For several hours on Saturday, Uber was maybe the most hated company in America. Some of the year's most atrocious weather dumped across the Northeast, and the transit company of the future hit customers with the worst price gouging we've ever seen—it would cost over a hundred bucks just to drive down the block. Get used to it.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is an adamant defender of his company's gouging practices, suggesting they're not going to change anytime soon. By jacking up the price of a standard UberX ride by a factor of seven or eight, Kalanick says he's incentivizing drivers to work during horrendous winter hell-storms, popular Saturday nights, or any other time when people really want to use Uber. More cars, more rides, everyone's happy.
Yes, but the opposite: people were disgusted by the exorbitant 8x pricing, and no one beyond those for whom money is no object could afford to use the service at all. Uber self-nullified in a display of greed. What's the point of increasing supply to meet demand if the supply is unusable? What's stopping Uber for going up to 10x pricing, or beyond? Kalanick's is a bullshit premise that lets Uber make bundles more whenever it wants, to the detriment of anyone who can't spend hundreds of dollars to go home. This is a shame not just because no one likes paying more money for a thing, but because it jeopardizes Uber's chance to become a really terrific urban utility.
Responding to criticism of the "surge" pricing program at a recent conference, Kalanick gave little smile and said Uber might just make price-boosted cars disappear to people who don't want (or can't afford) them.
That's Uber's solution: if you don't like price gouging, walk your ass down the street.
Which is sort of fair! No one is forcing you to hire a private car from your smartphone. Ride a bike. Take the subway. We could chalk this up to an Ayn Randian CEO fleecing the rich and lazy.
But sometimes you'll need to catch a car, whether to the airport, through a storm, to the hospital, a spot the train doesn't reach, or blackout drunk back home. Now, remember: Uber's ambitions go way beyond cars for hire. Just as Amazon became The Everything Store, Uber is determined to become an everythingmobile, cars that deliver humans and everything they want. Subject to 9x pricing.
That's down the the line a bit—for now, we're looking at the eradication of low-tech cabs. Uber doesn't hide its contempt for traditional taxi cab systems and dreams of their destruction. City cab companies are rife with problems of their own, yes, but subject to regulation—the kind of regulation we now know Uber badly needs to implement itself, or be forced into. Uber wants to expand to every city in the country, and supplant existing cab systems—the ones subject to laws and regulations. For instance: if a yellow cab driver says it's going to cost an extra $100 just because it's Friday, he'll lose his job. If Uber does it, it's the magical mitts of supply and demand pushing us around.
If more drivers leave traditional taxi companies for Uber—and I've talked to many who have—we step closer to cities where price gouging is the norm, where only the rich can get around, and where outrageous profiteering is the base fare. And if you don't like it, you can hit the road.