Driver prob­lem will lead to rise of the ma­chines

The National - News - - NEWS WORLD - KELSEY WARNER Anal­y­sis

Lon­don has joined world cities in tak­ing a tough line on Uber, rerout­ing the ride-hail­ing ser­vice out of town en­tirely by not re­new­ing its li­cence to op­er­ate.

So what does this mean for the fu­ture of how we get around?

At the core of most of Uber’s prob­lems is the sta­tus and role of its driv­ers.

Reg­u­la­tors and crit­ics are de­mand­ing an­swers to ques­tions such as whether driv­ers are mak­ing a fair wage, if they have enough over­sight for riders to be safe and whether the rise of the “gig econ­omy” is con­tribut­ing to mid­dle-class at­tri­tion.

Liveli­hoods, lives and lo­cal economies are at stake, reg­u­la­tors say.

Over the past decade, mod­ern so­ci­ety has grown ac­cus­tomed to do­ing prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing through an app – book­ing an ex­er­cise class, find­ing a spouse, or­der­ing lunch or pay­ing a bill.

Ride hail­ing has faced some of the tough­est bat­tles of any of its peers in the App Store or on Google Play.

No picket lines form when De­liv­eroo ar­rives in a city. But Uber stokes ire.

As one of the world’s big­gest dis­rupters it also has a huge peo­ple prob­lem.

This ex­plains why it ap­pears des­per­ate to re­move driv­ers from its busi­ness.

For years, leg­is­la­tors were far be­hind on reg­u­lat­ing Uber.

Now that they are catch­ing up, the com­pany can see its sal­va­tion in a once-fu­tur­is­tic con­cept that is get­ting more real by the day – au­ton­o­mous driv­ing.

Three years ago, Travis Kalan­ick, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Uber at the time, re­port­edly said that if a com­pany could pro­duce a truly au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle, he would im­me­di­ately buy half a mil­lion of them,

In April, about the time Uber was pre­par­ing its ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing, the com­pany raised $1 bil­lion (Dh3.67bn) in in­vest­ment for its driver­less-cars busi­ness from three Ja­panese in­vestors: SoftBank’s Vi­sion Fund, Toy­ota and parts maker Denso.

The fi­nanc­ing es­tab­lished Uber’s self-driv­ing cars unit as its own cor­po­rate en­tity, val­ued at $7.25bn, the com­pany said. Mean­while, as Uber ex­pands its food-de­liv­ery busi­ness – one of its big­gest growth ar­eas – it is keep­ing un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles front and cen­tre, with plans to start de­liv­er­ing meals by drone in some mar­kets by the end of the year.

The tech­nol­ogy would re­quire fewer de­liv­ery driv­ers on the road for shorter pe­ri­ods of time.

While we are still years away from driver­less cars, in only the last few days, head­lines have been made by var­i­ous com­pa­nies test­ing self-driv­ing cars in Seoul, Ari­zona and San Fran­cisco.

So as reg­u­la­tors op­pose Uber over its core busi­ness of ride hail­ing, they would do well to be mind­ful of the mes­sage they are send­ing: Uber must move on from driv­ers.

This push­back only adds to the com­pany’s ur­gency to dis­rupt once again.

Uber’s founder said if a com­pany de­vel­oped a truly au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle, he would im­me­di­ately buy half a mil­lion

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