Driver problem will lead to rise of the machines
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