My Uber Boycott Is Finally Paying Off

I'd like to say that I've never given Uber money, but that wouldn't be true. Not exactly. I did give Uber money once, years ago, when I had no other option. The company promptly ripped me off, and I wasn't surprised. Why not? I worked in the same office as Uber in its early days. I could sense that it was evil from the start.

Image: Uber / Adam Clark Estes

Now that the bricks of Uber's multibillion-dollar edifice are officially tumbling down, exposing the company's noxious and abusive inner workings, my boycott feels like it's paying off. Obviously, it's not actually paying off. I'm not making any money by avoiding Uber during the crumbling period of Silicon Valley's once-beloved house of capitalism. (Although I certainly saved a lot of money by boycotting Uber.) Uber's fall is paying off in the form of what I'd call moral dividends. I spent years arguing with friends, not only pointing out that Uber seemed like a bad company run by bad people but also making the case that giving money to a company like that would only enable those bad people to do more bad things. I was not wrong.

Before I end up sounding too smug, let's just review the latest Uber news.

The company's CEO, Travis Kalanick, is on the cover of Time Magazine underneath a flaming pile of Uber cars. The illustration is designed to look like the Uber app, and Kalanick has a half-star rating. "UBER FAIL" reads the headline, and the accompanying feature tells the story of a company in crisis.

Image: Time

Following an investigation into sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, Kalanick is taking a leave of absence for an undetermined period of time, as the company attempts to overhaul its historically tumultuous inner workings. A week before this news, a separate probe into over 200 allegations of harassment at Uber led to the firing of more than 20 employees. And quite fittingly, as Uber board member Arianna Huffington was explaining all of this to the company's staff on Wednesday, a fellow board member, David Bonderman, made a sexist remark in Huffington's direction that ignited outrage on social media. The old, white man resigned hours later.

So all that happened in the month of June, and June is only two thirds over. If the Time cover story is any evidence, nobody thinks this behaviour from Uber is acceptable any more. We probably haven't heard the last jaw-dropping revelation from the company's ranks either, as more and more employees leak embarrassing memos that cast Kalanick and his cronies as overgrown frat boys with keys to a castle they intend to trash. After all, it was a former employee who sparked the recent sexual harassment investigations, and she surely wasn't the only one made victim by Uber's toxic corporate culture.

None of this should surprise you, though. Uber's been a toxic company for years. By the time my friends started raving about Uber, I had grown even more sceptical of this new company that ignored local regulations and trampled on the taxi industry in its grand quest for global dominance. It seemed obvious early on that Uber could even become dangerous, since the company didn't appear to vet or train its drivers properly.

I knew this about Uber because, very coincidentally, I had worked alongside their New York team in a Brooklyn co-working space called the Yard. A freelance journalist at the time, I'd rented a desk and sat right outside of the Yard's conference rooms, where Uber employees in their early 20s trained aspiring Uber drivers. The training amounted to Uber employees teaching drivers how to use the company's app and sending them off to pick up passengers. Something about the whole exchange seemed unusual, even irresponsible.

Within a year or two, stories of Uber drivers abusing passengers and Uber passengers abusing drivers started to emerge with alarming frequency. There was a terrifying incident in 2014, when an Uber driver held a passenger prisoner during a high-speed police chase. Later that year, Uber customers filed a class action lawsuit against the company, because Uber started to charge a "safe rides fee" after an Uber driver beat a passenger's face in with a hammer.

And who could forget 2015, when a drunk Taco Bell executive assaulted his Uber driver for not obeying his orders? This was around the same time Uber was starting to catch heat for refusing to treat its drivers like employees and offer basic benefits such as health insurance. The year 2015 was also when urban planning experts started to shout about how Uber's purported mission to revitalise cities and solve their transportation problems was utter crap.

Suffice it to say, the events of 2016 did not make Uber look any better, either. The driver benefits debate raged on, as Uber started paying out millions of dollars in fees for violating regulations. Then there was the Uber driver-turned-serial-killer who murdered six people in Michigan in between picking up passengers. Don't even get me started on Uber's secret programs to dupe Lyft drivers into picking up non-existent passengers and to evade law enforcement officers who were investigating the company's possibly illegal activities.

You get the point. Uber is a bad company run by bad people, and it always has been. After witnessing the dodgy training sessions and reading about Uber in the news, I decided early on to boycott the service. My friends would eventually drag me into Ubers they had ordered. I insisted on taking yellow cabs whenever I had the choice. Meanwhile, my sister actually became an Uber driver. She quit after her first ride, because she felt unsafe.

Embattled CEO Travis Kalanick Takes Leave Of Absence In Wake Of Uber's Sexual Harassment Investigation

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick will take a leave of absence from the company he founded and the company will make changes to its culture, following a highly-anticipated investigation into sexual harassment and toxic workplace culture at the ride-hailing startup.

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Like I said at the start, though, I did pay for one Uber ride. It was a rough day. I'd just moved into a new apartment and decided to take the train to IKEA, where I bought a bunch of flat-pack furniture for an affordable price. The only problem was that the black car service was completely booked and regular taxis weren't allowed to pick people up at IKEA. Uber was my only option, so I downloaded the app and picked the cheapest service available. After loading my things into the trunk, I got in the backseat annoyed, and the driver informed me that since I'd put stuff in the trunk, he was required to charge me the most expensive rate. I argued. He said it was Uber policy. I argued. He offered to leave me at IKEA, and I relented. He told me to ask Uber for a refund. Uber never responded to my request.

Looking back, my bad Uber experience was actually pretty good. I did get ripped off, but I didn't get assaulted, sexually harassed, discriminated against, bankrupted, or any of the other awful things on Uber's long list of abuses. That one experience did make me feel better about my boycott, like I'd been right all along. But what's happening with Uber lately, man, it feels like vindication.

The only problem? It doesn't feel good. Uber's coup de gr√Ęce is simply proof that the company has screwed over a lot of people since its doomed inception eight years ago. I'm not happy the company is finally getting its just deserts. I'm honestly as pissed as ever that Uber even exists, that people like Travis Kalanick got rich by abusing others, that the company will probably continue to do bad things and make billions of dollars for years to come. That's what we've come to expect from Silicon Valley's brand of capitalism, though. It sucks, but it's what's left of the American dream.


Comments

    The idea of morally boycotting Uber for the reasons stated but then catching yellow cabs instead is pretty hilarious. Poorly vetted or trained drivers - yep. Sexual assault - yep. Violence - yep. Rip offs - yep.

      I can only upvote once, but consider mine worth ten... nay... twenty.

    I'm not sure "Coup de Grace" means what you think it does.

    Also, smug preachy moral superiority doesn't really come off well for you.

    I find this article hilarious being posted in Australia, where people were campaigning to legalise Uber to break up the taxi industry and high prices. Uber and its concept of freelance drivers working on their spare time was hailed as a revolution - particularly here where taxis cost a fortune.

    Now the scandals have come out it's "toxic" and boycotting it is a noble cause, especially because it crushed the taxi industry and its casual employment concept didn't cater to people who wanted a full time job. Yeah, the CEO and its hierarchy are toxic as fuck, but trying to claim the moral high ground on anything other than that seems pretty ridiculous.

    Also capitalism's bad guys hur dur.

      Unregulated capitalism can be bad. There's a lot of risk allowing Uber free reign. The taxi industry is a joke, yes, but do we so quickly jump into bed with the next one that comes along without questioning it's horrible attitude to drivers?
      Uber and AirBNB make me uneasy, not enough to proclaim a self righteous boycott. But the direction we're headed in can't be for the benefit of all.

        Not necessarily suggesting that an unrestricted market is the way forward, but there was enough anti-capitalist snark in the article for me to point it out.

        Uber's model (and thus cheap fares) were based on casual drivers doing work in their free time - same as Deliveroo or any similar outfits. But people have started to treat them as full time jobs because there's no barrier to entry. Hence 'employees' complain when they're trying to force change a business model that wasn't designed for them in the first place. Not that Uber do much to discourage this.

        The taxi industry needed a shake up in Australia though and Uber (or similar) was needed. The taxi rort shows that protectionism doesn't work either.

          even if they're working one hour a month, the drivers deserve more support than they're getting from Uber at the moment. Lyft in the US offers plenty of support for arbitration and disputes, and even gives passengers the ability to tip their driver for exceptional service.

          The irony is that the Taxi industry in Australia had years to roll out a similar platform.

    It was an unethical company from the get go. It went out of it's way to flout existing laws and registrations, and then got all the beard wearing hipsters on board by appealing to the fact it was hip, cutting edge & cheap.
    It was cheap because it didn't adhere with all the same basic regulations it's competitors did. Then those same hipsters got upset when the unregistered, untrained drivers ended up being rapists, and serial killers.
    Only an unethical company builds it's whole business model on flouting the law as long as it can to achieve market dominance.
    I say close the whole damn thing down.
    But there's too much money on the line now isn't there?

    So... we have a few bad eggs that tarnished the name of a great idea and company. Are you going to make all those people who are innocent and work via them, pay for the idiots mistakes?

    Let's be clear - we have WAY more evil in this world! Are you boycotting Apple/Microsoft/google? Hell, do you shop at Coles/Woolworths? All of them are evil in, well, a lot of ways. What about those companies with CEOs and other employees who get away with bad stuff? I can guarantee you there is just as much evil behind them that just hasn't come to light.

    By boycotting your just making the innocent who are trying to make a living pay for the idiots crimes. Do the right thing - stand up and get those who are bad removed or punished - don't punish the innocent like a f'ing moron. Your just making yourself sound like a moron to me, where you are tying to make yourself sound like a champion of the people.

      So... we have a few bad eggs that tarnished the name of a great idea and company

      "Bad eggs".

      Are you referring to the the misogynistic CEO & founder, the sexual harrassment of women at the company itself, or the rapist drivers?

        Rapist drivers...

        Are we talking Uber or Yellowcabs here... I mean, if we're going open slather and generalising, both companies have had this issue.

          That's true, but the comment I responded to was referring to Uber, so...

    It could well be argued the taxi industry in Australia has been extremely shonky for a long time, the anti competitive and predatory practices of Cabcharge are well known and proven.
    There is other local competitors to Uber but all are smaller and have a way to go to catch up.

    I'd still trust an Uber over a taxi any day.
    Do I think Uber is 'good'? No.
    Do I think our existing taxi's are 'good'? Hell no.

    The other week I had to get to the airport and in Australia, you generally have to be there an hour before a domestic flight so I called a taxi/cab at about seventy-five minutes before my flight time. Twenty-five minutes later I gave up and booked an Uber and inside 3 minutes was on my way.

    I don't care if they are shonky if they can get me where I need to be on time.

    While I understand that the article has been written by an American and probably featured on the American version of the site, only to be brought to the AU version as well, the two scenarios don't actually play out as being comparable.

    NYC Taxi: Base Fare: $2.50, Per Minute: $0.50, Per Mile: $2.50, Minimum Fare: $0 (technically)
    NYC Uber: Base Fare: $2.55, Per Minute: $0.35, Per Mile: $1.75, Minimum Fare: $8

    Aus (Bris) Taxi at Tariff 2 (19:00 - 23:59):
    Base Fare: $4.30 (+$1.50 if booked), Per Minute: $0.82, Per km: $2.17, Minimum Fare: $0
    Aus (Bris) Uber:
    Base Fare: A$2, Per Minute: A$0.35, Per Km: A$1, Minimum Fare: A$7.50

    We're not talking about a marginal difference (in Brisbane at least, which I believe has the highest taxi fares in Aus?) and I can understand the boycott on moral grounds, however when the competition in an area has a monopoly, and a grossly over-priced one at that, a few bad apples will not deter the general populace from using a service that, by and large here, is incredibly efficient, clean, friendly and dependable.

    Senior Management are always viewed, except on the rare occasions, as not being the true indication of a company and the front-line staff are where you're going to retain or attract new business.

    I've never had a bad experience with Uber Aus, and I've not heard of anyone else here having a bad situation either. It's true that their drivers have gone downhill since the taxi drivers everyone was trying to get away from started migrating over and renting cars to be driven using Uber, however on the whole the service is still far superior to taxis.

    I appreciate what the journo has written about, but I don't feel that his points really hold any merit in Australia so I'm not really sure what the article was trying to do?

      catching an uber is easily 1/3 cheaper than an AU taxi...i literally couldnt give two shits about how the company is run, if they can knock 1/3 - 1/2 the cost off the same trip a taxi would give, in a nicer vehicle...ill be using that service.

        And if, by some miracle, a business with the impossible financial structure - one that acquires $2 billion a year losses - of Uber took market dominance, the first thing that would happen is those sacred "1/2 cost" low prices would skyrocket to a level that would make a limo look like a fucking bargain. That's why they are engaged in an all-or-nothing war to achieve monopoly: so that they CAN jack prices way up, and customers will have no competitor to turn to. Bet you won't be so happy to "be using that service".

          Heck, we hired a Limo to take us to the airport in Hawaii once because it was cheaper than a taxi.

          on the few occasions that i actually use uber (going out once every couple of months) its hardly an actual consideration.

          regardless of whether they 'might' (its all just speculation) jack up prices, having another ride for fare service in australia IS GOOD FOR COMPETITION...the existing monopoly resulted in the current jacked prices.

        I feel the same about my eggs. Cage eggs are almost half price of the barn-laid or free range eggs. I also couldn't give two shits about the hens, as long as my eggs are cheap!

        Last edited 20/06/17 11:49 am

          the interesting part about caged vs free range is the difference of approximately 4 chickens per cage....

          free range = cage with less chickens in it.

    To quote the CEO of Magellan Financial Group"Uber is a dumb investment idea". Who would want to try and achieve world domination of the taxi industry ? This industry barely scratches out a living in the best of economic times. Have you ever heard of a wealthy taxi driver ? So, why spend billions of dollars on trying to control an industry that doesn't have the historic or potential financial rewards to warrant such an expensive exercise ?

    Before I end up sounding too smug

    Too late by that point

    So let's see.
    You think Uber is a diabolical company because they ignore regulations and dodge fees. Okay, agreed.
    And yet, as a passenger, you didn't read the rules (ignored regulations), booked the wrong service to save money (dodged fees), and complained when you got caught and you even tried to argue with the driver. Are you joking? Either regulations and consequences are good or they are bad, but you can't just change your mind about them based on whether or not they apply to you. Stop being a wanker.

    I was a taxi driver for a short term job in Brisbane during the holidays many years ago, the money wasn't too bad on a good day, but on a quite day it could be horrendous.
    Most drivers will take home 50% of the money they take in during a shift and they are required to pay GST on that so they basically get about 45% of their takings for the shift into their pocket.
    The cab owner takes the other 50% and also pays GST on their share. so their 45% or so goes to pay the maintenance, rego, transaction fees and cab operator (Yellow, Black and White etc) fees.
    I looked into Uber and the take home money would have been worse than driving cabs so it was like HELL NO!

    Yes in Australia Cabcharge and the Cab Network operators are dodgy and corrupt and I believe that deregulating the industry some could work wonders, Uber is not the answer.
    I believe we need a central government run booking service that takes orders like Uber that takes a small amount of the cut to ensure it doesn't run at a loss, and that the government should still restrict the number of cabs that operate at any time to ensure supply and demand don't get to out of whack and destroy earnings for drivers but ensure that there are sufficient cars out there.
    So in short cabbies would stay independent contractors and would now supply their own cars and would no longer split the money with anyone, they would just have to pay so much of the fare to the government booking service.
    However you could take a private job and not pay any fee also.

      You want the government to steal Uber's idea. I'm fairly sure there are laws against that which even the government have to abide by.

        It's not an idea unique to Uber, the taxi companies did it long before Uber. All they did was put the service online and try to undercut the industry to make a quick buck. Problem is they treat everyone like crap

        Last edited 22/06/17 4:04 pm

          Ah, no. You're talking about having each driver independent, using their own car and having a centralised, online booking system. That's Uber's idea.

          Treat everyone like crap? Sounds like you're describing the taxi drivers around here before Uber when they could treat customers like crap and rip them off because they knew they had no competition.

    Author is obviously not from Australia. I'm in Townsville. Before Uber, after 2100h, Taxis are your only option. Last bus leaves the city at 2051, we don't have trains or trams or rickshaws, after 2100, Taxis were it.

    From work to home used to cost $24, IF I I walked to the taxi rank. Of course, because they were the only option, there was always a bunch of drunk wankers looking for a fight while waiting. If I called one it was $26 and I wait an hour or so. (I called one back in February because it was raining. I'm still waiting for it. Had to get my wife out of bed to come and get me)

    In comes Uber. 15 minutes I'm in the car on my way home. Cost me $16. Tell me why I should catch a taxi? Small business? That dog isn't going to hunt. The people driving for Uber, are quite often un-employed. Safety? What could be safer than being tracked by GPS, both my phone and the drivers. In car cameras? Nope, the taxis only agreed to allow them to be installed after a bunch of drivers were assaulted. They're not there for my protection. If I say I was assaulted by a driver, I can't get access to those recordings. They don't benefit me, but I still have to pay for them. Not getting ripped off? Nope, the only time you won't get ripped off by the taxis is when it's busy, because they make more money getting the next fare. If it's quiet, they'll take the longer/slower route. I've had taxis make a detour around an area that took us through 3 extra sets of traffic lights. With Uber, the quickest route is shown to the driver, they will even ask you if you're happy with that route.

    You're "moral boycott" is nothing more than self-righteous rant. You want the entire lot ripped down because the drivers are treated poorly? What happens to the drivers when that happens? What do they do then?

    You say yourself, Uber was your only option. Would you have preferred to be stuck at Ikea? For that matter, who takes the train to Ikea intending to buy furniture knowing that the taxis can't pick you up? And what the hell is a "black car service"?

    More evidence that this article has nothing to do with Australia. Giz is getting worse.

      US Giz is about as good as their President's twitter posts, and should be treated as such. I wouldn't be surprised if Buzzfeed had better articles.
      Aus Giz has some good writers though, although I suppose they have to somewhat conform to the parent company's ways.

        It'd be great to get some kind of flag or tag for what region the author comes from.

    Great article, you've hit the nail right on the head well done

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