iCARS, accusing them of lowballing rates. We also hear from chauffeurs and operators who do business with Uber and aforementioned apps (more than you think) fed up with what they perceive as demonizing. Many operators like ride apps because they can make use of deadheads and fleet downtime, at a profit.

One thoughtful, provocative comment this week from an experienced chauffeur speaks to this ongoing industry tension, which you can see here. James, who picks up Uber rides at times, makes some excellent points, which I’d like to speak to:

First, I hope he’s doing business with Uber Black, SUV and/or Lux, instead of UberX or Uber Pool. This is an important distinction lost in the emotional debate about TNCs. I can’t speak for all 50 states, but in California, Uber Black-SUV-Lux vehicles bear TCP numbers, which means they are legal, licensed and registered like limo vehicles with the CPUC. Presumably, they follow the same rules. Even well-informed industry leaders have told me Uber Black is legit when registered like limos.

UberX. however, the largest tier of Uber service, along with Lyft, are the primary sources of all the global street drama. Much of the mainstream media misleadingly refers to Uber X as just “Uber,” so all the tiers get lumped in together.

UberX is what I call the Joe-Blow-with-a-Corolla service that attracts all too many criminals and boorish drivers trying to make a cheap buck off digital hitchhiking. UberX does not follow the same rules as taxicab services and limousine operations, and for anyone to patronize or drive for UberX undercuts the legitimate limousine and taxi industries. When UberX decides to adopt fingerprint background checks, properly insure and vet its drivers and vehicles, then they can be taken seriously. Until then, UberX deserves to every shred of bad publicity. And they’ve got a long way to go: Uber can’t even call itself what it is: A commercial ground transportation company. They cop out and hide behind the labels of “tech company” and “rideshare.” (Again, for those slow on the uptake: Sharing a ride is like sharing a sandwich. You give it away for free).

The fact an incessant parade of bad driver behavior gives us enough fodder for our “TNC Travesties Of The Week” feature says it all, and we’ll join the rest of the media in calling it out. There’s no excuse for this chronic public safety threat.

Now if you factor UberX and Lyft out of the TNC equation, you can see vast potential. Technology and apps can bring more quality rides to more people, and that’s a good thing. Raging against legitimate chauffeured or ride apps is like sitting outside of Wal-Mart, Subway, the Apple store, or Costco, and shaking your little fist. What’s the point? They exist because people like them, can afford them, and they make a profit. If a business follows the rules and operates legally, but through innovation manages to gain market share through economies of scale and more affordable products, why resent it? That’s what American business is all about, finding creative, more efficient ways to make life better by bringing more quality services and products to market.

I am well aware many tech-driven companies and services, including ride apps, lose money. But unless a business is a taxpayer bailed out sugar baby, like a big bank, the free market will eventually weed out those players lacking long-term financial staying power beyond the start-up years. Even Uber.

Technology deployed right can pull up vast segments of the middle classes into chauffeured car service. I will never fault a legitimate, legal, licensed honest limo operator who freely chooses to engage with a chauffeured app to gain some extra business. Just not UberX.

No one ever said a level, fair playing field never gets rough.

Related Topics: apps, Blacklane, Editor's Edge Blog, GroundLink, iCars, LCT editor, Martin Romjue, mobile technology, staying competitive, TNCs, Uber, UberX, vehicle apps

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Cliff Wright

     | about 4 years ago

    Very well said. We here in Orlando see it the same way

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