Malaka Of The Week: Uber

During the New Orleans City Council’s heated debate over Uber, my eyes glazed over and I swore that I’d never write about them. I stuck to my guns until last week’s revelation of Nixonian style ratfucking and learned that there was a world of malakatude surrounding it and that is why Uber is  malaka of the week.

Uber’s corporate ethos, such as it is, is a combination of 19th Gilded Age Century capitalism and modern dudebro frat boyism with a heavy dose of Randian gobbledygook. Last week, Uber Veep Emil Michael added a dash of Donald Segretti to the company’s toxic mix of malakatude:

A senior executive at Uber suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.

The executive, Emil Michael, made the comments in a conversation he later said he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber Monday evening, he said he regretted them and that they didn’t reflect his or the company’s views.

His remarks came as Uber seeks to improve its relationship with the media and the image of its management team, who have been cast as insensitive and hyper-aggressive even as the company’s business and cultural reach have boomed.

You say insensitive and hyper-aggressive, I say arrogant and obnoxious, let’s call the whole thing off. Uber prides itself on being a “disruptor” of the moribund ground transportation market. What the hell are they, Klingons?

Klingon disruptor

Underneath the macho glibertarian bravado,  Uber seems to be a shell game and scam. It values the business at a cool 18 billion simoleons for a ride share company with an app, which is stone cold crazy according to an analysis posted at TPM this morning. They have substituted chest beating and dick waving for a sound business plan and seem to have gotten away with it for now. I know that’s an oversimplification but since Uber oversimplifies everything I’m in bad good company.

I have a confession to make. I’m something of an aficionado of the Shark Tank/Dragons’ Den genre of teevee shows. (Dragons’ Den Canada is my favorite. Thanks, YouTube.) We all have our guilty pleasures and one of mine is watching cartoon villain Kevin (Mr. Wonderful) O’Leary and company mock pitchers for their crazy valuations. Uber makes the craziest of those folks look sane and rational. It’s all about their rabid PR pitch: cabs slow, regulation bad, technology good. That’s right: they’re essentially high tech cavemen and lots of people have fallen for their spiel.

I admire chutzpah as much as the next guy. Uber has an abundance of chutzpah but its empire rests on a frail reed of a business model. If Uber spreads, there will be an increasing number of stories such as this:

An Uber driver is accused of seriously injuring a passenger by bashing him on the head with a hammer in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood, authorities said Friday.

Patrick Karajah, 26, of Pacifica pleaded not guilty Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court to charges of assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury. He is free on $125,000 bail.

Karajah allegedly picked up the victim and his two friends from a bar at about 2 a.m. Tuesday. While driving the two men and one woman to their destination, he got into a dispute with the victim over the route he was taking, according to court documents.

Karajah, who was driving for the basic UberX service, stopped near the intersection of Ellsworth Street and Alemany Boulevard and forced the victim and his friends to get out, according to documents.

An Uber spinner claimed that safety was their top priority after the attack and presumably laughed like a demented hyena after making that specious comment. If safety were their “top priority” they would screen and insure their drivers. I both dread and eagerly await the first crime committed by an Uber driver in New Orleans. I hope that it won’t be lethal but our criminals aren’t known for their subtlety; given Uber’s antipathy to details such as background checks there are bound to be some NOLA Uber drivers like the hammer man in San Francisco.

As you can see, the ratfucking that inspired this post is merely the first layer of Uberian (Uberite?) malakatude. It’s too sordid and creepy for me to go on much longer and that is why Uber is malaka of the week.

The tale of the Uber hammer man has given me a Monday morning earworm, so I’ll give Todd Rundgren the last word:

6 thoughts on “Malaka Of The Week: Uber

  1. I’m of mixed feelings towards ride shares like Uber — aside Emil Michael being a first class asshole, I’m also speaking as a former taxi driver. My career was very brief, and I hated it, hated it, hated it, but left with an appreciation of those who do drive for a living. It’s hard out there, and harder still if you’re competing with something that’s (allegedly) hip/trendy.

    On the other hand, down here in BR, finding a medallion cab is, at best iffy. Twice I’ve called for cabs from the Greyhound station, only to give up and hop on the local bus after waiting over an hour. BR bus transit outperforming ANY other option is…pretty unbelievable.

    If I have a choice, I’ll go with a real taxi…especially in NOLA…though I guess Uber might fill a niche in places like BR…

    And Emil Michael is still an asshole.

  2. I have some contacts inside the taxi industry, for industry it is. It isn’t just as simple as calling a number and jumping in a car. There are all kinds of considerations before a car and a driver show up at your door or outside the bar or wherever. Licensed, bonded, and city-certified drivers have to run a gauntlet of tests and qualifying screens before they ever slip behind the wheel. Fares and routes are regulated and reviewed, and there is a mechanism in place for resolving disputes over charges, routes or any other subject.

    From what I can see of Uber, you pays your money and you takes your chances. Uber doesn’t seem too interested in policing its drivers. If you’re comfortable jumping in a stranger’s car during the wee hours after an evening out when you’re tipsy or falling down drunk, you’re made of sterner stuff than me. There’s a reason taxis are heavily regulated, and considering how easy it is for a vehicle to just disappear, services like Uber seem tailor made for an assortment of latent or not-so-latent creeps, thugs, rapists, and murderers to have quick and easy access to potential victims.

  3. Not to mention the insurance issue. It’s my understanding that Uber doesn’t insure its drivers, but most, if not all, insurance companies make it clear that your standard auto policy does NOT cover you or your passengers if you’re working as a driver for hire. I doubt that Uber drivers are upgrading their insurance to a commercial livery driver policy, so if your Uber driver gets into an accident and you want to make an injury claim, well, good luck with that.

  4. Ah, but Uber gets to play the technicality of being a taxi service while not paying appropriate taxes, not having to insure the drivers, and denying that the drivers belong to them (thus free from any sort of pesky responsibilities).

    What I hate is that a way to coordinate ride-shares is an environmentally responsible action (not just gas, but less highway construction, etc. etc.) But they’re trying so hard to be a toaster oven (is it a toaster or is it an oven).

  5. I work in the ground transportation business in SF – home of Uber. I work with corporate groups, and although we provide safe, vetted, reliable transportation to/from their events, I frequently hear the refrain ohhhh, “I’ll just take an Uber” (in a Vocal Fry tone of voice). They’d rather die than get on a ….bus! I think the reason Uber does so well is that it’s so easy to push a button on an app and get a ride home, while you’re too drunk to realize that it will cost you sometimes 3x the going rate, depending on the day/time, AND you don’t have to scramble for cash or a credit card – it automatically gets charged to your card on file. Many taxis around town sport a “Don’t Get Hammered” bumper sticker with a slash through the Uber logo, and one that says “Mom says don’t get in cars with strangers.” Unfortunately, their target market, young bros (and babes) have convinced themselves that it’s much cooler to get in some unemployed dude’s Prius than it is to get in a professional car with a professional driver.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Betsey. Come again some time but don’t bring any tech dudebros with you.

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