Ubering While Black — Matter — Medium

Ubering While Black — Matter — Medium:

‘The premium car service removes the racism factor when you need a ride,’ she wrote. Peterson, who lives in D.C., said that since her original post, she has taken ‘hundreds of rides’ with Uber. ‘The Uber experience is just so much easier for African-Americans,’ she told me recently. ‘There’s no fighting or conversation. When I need a car, it comes. It takes me to my destination. It’s amazing that I have to pay a premium for that experience, but it’s worth it.’


Uber’s on my personal list of companies that would have to screw up really big, and clearly in an institutional fashion, for me to stop using it. I almost can’t even listen to the taxi industry’s complaints about it. Uber and other ridesharing systems are only thriving because of huge, longstanding failure points in the taxi system that the industry doesn’t seem to want to fix:

  • Limited number of taxis on the road (which is often an artificially-created scarcity; many taxi companies have opposed the issuing of new medallions in their cities, to keep demand high and competition low);
  • Drivers who discriminate, and it’s so deeply ingrained in the industry that drivers aren’t even cautious about how they do it;
  • Entire geographic communities that taxi companies won’t serve;
  • Utter and total unreliability, even when a customer books a pickup days in advance;
  • Appalling customer service when things inevitably go wrong;
  • Doggedly sticking the customer with rotary-telephone-era inconveniences, in an iPhone world.

I use Uber a lot. The only instance in which I refuse to call an Uber is when I need a ride from an airport. Taxis are right there, and I’m aware that taxi companies often have to pay beaucoup bucks for the right to make pickups outside the door. I feel guilty for using a service that doesn’t need to pay anything at all.

But overall? I feel the same way about the taxi companies as I did about the independent bookstore a few miles away from my childhood home when Barnes & Noble drove it out of business. I’m not happy about seeing a business go under and people losing their jobs. But the fact remains that the store never carried anything I liked. I stopped going there entirely when I walked in with a friend and the owner gruffly ordered me, and I quote, to “roll right back out of here just like the tide.” The new Barnes & Noble at the mall carried everything and they seemed to encourage me to hang out and browse for as long as I liked.

The point is that you can’t consistently tell me that you don’t give a crap about me and then expect me to be on your side when a new business that fits my needs well starts making life difficult for you.

I won’t celebrate when your company folds. It’s worse than that: I simply won’t care.

7 thoughts on “Ubering While Black — Matter — Medium

  1. Philip Shane

    Agreed! And there’s the added benefit that the city cabs now have serious competition and will be forced to step up their quality of service — or they can maintain a lower price and be like an adjunct to mass transit (which wouldn’t be a bad thing: to serve people who need a car on occasion but find Uber out of their price range) — or they will need to step up their level of service.

    In the end, what’s amazing is that, basically, the only difference is the app. It increases the ease of ordering a cab, and the rating system makes the drivers work hard to make a great experience. There’s nothing stopping a city from creating their own app, or contracting out to Uber or a similar company. The Citibike sharing system in NYC, for instance, is a municipal monopoly run by a private company, and (a few tiny growing pains not withstanding) it’s an amazing (!) service.

    I must also add that, here in Brooklyn, we’ve always lived on telephone car services (city taxis only arrived out here recently and are still fairly sparse), and almost universally those services weren’t great, having all the flaws you noted, Andy.

    And there are people who depend on taxis quite frequently, like my wife who is legally blind and who has found Uber to be a revolutionary transformation to her quality of life. She finds it difficult to see the cabs on the street, and the ability to look at her iPhone (with it’s larger Accessibility font) and see the cars, order one with a tap, have a very friendly driver, and not have to deal with paying at the end of the trip (it’s hard for her to see the credit card screen and/or the taxi meter) makes the whole thing a joy.

  2. Rebecca

    I enjoy using Uber myself, though if the company continues to cut rates, their drivers may become almost as scarce as taxis. I worked as a service rep on the drivers side for a while, so there are a couple of things I’d like to pass on, in case anyone is interested.

    One is that, at least at some airports, Uber drivers do need a commercial license in order to pick up there.

    The other is, unfortunately, discrimination does exist within the company. It may just not be so widespread or have as much of an effect. But I know some drivers will keep getting cancelled on by riders who don’t want to picked up by someone with an obviously middle eastern name, and that wastes their time…which is money to them. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that happened in reverse, as well.

    The good thing, though, is that these incidences can be reported. And Uber reserves the right to cancel accounts of both riders and drivers. I love the rating system in these crowdsharing services, they make all the difference in the world!

    But you can only rate each other on Uber when a ride is actually taken, so these cancelled rides can only reported to customer service reps. When I received one of these complaints, I notified the rider side customer service about the client and passed the info on to my supervisor, so hopefully the company could put policy in place for this type of problem.

    I think Uber is doing pretty well for a fairly new company, but it is still suffering a few growing pains. It will have to remain a constant work in progress to address all the issues that come up when a company tries to forge a new path. But I’m rooting for it. Selfishly, I don’t want to have to give it up.

  3. Mitch

    Andy, I couldn’t disagree more.

    Uber is a new “business” is it? It could be an ongoing criminal conspiracy, whereby drivers commit crimes against passengers.

    Or perhaps you support Uber because they illegally classify thousands of employees as independent contractors, denying those employees benefits that competitors (like taxi services) have to pay?

    I guess it could be Uber’s rampant violation of local laws in state after state, country after country that you find so appealing.

    Maybe you like Uber’s sexist “bro” culture, and want to see more businesses adopt it?

    As soon as Apple comes out with autonomous cars which will pick people up at the touch of an app, Uber’s history. And so is the auto insurance industry. And the oil industry. And the auto industry as a whole.

  4. Medhini

    I know a lot of people like uber so i triex it when i was in london this fall. What a sham! I tookit from my friends hime to hammersmith train station. The guy was good, on time and picked me ok but he refused to drive me to the station ( i dont understand the reason but i guess that he took the wrong road and ended up in a one way street from which he could not get there or something) and there i was with two pieces of luggage in pouring rain having to haul them for about 300 or so meters. I ratedhim one star but wat i would have liked is to talk to some one and say that he left me stranded. Luckily i was with a native londener so i could find my way. Needless to say i am very hesitant to try uber again. I also think it is not economical to take uber to train stations and airports because due to demand the alwas spike the rated to these destinatioms. It has been my experience that, At least in london it is cheaper to order the taxi before hand for a fixed price.

  5. Michael Perry

    This line of thinking works until you realize that many, MANY Uber drivers in more urban areas will overlook an Uberer if their name is more of the stereotypical black name variety. So while I”m sure Latoya in this article has had a more positive experience, it by no means erases the fact that Shaniqua in there area where I live and many other areas still face the same difficulties as traditional cabs. The only difference is with Uber the racism can be silent since you aren’t driving by people, you just don’t acknowledge them while sitting behind your phone. Silent often makes for more deadly as seen in this case where Uber get’s a credit in mindshare it doesn’t deserve and using that support, the issue can persist longer while being undetected.

  6. Philip Shane

    Interesting what a hot topic this is. Lots of emotions.

    Michael: while that might happen, there’s usually more than one Uber car available, and I can’t believe that Latoya, et al, would be rejected by all of them at the same time. Some statistics on this would be interesting & valuable nonetheless.

    Medhini: I’ve had the occasional ridiculously bad Uber driver, but it’s quite rare (only 2 out of dozens of rides) and in each instance I gave them a bad rating, of course and complained to customer service and received instant refunds. The fact that the app records the exact route of your trip is a huge benefit in these situations because it’s clear the driver took a bad or incomplete route.

    Rebecca & Mitch: yeah looking at things from a larger societal or business point of view is more complex and way out of my scope of understanding except to say that every revolution has caused great pain for the incumbents. I’m curious what happened way back when the current municipal taxi systems were created. I’m guessing there were many complaints during that upheaval. Some great benefits in safety and customer security, along with problems of corruption, loss of freedom for drivers and company owners, etc etc.

    Great discussion.

  7. Ted

    Full disclosure – I am an ex cab driver. That said, I agree the industry was ripe for disrupting, but I have a lot of trouble with Uber’s cavalier corporate attitude. Minimizing racism is, of course, a terrific silver lining if borne out.

    I also feel your analogy to your local bookstore is a poor choice. I have seen several terrific independent bookstores that carried tons of stuff I wanted go under in recent years. Fortunately, there seems to be a big of a resurgeance going on now.

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