Douchey or Deadly: which Uber do you use?

Ever since the upscale alternative transportation startup Uber made the announcement a week or so ago that they’d be rolling out service in Ann Arbor, my Facebook stream has been overflowing with anti-Uber ads and articles. (See below.) Well, I just did a little poking around in hopes of finding out why, and it would appear that it’s part of a national campaign launched not too long ago by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association. Apparently, they aren’t ready to cede the taxi market to the likes of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar just yet, and they’ve decided to make a stand… by telling people repeatedly that, if they use these services, they could very well end up in a ditch, with their throats slit.

“Are you an ex-con? No problem. Become an uberX driver today!”, says the most recent headline on my feed.

It’s probably worth noting at this point that there are two sides of the Uber coin. There’s the relatively cost-effective ridesharing platform, which the company calls uberX. (That’s the one where riders are ferried around by ex-cons who want to kill them.) And then there’s Uber Black, the premium, high-end taxi service they operate. (Which appears to be mostly for douchebags.)

I’m admittedly not their target demographic. The mere mention of taking a cab in Ann Arbor causes me to roar with laughter. I mean, I know I lead a somewhat sheltered life, but, in recent memory, I can only remember seeing local cabs used in three instances; old people buying groceries, old people getting sent home from a bar, and old people going to see the doctor. (None of these scenarios, by the way, can be seen on the Uber website, which is filled with glamorous young people dashing back and forth between fabulous parties and high-end cocktail lounges.) I realize there are other reasons one might want to take a cab, even in a town as painfully small as Ann Arbor, but most people I know would, if they were able, either walk, take a bus, or ride a bike. But I guess Ann Arbor is changing, and these new young professionals we keep hearing so much about don’t like wearing heavy, unflattering jackets and walking outside in the cold. No, they’d rather push a button on their iPhone and have a warm car waiting.

Here’s a little of what I’m seeing on Facebook these days. Are you experiencing the same thing?

uber

So which kind of Uber user are you? Are you the uberX user with the death wish, or are you the Uber Black douchebag who wants to pay more to travel in class?

For those of you who would like to know more about Uber, GQ’s Mickey Rapkin recently did a stint as an uberX driver. Here’s a clip:

…Here’s how it works: Download the app and enter your credit card information. When you need a ride — in anything from a town car to a Prius — open the app and press a button. That’s it. Drivers in Uber’s network are circling your neighborhood, and by the magic of GPS, the closest one is arriving at your door, oh, right about… now. The fare is calculated by some algorithm of distance and time. No cash is ever exchanged… Late last year, a snapshot of what appeared to be Uber’s financials was leaked to the website Valleywag, and though Uber declined to confirm the numbers, they told the story of a company in mid-boom. Over one month last fall, Uber averaged 1.1 million requested rides per week, with upwards of 430,000 active weekly clients. Based on those figures, Valleywag estimated Uber could be raking in $213 million in annual revenue. The company’s reported valuation: $3.7 billion dollars.

Anecdotally, though, there seemed to be something vaguely, well, douchey about the way people talked about Uber. Last summer, the company experimented with helicopter rides on demand to the Hamptons; it was a stunt, but one that seemed to speak volumes about its ambitions. I wondered if Uber was aiming to become the ride-on-demand equivalent of bottle service in Vegas: It’s for people who want to feel like Jay Z for a night.

At the same time, uberX is oddly egalitarian: It offers rides for the people, by the people. What’s more democratic — and capitalistic — than giving a lift to a stranger for a small fee? Though I did wonder what kind of fool would climb into a stranger’s car. Even more worrisome question: What naive idiot would invite a stranger into his car? I was basically picking up hitchhikers and trying to convince myself: Murderers don’t use iPhones…

So, who’s in more danger, the uberX driver or passenger? And who will be the fist to meet their end in Ann Arbor at the hands of Uber?

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32 Comments

  1. Posted April 27, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    And, yes, I know we’re kind of mixing apples and oranges. UberBlack is for the douches, and uberX is for the people who will almost assuredly get killed.

  2. stupid hick
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Celebrities like Mark Maynard undoubtedly have an entourage to count on for things like trips to the airport, rides home from the bar after excessive drinking, rides to the mechanic and to and from work while your car is being worked on, and to transport elderly parents while one is at work. Taxis are not just for douches.

  3. anonymous
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Look at the Uber site, Mr. Hick. This isn’t for people going to the mechanic. This is a premium taxi service geared toward rich young people who want to feel special about themselves. Even the GQ guy describes it as douchey.

  4. Eel
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Do cab companies screen their drivers any more rigorously than these new companies do? Do they do stringent background checks? Do they random drug test?

  5. Taco Farts
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Taco Farts suspects that Mark got cut off by a cab in Ann Arbor recently. Go ahead, let it all out, Mark.

  6. A2 Skeptic
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Just one more indicator of the changing Ann Arbor. Black luxury cabs shuttling young 1%ers to and from their million dollar condos.

  7. Dan
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    is a bus full of strangers really safer than one driver that has had a background check?

  8. Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Glad to see someone providing this essential public information service. After all, people convicted of felonies deserve to never ever again find work, once they’ve served their sentence.

    Because that’s how justice works — it’s not what judge and jury sentence you to in a court of law, it’s about a label that gets branded on your forehead for the rest of your life, in order to deny you opportunities.

    ^^^ sarcasm, (hopefully) clearly. If Uber is being attacked for employing (contracting) with people with records, I may have to actually try it.

  9. Michelle
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I am one of those strange people who does not drive and lives in LA.* I take these Uner things all the time. I think they are great. I have never once been verbally attacked by one of the drivers as I have been with traditional cab drivers. It’s also cheaper and they will take you to the airport. There is also a function on the app that let’s you rate the driver.

    *i also never drove while I lived in Ypsilanti for all it’s worth.

  10. Edward
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    The cool thing is, this is laying the groundwork for a future where autonomous vehicles will pick you up at the push if a button. No more private car ownership.

  11. Lynne
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    When I first heard of Uber, I thought it was more something like ride sharing rather than a taxi service. I mean, people drive all over the town all of the time and often alone. A service which allows people who need rides to be connected with people like me who are driving around anyways can tap into unused ride potential. And since I wouldn’t be doing it to make a living, why not earn an extra $5-$10 when I decide to drive someplace if someone happens to want to go to the same place?

    This is one of the real dilemmas here. If you get a lot of drivers doing this as an extra thing on top of their regular jobs, you don’t need to pay them anything near a living wage while putting 100% of the costs of vehicle maintenance on them. Presumably Uber offers some kind of supplemental insurance but I suspect that it isn’t collision insurance so at least some of the increased risk and insurance costs are put on the drivers. It is a model where drivers will have a hard time making a living but for most of their drivers, this won’t be a concern.

    It will really be bad for those who drive taxis now. The question I have, however, is if that is the sort of job worth protecting. This is a pretty innovative idea and one with the potential to make getting rides a lot faster, easier, and cheaper than it costs now. On the other hand, if Uber puts all of the cab companies out of business, they could raise their prices to the former level without necessarily giving any of that additional money to the drivers. People might find that they don’t like sharing rides when they are out running the errands they would run anyways so Uber could be left with primarily professional drivers. *shrug* We could end up with a similar system to what we have now but with drivers who earn less money. i.e. this is one way wealth inequality happens.

  12. Jordan Miller
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I use uber whenever I’m working in LA, San Francsico, Brooklyn, or anywhere else where I need a taxi and they aren’t readily hailable (yep, I made that word up). I love it. I’m thrilled it’s in Ann Arbor. If I go out at night and realize I’ve had one too many to drive home, I have a very easy way to get a ride without worrying about cash, or having my card swiped for $800 (which happened to me in NYC). And really, most marketing is douchey.

    Sure, the GQ guy can knock it because he probably lives in Manhattan and can flag a cab. But for those of us who can’t, it’s a good alternative. I don’t see what the big deal is.

  13. Scott T.
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I am very conflicted about Uber. On the one hand, they are clearly working on tech that improves the experience & efficiency of “urban logistics” (broadly speaking) and I’m glad they are pushing that envelope. On the other hand, their utter disregard for existing regulations (yes, a lot of taxi regulation is protectionism for existing interests, but not all of it); their embrace of the externalize-all-risks-to-contract-employees business model (which, to be fair, is the standard practice in privatized transportation including taxis & shuttle services); their douchey marketing; and their clearly immature management and business practices (e.g. http://valleywag.gawker.com/ubers-dirty-trick-campaign-against-nyc-competition-cam-1508280668) gross me out and turn me off.

    I always thought Uber Black was too expensive but I use UberX in NYC frequently when I’m somewhere or somewhen (i.e., shift change) it is difficult to flag a taxi or get a car service. I also use it to send home friends who babysit for us because the fare+tip are automatically paid by my credit card.

    Drivers I’ve talked to in SF and NYC both seem to prefer Uber to exiting livery services or driving a taxi. I believe them, though I don’t think Uber will necessarily be good for them in the long run if they manage to dominate the “e-hail” market (which has a strong network effect=>strong monopoly potential).

  14. Eel
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Now the car companies need to come out with a “Bikes are for Nazis” campaign.

    http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/hitleryouth/hj-road-bike%20tour.jpg

  15. Mr. Y
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Regardless of what you think about Uber, the Facebook business model is really interesting. Before Facebook, how would this anti-Uber group be able to swoop in immediately and saturate every market where the raide-sharing platform is being rolled out?

  16. Posted April 28, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I’ve taken cabs hundreds of times in Ann Arbor.

  17. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what is so douchey about getting a ride.

  18. Jcp2
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s the whole black car thing that seems off putting. It implies limousine, which implies luxury, which implies wealth (probably undeserved). Uber should paint all their cars yellow and introduced Uber Taxi instead. They could charge the exact same rates and social justice would be served. Never mind that the whole thing is just a car service without a human dispatcher. Custom Transit and Metro Cars also use black livery cars.

  19. Posted April 28, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    I miss the olden days, when people actually read the posts before commenting.

    I never said that taking a cab made someone a douche. I acknowledged that there were legitimate reasons for taking cabs. I just noted that Ann Arbor is small, and mentioned that the last three people I saw using cabs were people that didn’t fit the demographic that Uber seems to be aiming at.

    As for the douche thing, I did say that the Uber Black service looked like it was being marketed to douches. And I stand by that.

  20. Posted April 28, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Screen shot 2014-04-28 at 9.09.28 PM

  21. Stupid Hick
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    “I miss the olden days, when people actually read the posts before commenting.”

    Hey Mark, I’m just a simple hick. Smaller words, generous repetition, and illustrations would be helpful.

    PS, I already know you think I’m a douche. I don’t try to be, but honestly I don’t always recognize it. Thanks for your patience.

  22. Anonymatt
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Doucheland, Uber: allies.

  23. Erik
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I’ve only used Uber (X) outside of the country and have had nothing but good experiences. For example, I took a traditional taxi in London to my hotel and took Uber back from the hotel to the airport. Uber was less than half the price of the taxi. It also saved me from wandering an unfamiliar city in the rain at 5:30am looking for a cab. My subsequent experiences with the service have all been positive.

    On the other hand, I’ve had multiple encounters with cab drivers that are the exact opposite – driving the long way to a destination being the most common. I’ll be the first to agree that Uber has an unfair advantage as they skip out on the licensing and fees paid to a city, which can add up to an impressive sum. The “surge” pricing model has also been questioned, as allegations have risen that the company has intentionally limited supply to trigger extraordinary high fares.

    These companies are still very young, as is the so-called sharing economy. Personally, I believe that competition is a good thing and leads to improved choices and service for communities.

  24. Posted April 29, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I often used cabs to get groceries from the store to my house. It made things much easier, particularly when an infant is around.

    I think I can speak for a lot of carless poor people when I say that cabs are quite useful in Ann Arbor.

    I can also say that Mark is way off the mark here about cabs in Ann Arbor, but this isn’t surprising since he’s probably never been forced to use one. Ann Arbor’s transportation options are fairly good for a city of its size, but, like most American cities, full of shortfalls. Those shortfalls, of course, are felt most by the poorest residents of the city.

  25. Mikeyb64
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I’ve had the scum of the earth pick me up in Veteran’s Cab. The dude literally had just got out of jail for kicking the shit out of someone for their Nikes. <His words. Not mine.

  26. anonymous
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Mikey is anti-veteran.

  27. Argh
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    As someone who can read, I feel obligated to point out that Mark did list “getting groceries” as a legitimate reason someone might need to take a taxi in Ann Arbor. He noted, however, that this use doesn’t figure prominently in the UberBlack marketing materials.

  28. Dan
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    They should have a 3rd service called uberSmaragdine, where a bearded guy in tight jeans picks you up on his tandem bicycle.

  29. Taco Farts
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    According to WikiP, Ann Arbor has nearly 5 more square miles of land than Manhattan. Painfully small.

  30. Elf
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Did you just compare Ann Arbor to Manhattan.

  31. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Argh,

    A list of legitimate reasons for someone to get a ride?!?!

    Mark comes up with some great posts but this one is goofy.

  32. Meta
    Posted May 16, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Uber has been shut down by A2.

    It didn’t take long for Ann Arbor city officials to call for an end to the newly launched rideshare services Uber and Lyft.

    On May 14, just three weeks after the companies launched locally, Ann Arbor City Attorney Kristen Larcom sent cease and desist letters demanding that the companies immediately put an end to their Ann Arbor operations.

    “It has been reported and has been observed that … (Lyft and Uber) are aiding and abetting the unlawful operation of (Lyft and Uber) vehicles for hire in the city of Ann Arbor,” the letter stated.

    “The city demands that (Uber and Lyft) comply with the Michigan Limousine Transportation Act by ceasing and desisting from soliciting persons to sign up … to operate in the city without requiring them to and ensuring that they comply with the act. It is incumbent upon (Uber and Lyft) also to inform persons who seek to operate their vehicles as (Uber and Lyft) vehicles that they must comply with the act and any other federal, state or local laws. All persons and entities involved are advised to consult with their attorneys.”

    In an April 22 meeting following the launch of the app-driven, on-demand transportation systems Uber and Lyft – which connect users with a driver through the use of a mobile device – the Ann Arbor Taxi board discussed the potential for requiring the companies’ drivers to register with the city as taxis.

    As it stands, only licensed taxicab drivers – not drivers with companies designated as limousine services or other drivers-for-hire services – have to register their drivers with the city.

    Read more:
    http://www.mlive.com/business/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/05/uber_lyft_rideshare_services_i.html

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