By Lauren C.
“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”-Henry Ford
The digital revolution has inspired countless gadgets and gizmos which have rendered older concepts of communication and transportation obsolete. The trend began with the rise of the automobile industry when entrepreneurs sought after ways for people to travel from Point A to Point B faster. When the automobile was invented, it wasn’t until large scale production of the automobile became commonplace that the working class could afford to take part in the auto craze.
The taxi cab is one type of vehicle that has become an American staple; a simple means for those to hitch a ride without worries of parking, drinking and driving, or leaving the car at the airport. Is it possible that someone has outdone this classic American means of transportation? Meet Uber, a digital alternative to an old fashioned method of travelling from Point A to Point B.
Uber is a ridesharing company that uses a smartphone application to manage rides between riders and drivers. Users download the application to their phone and then can then request a ride from drivers without ever having to make a phone call. The company is less regulated than taxi cabs, which has resulted in cheaper fees and more luxurious cars and pickups. This has made Uber enemy number one for taxi companies, who are burdened with heavy regulations and stuck with generic yellow vehicles for transport.
The lack of regulations on Uber has also led to its share of serious problems. For example, Uber employees have allegedly pretended to be customers in order to book and cancel rides from Lyft, another competitor. This has cost Lyft time and money and has allowed critics to accuse Uber of participating in dirty business practices. There have also been several instances of women being abducted or assaulted by Uber drivers, as drivers are not subject to the same rigorous background checks as taxi cab drivers.
The final icing on the cake came from an off the cuff remark by the senior executive of Uber, who suggested that the company should hire its own team of researchers to find out personal information about journalists who had written negative stories on Uber, including the alleged sexual assault stories. This caused a public relations firestorm, where an Uber spokeswoman had to backtrack the comments, claiming that “These comments do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”
Uber will probably survive the controversy with some public relations help. They can devise a better method to root out dangerous drivers, and conduct more extensive background checks on new hires. After all, Uber is worth $18.2 billion due to investors, who clearly have faith in the product. Forbes has praised Uber, saying that “over the past 100 years, the quality of cars has soared, but the notion of being driven around in a top-quality car by a driver was still somewhat of a distant concept. That is, until Uber.” Many experts believe in the digital revolution that brought about Uber, and are confident in the company’s ability to offer a viable alternative to older methods of transportation.
The biggest problem that Uber faces in the foreseeable future are regulations. These would prevent Uber from choosing the types of vehicles they use for transportation and it may eventually effect their pricing structure. While regulation may help sort out the problems of unqualified drivers being hired, it will bring the company to the same level as the taxi. Without the competitive spark that a lack of regulations brings, Uber’s public relation nightmares will seem insignificant to the problems they would face in the future. It is yet to be seen what lawmakers decide to do about regulating Uber, and it would behoove the company to portray a positive image of themselves for the very people who might change them forever.