3 Dirty Truths About the Rideshare Industry That Uber Doesn’t Want You to Know
When Uber burst onto the scene in 2009, it seemed almost too good to be true. Rides were cheap, cars were driven by humans, life was good. But around 2018, rideshare companies started making their heel turn. Prices increased for passengers, and it started becoming clearer that drivers — many of whom had been elbowed out of the regulated taxi industry — were getting a somehow even shittier end of the stick.
Watch “If Rideshare Apps Were Honest,” the latest in our Honest Ads series, to learn who actually benefits from this objectively awful deal. And read below to learn more about how rideshare companies and their investors take advantage of both riders and drivers.
Being the ‘Affordable Alternative’ Was Always Going to Be Temporary
For the first few years Uber existed, your rides were essentially on the house. Or, more specifically, they were being subsidized by angel investors with dollar signs in their eyes and about 10 years to kill. But in retrospect, it was clearly just drug-dealer marketing tactics: Get ‘em hooked for cheap, and they’ll keep coming back for more, no matter how expensive and dangerous it becomes.
Starting around 2018, Uber began quietly raising its rates. They cleverly hid this by offering cheaper options, like sharing a ride with another stranger, and with “temporary” surge pricing. All told, fares rose a total of 83 percent between 2018 and 2022.
All they really had to do was starve out the taxi companies; it was a simple waiting game. As long as an Uber ride was cheaper than a taxi ride, cabbies were losing their livelihoods, and many were being forced out of the industry entirely. Once Uber felt like they’d decimated the competition, and that you, the consumer, no longer had a viable alternative, they started raising their rates.
At this point, it seems like they’ve lost control entirely, and capitalism itself has the wheel. The CEO of Uber was recently asked how much a three-mile ride in Manhattan was, and he was off by 250 percent. The CEO! There’s no clearer indication that their focus is on profit above all else.
A Constant Supply of Human Bodies Is Core to Their Business Model
We’re not talking about the unfathomable amount of customers — 36 percent of Americans have used a rideshare service, and Uber clocked over 7 billion rides in 2022. Unlike most other tech crazes, the human capital isn’t the user; it’s the driver. In order to drive a profit, they suck up drivers’ vitality and humanity — and their car’s precious mileage — like they’re unconscious bodies in one of the Matrix’s endless goop baths.
Because America decided long ago that walkable cities = communism or whatever, people are often forced to spend the bulk of their wealth on cars, just to survive. Driving for Uber means putting the most expensive asset you own on the line with every drive. A bachelorette with tummy trouble could set you back hundreds of dollars, and an accident could wipe out your wealth entirely. But even if nothing goes wrong, a full-time Uber driver can put 50,000 miles on their car in a year.
The only way to afford that level of maintenance is to drive even more. It’s a physically demanding, emotionally draining job. And the idea that “you are your own boss” kind of flies out the window when you realize: You’re actually at the mercy of a star-based social credit system. Your income depends on your navigation, mechanical and hospitality expertise. If you can’t cut it, or have a stroke of bad luck, it’s no skin off Uber’s back — there are hundreds of other desperate motorists in your area who are happy to take your meager piece of the pie.
They’re Effectively Above the Law
These companies have been able to skirt costly, time-consuming regulations that certified taxis have to abide by, for one crucial reason: They’re not taxi companies, they’re tech companies.
That also means they’re no stranger to the lobbying game. They spend millions of dollars every year to get their way in state and federal courts. And often, when things don’t shake out the way they’d hoped, they just ignore the laws. What’s the American gerontocracy going to do about it? The generation that warned us we’d “never have a calculator in our pocket” could spend 100 years trying to reach a consensus on what the founding fathers would think about selling geolocation data to third-party advertisers.
Uber is so high on its own supply, they sometimes tapdance right up to the line of legality. In 2017, they were caught using software they developed specifically to identify cops. If they were operating in a city they weren’t supposed to be in, they’d activate a program they called “Greyball,” which would keep their drivers from giving rides to anyone they determined might be cop-adjacent, in order to avoid sting operations. And that’s just one thing they got caught doing! Who knows what else they’ve been cooking up behind the scenes.
Watch “If Rideshare Apps Were Honest” to learn more about the seedy underbelly of the rideshare industry.