Uber Faces Backlash From the New Luddites

Americans have become so accustomed to regulations, we've ceased to see how freedom might operate.


SACRAMENTO — Many people are familiar with "Luddites," those early 19th century British textile workers who vandalized modern looms and other innovative, time-saving machinery that they feared would put them out of business – or reduce the value of their work.

I'm not the first writer to notice the resemblance between the original Luddite behavior and the actions of angry Parisian taxicab drivers, who earlier this year vandalized a car owned by a driver for Uber, the innovative ride-share service founded in San Francisco. One Salon writer expressed concern about the rise of such competition and even quoted a Marxist professor defending Luddism.

But the rest of us know it's hard to halt competitors with a crowbar. Uber, and other companies such as Lyft (the one with pink mustaches on cars) and Sidecar, are not exactly cabs. If they were, they would face an array of restrictions. Taxicabs are tightly controlled by the government, which is why it can cost $1 million in New York to get a "medallion" that authorizes a cab to roam the city's streets.

I tried Uber recently outside San Francisco. (It operates in 34 countries and many U.S. cities, including San Diego.) A friend indicated on his app that he wanted a ride. Within moments, he had a text confirmation and was given the license plate of the car and a contact number for the driver. It was stress-free and the car arrived promptly.

The driver was friendly; the car was new. The fee and tip were deducted from my friend's on-file credit card, so there was no fumbling with cash or card readers. Going back, we took Uber Black and rode in a Town Car. It was nice.

Basically, these "ride-sharing" services do an end-run around the taxicab cartel and their arrays of rules and limits, but American Luddites haven't attacked cars. They have lobbied governments to limit the competition, which is designed to achieve the same result.

The cabbies' mantra is safety – something that has gained ground after, sadly, an Uber driver killed a girl in San Francisco, although he didn't have a customer at the time. The CEO of an Atlanta cab company argued that tragedy was an example of "the obvious and overwhelming risks to public safety" as he advocated a Georgia law to regulate these ride services. But one need only search on Google, "taxicab" and "fatal crash," to see that accidents are not limited to "unregulated" ride services.

Actually, it's wrong to use the word "unregulated." Uber and others are examples of how a market more deftly regulates things than bureaucrats. Note recent news about how federal safety regulators for years ignored dozens of reports about a potentially fatal flaw in some General Motors ignition switches. It took a few months after the tragedy for these ride services to institute new insurance "gap" rules covering drivers who might not be on assignment.

I've met nice cabbies with nice cars over the years, but that's not always the case. You pay your money, leave the cab smelling like an air freshener and forget about it. Ride services require drivers to have nice, newer cars. They fire drivers whose online ratings fall below a certain level – and that inspires a high level of customer service.

Some riders have complained about Uber's surge pricing. Isn't it better to pay more during rush hour in a rain storm and actually get a ride than have a theoretically low price while standing in a puddle trying to flag a cab? Americans have become so accustomed to having everything regulated that they've ceased to see how freedom might operate – how a company eager to make money by pleasing customers can achieve better results. And if you don't like Uber, use a competitor's service or take a cab.

California gets a bad rap for its zeal to regulate. But our regulators have been reasonable with these new ride-share companies. After clamping down in 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission later voted unanimously to recognize them and has focused mainly on legitimate insurance issues.

But other states and cities have been less friendly. Seattle just capped the number of cars that these services can use. And in France, Uber drivers must wait 15 minutes before answering a call, which is a good reminder that these laws aren't about protecting public safety but about hobbling the competition. The Luddites would be proud of the French, but, then again, I don't know many people who still wear hand-sewn garments.

NEXT: Treasury Officials About GM's Deadly Cars: We Knew Nothing

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  1. OT: Salon is concerned about the mental health of billionaires

    “Collectivists” in government, Koch writes ? “those who stand for government control of the means of production and how people live their lives,” i.e. Democrats ? “strive to discredit and intimidate opponents.” It gets worse: “They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.)”

    I’m worried about Charles Koch. For one thing, with all his billions, he couldn’t find a better ghost writer? His silly op-ed, with its alarmist Marxist clich?s and fusty Schopenhauer references, would have been dismissed as an April Fool’s joke if published just one day sooner.

    Except that those complaints sound…accurate.

    1. And if you read the comments, it’s clear that if they fear for their lives, they are at least partially justified. Yikes!

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  2. “Some riders have complained about Uber’s surge pricing”

    These people are idiots. Because the answer your question: “Isn’t it better to pay more during rush hour in a rain storm and actually get a ride than have a theoretically low price while standing in a puddle trying to flag a cab?” with Yes, absolutely.

    1. Besides, if you can’t afford an Uber ride during surge pricing, you’ll simply have to wait for the alternative; a traditional taxi service. But people who can’t afford premium pricing don’t think it’s fair. And in modern America, everything must be fair.

      Maybe instead of using the phrase “surge pricing” they should use “VIP service”? People understand that concept better.

      1. Yeah, they could stop bitching about it and not use a service they don’t like the price as set. If enough people avoid using them, I suspect the price would go down….supply and somethingoranother.

      2. What people fail to realize is that those who pay more and buy more expensive services free up cheaper services for people who need it. If people were barred from buying expensive services, everybody would have to compete for the cheaper services, making them less accessible.

  3. Americans have become so accustomed to having everything regulated that they’ve ceased to see how freedom might operate

    Good line

    1. A lot of people just assume freedom will lead to injustice.

      I wonder if part of that is tied a view of government as law-giver, and the law as being the only thing standing between us and injustice.

  4. The real problem with Uber and its ilk is the same problem that causes these transportation services to be regulated in the first place. Unregulated taxi service always ends up being a nuisance and a hazard to the public, the companies involved, and the drivers. We are starting to see this already with Uber drivers circling airports and the like. In its effort to destroy all competition, Uber has lowered net pay for its drivers in many markets to ridiculous levels. They are weeding out drivers who can do basic math in favor of those who are oblivious to the fact that there are costs and risks involved with driving their car into the ground for pennies per mile. This is typical behavior in the unregulated taxi world and is often seen in third world countries where regulation is lax. I have made over 500 trips as an Uber driver, so I actually know how this works in the real world. It will end badly.

    1. Who are you?

      1. Ding Bingbong. Can’t you read?

        Oh I see what you meant. He is just some schlump that decided since *he* didn’t like working for Uber, that they were a bad company and cut into the profits of the taxi cartels around the country. Therefore they (Uber) are bad and must be slandered at all times.

        1. I am not slandering Uber and I don’t really care about taxi companies. I think that surge pricing is an excellent idea and the overall transportation network concept has many merits. Taxi service sucks because the medallion owner’s customer is the driver leasing the cab, not the rider, so there is no accountability to the rider.
          Uber is doing exactly what I would expect it to do in an unregulated environment. Its competitors will do the same in order to get market share and drive out competitors.
          I joined UberX because I thought driving people around when I needed to get out of the house anyway might be fun and make me some extra money. I stopped driving when fares dropped and I could no longer make money at it. I just want drivers to understand what they are really doing and the financial ramifications.
          If you Google “taxi history” you can find many examples of what a mess an unregulated taxi service is like. There are fundamental problems with both the traditional taxi industry and an unregulated one with Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and who knows how many copycats they will spawn. Just because it is high tech doesn’t mean it won’t turn into a complete clusterf*k like it does in EVERY unregulated taxi environment. If you can find an unregulated taxi market that works well, please post it. I couldn’t find even one. Regulated taxi markets also suck, but are still better which is why you find them everywhere in the first world.

          1. Cab drivers and Uber drivers, like fast food workers, are unskilled labor and will always be at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. The drivers for all of the various new companies just don’t realize it yet. Enjoy the service while you can, I do.
            Don’t take my word for it, try it out, its easy to sign up and kind of fun to do. Track your actual mileage and time, deduct gas, maintenance, and vehicle depreciation, and see for yourself. I was one of the top earning UberX drivers in my area, but when you take everything into account, the pay was just miserable and only dropping lower.

    2. Uber drivers circling airports and the like

      Which hurts people how, exactly?

      1. Like, they’re putting out all this carbon and such.


      2. OK, when was the last time you left an airport via the taxi/bus pick up? During high volume periods it tends to be full of drivers cutting corners “just a little” in order to get that one more fare that will put them in the black for the day. Since such areas tend to be designed by people with very little idea of how chaotic this can get, it becomes somewhat dangerous.

        Not saying that there’s enough danger to justify the buttinskis, but you asked who it was hurting.

      3. Try picking someone up at LAX at a busy time. It can take over half an hour just to get around the loop once.

    3. I get your point of view. If left alone, do you think Uber will run out of good drivers and be left with folks willing to work for peanuts? Will that hurt quality? Thus reducing Uber to a “last resort” option?

      I kind of think the free market will either elminate Uber in favor of those companies who value the driver and quality or the whole industry will have to undergo some sort of reset.

      I still don’t see the need for Government here.

    4. Unregulated taxi service always ends up being a nuisance and a hazard to the public, the companies involved, and the drivers.

      Citation needed.

      1. Really? Google “taxi history” with any city name. A citation might be necessary if it weren’t so easy to find and every instance almost identical.

    5. We are starting to see this already with Uber drivers circling airports and the like.

      When I fly into SFO and find that the response time for a call is about three minutes, I rather like that. Why are you pretending this is a problem?


      1. It is not a problem yet, but will be once all the copy cats jump on-board and you have too many drivers chasing customers and all of them trying to be the closest one so they get the fare. It will jam the traffic, cause headaches for security, and be a nuisance. Why do you think they make cabs wait in lines? This kind of thing has happened in every city that has cabs. Historical examples abound, just google it.

        1. So, you wait in a long line, and I get a car right away. Looks like it’s your problem, not mine.


        2. Reminds one of the old Yogi Berra quote, “No one goes there anymore, because its so crowded.”

          Ding–so you had a bad experience working for Uber, and decided it wasn’t for you. So what? Does that give you the right to advocate against freedom? Why shouldn’t “copy cats” be allowed to jump on board? So you want to tell everyone how else how to get transportation out of a busy airport. It is none of your business. Screw you.

  5. I am an UberTaxi driver in Chicago. Here is a behind the wheel look at Uber’s practices.
    1)#UberFraud: ALL & ANY claims involving UberX are FIRST filed with the driver’s PERSONAL CAR INSURANCE which EXCLUDES RIDE-SHARING. This is because the UberX drivers insr is the PRIMARY insr, & the insr that UberX touts as covering the riders is SECONDARY! In doing so UberX is inducing and perpetuating mass INSURANCE FRAUD!
    2)#UberFarce: Uber’s Rating System is a SHAM, for PR and feel-good purposes only! UberX is spending upto $1,500/drvr in referral & bonus fees. It takes all comers, doesn’t monitor their conduct, and DOES NOT fire drivers based on their ratings.
    3)#UberGreed: Uber gets 20% comm. for UberX fares vs. a flat $1.25/UberTaxi fares. AND it can Surge Price UberX at will, which it CAN’T with UberTaxi as taxi fares are regulated. So Uber has strategically engaged in undermining the reliability of UberTaxi, without ANY thought of riders’ interests! The No.1 complaint of the riders is the problem of UberTaxi drivers. When these complaints are voiced, Uber just uses that as an opportunity to bash UberTaxi, and recommend UberX instead!
    4)#UberFraud: There’s willful FRAUD occurring on the Uber platform every minute. UberTaxis DON’T show up as available if ETA7 mins. But UberX/Black DO show up as available even if ETA20 mins. PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. Twitter @chi1cabby

    1. UberX is inducing and perpetuating mass INSURANCE FRAUD!

      Then they should be brought to court, right?

      It takes all comers, doesn’t monitor their conduct, and DOES NOT fire drivers based on their ratings

      Don’t know about the rating system, but it sort of implies that customers can choose drivers based on their ratings. If that isn’t sufficient, customers won’t user Uber, right?

      without ANY thought of riders’ interests

      Then I guess their riders will choose other services, right?

      I am an UberTaxi driver in Chicago

      It sounds like you really hate Uber. So why do you work for them?

      1. In Uber’s own words “No driver works for Uber. And Uber is not liable for the drivers’ conduct”. I am a licensed Chicago Cabbie and I fill cab requests that come via Uber, Hailo, TaxiMagic, and my cab company’s dispatch system.
        I keep on filing orders that come through Uber to keep myself upto date on Uber’s practices.
        Please click on my username and get a better understanding of what I’m saying. Thanx!

        1. So you don’t like Uber. If enough people agree with you and your opinions are valid, they’ll change their ways or go out of business. So why do you advocate using violence against them? Is it because you’re weak, unthinking, immoral, and a thug …perhaps?

        2. I am a licensed Chicago Cabbie

          So, no bias there.

          I like Uber, so I’ll continue to use them. If you don’t like them, then don’t use them.


          1. If you don’t like them, bribe someone to send goons to club them over the head until your business is profitable again.

    2. “UberTaxis DON’T show up as available if ETA7 mins. But UberX/Black DO show up as available even if ETA20 mins.”


    3. SUURRRRREEEEEE. You’re a “UberTaxi driver.” Yup, yup, yup.
      It’s GOTTA be true — I just read it on the Internet!

  6. OK, let’s remember that the Luddites were high value skilled workers (weavers) outraged that they were being replaced by machines. Yes, the industrial revolution ended up being a new general benefit, but it DID put the hand-weavers out of work.

    I bring this up because A) I come from a family of historians, so its important to ME, and B) because I think there might be parallels with the cab drivers.Granted, the drivers may not be skilled in the same sense, but they have been in a protected position and want to keep it (a perfectly understandable position).

    The people I have NO sympathy for are the medallion owners who are NOT drivers.

    1. C.S.P. Scholfield — and rapists sometimes murder their victims to avoid being identified — and that’s “a perfectly understandable position.” But does it make the murder okay?

      When cartels and their employees try to use direct (crowbar) OR indirect (rent seeking protective legislation enforced by people with guns), it’s wrong.

      Well, I think it’s wrong. But you seem to think it’s okay if “it’s perfectly understandable.” Weird.

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  8. To state the obvious: Uber and its variations increase the supply of “cabs.” Increased supply (in a relatively free market) tends to reduce prices, and to make the product/service more widely available. More people employed with modest investments. Entrepreneurship encouraged. Excellent feedback system to the public — self-regulating the performance of Uber-type drivers (unlike cabs).

    What’s not to like? Here’s what — no special interest base for politicians to extort political funding from.

    Sadly, at the end of the day, in too many cities, the final score may very well be
    Cabs 1
    Uber 0

    1. Although the current regulation system for taxi service sucks, only a conspiracy theorist would believe that political extortion is the only reason we have regulation. Historically, the public demanded regulation because of the public nuisance created when you let any and everyone drive any car as a taxi.

      1. I’m not asserting that you’re wrong, but I would like to see some citations.

      2. You’re starting to sound like some moderately successful SEO against Uber.

      3. “Historically, the public demanded regulation because of the public nuisance created when you let any and everyone drive any car as a taxi.”

        I second the request for citation.

  9. …”And in France, Uber drivers must wait 15 minutes before answering a call,”…

    Pretty sure I can plan 15 minutes in advance and not have it be an inconvenience.

  10. The cabbies’ mantra is safety

    Oh, that’s hilarious. The last time I was living in NYC, I remember the Village Voice breaking a big scandal about the hack inspectors taking bribes. If you stuck $200 in the visor, your cab passed. If you didn’t, they’d find something to reject. Some of those apparatchiki were taking home about double their nominal salaries in cash.


  11. A Salon writer quoted Marx to express concern about competition? BS.

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