My friends have often told me that a repeated catchphrase of mine is, “I’m calling an Uber!” One friend in particular has informed me that I will spend most of my twenties calling for an Uber. I usually express my need for an Uber in the midst of a heated argument, or when I am metaphorically raising my hands in frustration. If I am immersed in a conversation that I want to leave, or if I am faced with a moment of boredom, I usually exult a need for an Uber. And to be quite frank, I do use Uber very often (which is the reason for why it’s such a frequent visitor of my diurnal vocabulary). I absolutely abhor the commuter rail, the sticky and dusty residue I am assaulted with whenever I enter a cart immediately dampening my mood. Sitting in cars (albeit belonging to strangers) has always seemed to be the more hygienic option. And thus my complete dependence on Uber was born. But while I use Uber, and UberEats, incredibly often (so often that just recently, my account moved up to Platinum benefits), and am incredibly prideful of my 5.0 star rating (I’m sorry, I just had to throw my absolutely perfect rating somewhere in this article), I am not unaware of the company’s sordid history of how it treats in contractors.
I say “contractors,” because it is an essential distinction when it comes to understanding the company; Uber does not actually hire employees, but it does hire contractors. Because individuals who work for Uber are technically ‘contractors,’ they automatically lose all the benefits that an employment contract may hold. Drivers have “no vacation pay, no overtime pay, no health benefits, and none of the workplace protections that employees can expect” (1). Such restrictions go hand in hand with the job of an Uber driver being almost completely controlled by the company, and being unable to properly negotiate better conditions. Of course, it may seem that the contract nature of the job would yield such results, but Uber is not some simple start-up company that can get away with unaddressed issue. Uber is a giant, and so has the means to act more responsibly and ethically, and should do so.
The vehicles themselves have negative impacts on cities. The San Francisco Country Transportation Authority estimated that “ride-hailing companies added 5,700 vehicles to city streets during weekday peak hours, increasing to 6,500 on Fridays, and that there were fifteen times more ride-hailing vehicles than taxis” (1). In cities where traffic congestion is a major concern, Uber only adds to it. Cities such as New York and L.A. most likely feel the effects of urban ride-sharing vehicles the most. With so many vehicles on the road solely devoted for ride-sharing purposes, and the carbon emissions from them, its clear to assume that the environment would feel the negative impacts of Uber as well.
Uber, as well as other ride-sharing companies, have also been rightly criticized for discrimination. The company could easily be called ableist, as there is a lack of wheelchair-accessible services. Drivers have been known to “refuse rides from or even attack black, gay, lesbian, and trans passengers” (1). In my experience, every driver I have had has been highly rated, respectful, and safe (and I’ve had a lot of drivers), but such reported instances cannot go unnoticed.
I am against advocating to completely cease any use of the app. As someone who relies on Uber heavily for transportation purposes, I think this approach is both misguided and infeasible. But I do believe in cushioning the company’s practices through small actions. These actions include always tipping drivers after the ride, and rating them above three stars, since low ratings can easily threaten their future as an Uber driver. I also try to skip the Uber when I least need it. But these are all small actions. What really needs to happen is for the company to look introspectively at itself, and reconsider the implications it has on its contractors, cities, and the environment.