The convenient, liberal assault on Uber

Everybody loves to be hating on the Uber, as the cool kids are wont to say on social media. The smartphone app driven car service which grew out of public frustration with conventional taxi companies has angered governments, unions and our national network of social justice monitors pretty much since the service’s inception in the summer of 2010 in San Francisco. That list of people who object to it should be a strong selling point to begin with, but the service is just so darned convenient and affordable that its popularity has soared and it was recently valued at around $40B.

But to the liberal mind, it’s a horrible, horrible thing. It’s so bad, in fact, that CNN’s John Sutter felt compelled to take to the editorial pages and express his shame at the fact that he kept using it anyway.

I have a confession: I love Uber.

And yes, I know the ride-sharing app has been under fire from critics for a host of reasons lately, most of them completely valid.

This week, in just the latest high-profile incident, an Uber driver in New Delhi, India, was accused of raping a passenger who used the app to call a ride. In other instances, the $40 billion “start-up” has been accused of considering smear campaigns against its journalist critics, shaming women who accuse its drivers of sexism or assault, launching a blatantly sexist ad campaign that was reported to involve 20-minute free rides with attractive women in France, and, according to a CNN report, ordering thousands of rides from its competitor, Lyft, and then canceling them, in apparent attempt to hurt Lyft’s business.

But, confession: On Sunday, I took Uber to the airport in Atlanta. When I arrived in New York, I cursed the line of yellow taxis.

The vast majority of those “completely valid” reasons to criticize Uber are largely either imaginary, aimed at the wrong target or demonstrate a reflexive desire to maintain the status quo. A woman in India was raped by an Uber driver. Normal cab drivers commit crimes also. When they do, you arrest them and replace them. Uber does background checks, as do cab companies, but you can’t screen out everyone or prevent them from suddenly going off the rails. Their “sexist” policies in France were rather unwise given the climate of political correctness, but hardly harmful. Smearing their critics? It’s rough world, journalists. Put on the gloves. If there really was a campaign to phone in fake calls to competitors, that might require some police intervention, but it hardly detracts from the appeal of the service.

In the end, what people really don’t like is that a popular service grew up outside the normal system, costing money to the cozy arrangement between established (and frequently crappy) cab services and the government entities who issue their medallions and maintain an effective monopoly on the market. The cab companies are wrapped up with the unions and they simply can’t stand the thought of anyone beating them by working harder and offering a better service for a lower price. Claims about not having the proper government mandated training and certification are laughably transparent. We’re not talking about licensing somebody to do freelance brain surgery here. They’re driving a car. Get a grip.

Taxi service has been deteriorating for years. In the suburban area where I live, the main cab services have started sending drivers out to as many as four people requesting timed rides in advance, making you wait while they pick up and drop off everyone else, and still charging everyone in the car the full fare. During a recent trip to New York I made the mistake of just trying to flag down a cab rather than calling for a driver and had two Yellow cabbies pull up, ask me where I was going, and then lie about being about to go off duty because it wasn’t a profitable or desirable enough trip. The cab I did wind up taking was filthy and not any cheaper than the Uber ride.

This entire debate is similar to the efforts being made to wipe out Air BnB. The old guard doesn’t want to move out of the way and can’t stand competition. And the government is more than happy to help destroy them for their own reasons. I’ll be using Uber in the future on my trips, and unlike Mr. Sutton I won’t be apologizing for it.