Uber is controversial - it’s had London’s cabbies blocking the streets in protest and Parisian taxi drivers attacking its cars. But part of its still-nascent success has been down to a decent deal for its drivers (as MT heard from the horse’s mouth when it took an Uber car).
Some Uber drivers aren’t so satisfied, though, it turns out (are cabbies ever happy?). Around 100 drivers marched to the startup’s office in sunny Santa Monica, California yesterday. Their gripes? That the insurance policy only covers cars when they have passengers and the ratings system.
‘A driver was given one star and was deactivated from the system for five days, but the guy has kids to feed, has family, has bills, and he was not able to drive because a difficult client gave him one star,’ ranted Lotfi Benyedder, who has been an Uber driver for three years.
While you can understand people’s desire for a stable income that isn’t dependent on one tricky customer, the ratings system (from one to five) is what underpins Uber - and it works both ways. It means rude, roundabout drivers get kicked out and difficult passengers won’t get picked up again. And Uber drivers can sign on and off from the service, meaning flexible insurance also makes a degree of sense (although less so if one crashes on their way to pick up a passenger).
'While Uber is focused on a great experience for riders and economic opportunity for drivers, the Teamsters Local 986 [union that helped organise the protest] is focused on recruiting membership and filling their coffers,' said Uber spokesperson Eva Behrend. 'Partner drivers grow successful small businesses thanks to the freedom, flexibility, and economic opportunity afforded by the Uber platform.'
A disruptive service that doesn’t keep the people who deliver it on side is bound to falter as it fends off attacks from established businesses. It may be a tiny minority of Uber drivers at the moment, but if the discontent spreads the model could wobble. Given its current rate of growth, though, Uber probably will win the cab wars.