On FT's Alphaville, Izabella Kaminska takes note of the excellent, deep series on Uber's Ponzi-economics that Hubert Horan published last year on Naked Capitalism and calls out some juicy highlights.
"Costs are costs, even if you're a monopoly" — so the fact that Uber loses (a lot) of money on every single ride won't magically go away if the company manages to kill its competition by subsidizing riders with its investors' money. Uber will need to find better economics somehow, and right now, that seems to involve two sleazy and improbable tactics:
1. Tricking customers into carpools rather than solo rides, nudging them with dark patterns in Uber's UI that irrevocably commits riders to carpools if they absentmindedly tap the default button, rather than the increasingly obscured solo ride options; carpools make Uber a lot more money, but drivers and riders hate them.
2. Bullying legislatures into killing public transit, so that when Uber kills all the other taxi services and then turns its own service into a carpool-only, riders won't be able to opt out by switching back to riding the bus.
Meanwhile, Uber is continuing to squeeze its drivers for a bigger share of every ride, while drivers push back, forming unions and then running co-op/nonprofit dispatch services that fill the void when Uber storms out of town in a huff.
Eventually, Uber will run out of investor money to spend. It's hard to imagine how the company will manage any kind of "exit" that will repay the insane valuations it has used to raise all that money to subsidize our cheap rides — even the mumble-mumble-something-self-driving-cars hand-waving won't protect it from upstarts that can also do self-driving fleet vehicles without the encumbrance of investors who expect a giant payout for the billions they've sunk into its schemes.
If the population's top political priority really was a cheap private car service rather than a new public transport infrastructure, political parties would be putting this issue at the top of their political manifestos. The fact they don't suggests society as a whole would never endorse policy which campaigned for cheap taxi services to be funded with lower worker living standards.
It's hardly surprising that consumers will endorse political calls for cheaper taxi services if a pre-drafted email to that effect lands in their inbox without a fair explanation of who funds those cheap services really. They'd call for cheaper medical services, education, housing, utilities, basically everything as well. The question is not whether they want cheaper taxi services, it's whether they would prioritise this need over all their other social and political needs as a whole. Hence why getting customers to dispatch thousands of pre-drafted emails to politicians isn't indicative of the power of democracy. It's indicative of an Uber-organised DDoS attack upon the state.
The taxi unicorn's new clothes
[Izabella Kaminska/FT Alphaville]
(Image: Elliot Brown, CC-BY-SA)
(via Naked Capitalism)