It’s been a while since start-up giant Uber had anything that even slightly resembled a great week. Nonetheless, this previous one appears to have been gloriously bad. Are you not fully updated on the latest developments? No worries, let’s break it down for you.
This week, news broke that Uber’s most recent endeavour, self-driving cars, claimed its first victim in Arizona, US. The car struck down 49 year old Elaine Herzberg, who was pushing a bicycle across the street, and the vehicle showed no signs of slowing down. While the testing of self-driving cars in the US now has come to a temporary halt, Uber has yet to issue an official apology. Rather, both local authorities and Uber representatives seem to do the complete opposite: victim shaming. Leaked news stories seem to emphasize that the victim “might have been homeless” and that she was “crossing abruptly outside of the crosswalk”. As if being either homeless or crossing outside of a crosswalk will ever be a valid excuse for traffic deaths. It doesn’t exactly help that Uber’s former head of self-driving cars, Anthony Levandowski, was once quoted by New York Magazine saying: “I’m pissed we didn’t get the first death,” after a driver died in a Tesla on autopilot in 2016. Levandowski now denies ever saying it.
This story is unfortunately only the tip of the Uber-iceberg. Especially on the European continent, it appears that Uber has been met with much more resistance than they could ever imagine. Last year, Uber famously ended up with a massive slap in the face when Transport of London revoked their licence, a decision that could potentially put the city’s 40,000 Uber drivers out of work. Not to mention, it would by law remove the company from one of Europe’s largest markets.
Uber is a brand that people love to hate, but is it really without reason? The recent stories reveal a company that is turning more and more toxic for everyone involved. In the US, Uber is currently arguing their way through a massive legal battle with Alphabet, Google’s parent-company, over stolen technology. Simultaneously, they are facing legal setbacks in countries like France and Germany.
While Americans still cling to the start-up giant, Europe is growing more hesitant. To be frank, things are not looking good at all.
Is Uber failing because Europeans are too nice?
While it might initially sound like a naive question, it might yet be worth asking. You see, Uber does not only have problems in France. Or only in Germany. Or Norway. The company is struggling all over Europe, and in most cases it’s for the very same reason. American journalist Elias Isquith was one of the first to comment on why Uber appears to be massively failing in Europe: “I’d say it’s the result of a basic error the folks running Uber keep making,” Isquith explained to the online magazine Salon. “Namely, they think other Western democracies will be just as willing to sacrifice its values and bend to the market as we are here in the United States”.
Isquith’s prediction is backed up by what appears to be the final nail in the Uber-coffin: a study that was recently published by MIT. The study claimed, in much more sophisticated phrasing, that Uber certainly is a convenient and great company – unless you drive for them, that is. The study touches upon the lack of right and protection for the drivers, their unreasonably low wages and their lack of benefits. After the study went public, newspapers all over Europe have been eagerly comparing Uber drivers to modern slaves – and, not to mention, questioned whether or not the capitalistic approach of Uber is creating a “lost generation” of workers who are unable to support themselves despite seemingly making a decent salary.
Rather than performing a thorough investigation into their routines, Uber’s CEO decided to choose the petty path and sent out a clumsy tweet claiming that “MIT = Mathematically Incompetent Theories”.
Faced with the backlash and childish insults from Uber, MIT has agreed to re-do the calculations used in the study. No matter the outcome, it’s hard not to question whether or not Uber is simply too toxic for the European market. Is the problem that Europeans simply favour fairness and social cohesion over convenience and capitalism? It appears so.