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Noted in Passing: End of the Line for Uber

Cory Doctorow on why you need to get used to just calling a cab FROM  Daily links from Cory Doctorow

Uber is a bezzle (“the magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost it”). Every bezzle ends.

Uber’s time is up.

Uber was never going to be profitable. Never. It lured drivers and riders into cars by subsidizing rides with billions and billions of dollars from the Saudi royal family, keeping up the con-artist’s ever-shifting patter about how all of this would some day stand on its own.

Like the pretense that self-driving cars would eliminate all their labor costs. They knew this would never happen. They spent billions on a doomed effort, then had to bribe another company with a $400m “investment” to take its window-dressing away.

Uber didn’t need self-driving cars – it needed us to think it would have self-driving cars. That way the company’s Saudi owners could raise investment capital from subsequent “investors” (AKA “suckers”) all the way up to the IPO, cash out, and walk away, whistling innocently.

That’s the bezzle at work – a dazzle op that keeps new money flowing in, convincing people that a pile of shit this big must have a pony beneath it. But as the years went by, the stories that Uber told us about its path to profitability got more and more fanciful.

Take the story that Uber could be a substitute for public transit. Private cars can’t substitute for buses, light rail and subways. It’s just fucking geometry. Number of cars * area occupied by cars * increased distances created by roads = infinity.

Uber increased road congestion.


Uber also made cities more hostile to bicycles, by turning bike lanes into Uber drop-off/pickup spots. No worries – cyclists can just take an Uber!

When Uber ran out of fairy tales about its impending quantum leaps in AI and its sorcerous capacity to defy the laws of geometry and reduce traffic by increasing the number of cars on the road, it created a food-delivery business…that lost billions.

The bezzle was an equal-opportunity ripoff. It didn’t just steal money from credulous investors – it also victimized workers, riders, cities, and restaurants. After all, if no one drove, rode, or ate from an Uber, investors might wise up about its impending financial doom.

So within days of Uber’s IPO, it jacked up prices for riders and ratcheted down wages for drivers (drivers were already losing money at this point, but Uber relied on their unfamiliarity with capital depreciation calculations to hide this).

RTWT AT Pluralistic: 10 Aug 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • PA Cat August 18, 2021, 10:42 AM

    Uber wasn’t helped by hiring rampage killers like Jason Dalton, who claimed that his 2016 shooting spree in Kalamazoo was triggered by his Uber app. According to the Kalamazoo PD, “Dalton acknowledged that he recognized the Uber symbol as being that of the Eastern Star, and a devil head popped up on his screen, and when he pressed the button on the app, that is when all the problems started. . . . Dalton told us that literally, when he logged onto [Uber’s app], it started making him be like a puppet.”
    Short video about the case here:

    Come to think of it, maybe what’s left of Biden’s brain is controlled by the Uber app.

  • James ONeil August 18, 2021, 11:05 AM

    Never used Uber but this bezzle of an essay sounds like a theory looking for a conspiracy.

    I found it was written by Cory Doctorow, now I understand.

  • gwbnyc August 18, 2021, 11:44 AM

    link doesn’t respond here or off search engine.

    temporary, I’ll wager.

  • Jeff Brokaw August 18, 2021, 12:04 PM

    Plus, the CEO was a POS amoral tech whiz kid until he was forced to resign. The full story told in sequence is truly unbelievable and provides a glimpse into the band of amoral douchetools that run the Silicon Valley oligarchy and how they use technology to run roughshod over anything and everything, including people’s mental health (social media algorithms that drive “engagement”).

  • Kevin in PA August 18, 2021, 12:11 PM

    In the beginning, I viewed Uber as a way for people that wish to hustle a little on the side to make a bit of money, while at the same time driving a stake through the heart of big city livery license medallion racket.
    Using Uber while traveling was perhaps a little more convenient and better price, but the drivers knew nothing that a city cabbie would know.
    They lost me completely when they issued the new anti-racism policy, in the wake of the Floyd overdose debacle…same for Air B&B, and many others. I even got a verbose pile of drivel from some mushroom company in Oregon, from which I had purchased spawn. Every white lefty went virtue-signaling over the top with new anti-discrimination policies, anti-racism mission statements, “hate has no home here” statements and on and on.

    Are there any people in business in the West that have not swallowed this self flagellation schtick?

  • SoylentGreen August 18, 2021, 12:13 PM

    I’ve used Uber a lot. It seems to work well and the drivers I’ve run into seem pretty satisfied and savvy. I used to run a delivery business where the drivers used their own cars. Most of them understand depreciation and wear-and-tear. Their goal is to generally get the money out of their cars as quick as they can and they understand the paradigm. How do I know? I did delivery, too – in my own car. As far as the rest of the stuff about IPO and embezzlement, idk ’bout all that. Like James O’Neil says, “… sounds like a theory looking for a conspiracy.”

  • james wilson August 18, 2021, 1:46 PM

    Over fifty years and several cities I can’t recall businesses with less regard for their customers than taxis.

  • John the River August 18, 2021, 2:55 PM

    The Pandemic killed Uber here in my Massachusetts coastal town. I naively dropped my car off and asked for a ride from the app. An hour later I was still sitting there wondering what happened.
    None of their drivers wanted to pick up people anymore.

    After reading this story I clicked on the tablets Uber app, it’s gone and goes to a brand new sign up screen that wants you to agree to handing over your life and privacy to continue.
    Well, that’s the end of that I guess.

  • Walter Sobchak August 18, 2021, 11:05 PM

    There is a recently published paper from NBER that shows Uber has saved thousands of lives by giving drunks and easy way to get a ride home in areas (like most of the country) that don’t have crusing tazi cabs.

    “Using Uber while traveling was perhaps a little more convenient and better price, but the drivers knew nothing that a city cabbie would know.”
    You mean like the one who just got here from Somalia last week?

    Anything that hurts bicycle riders is a big plus in my book.

  • mmack August 19, 2021, 8:19 AM

    I don’t doubt that there’s hinky practices afoot with UBER. Just about every business “misreports” or “creatively interprets” cashflow, expenses, and income. And yes, even I wondered how they were actually turning a profit.

    That said, back when I lived in Silly-nois I took actual, honest-to-God taxis, in the suburbs and in Da Loop. It could get downright scary.

    “Using Uber while traveling was perhaps a little more convenient and better price, but the drivers knew nothing that a city cabbie would know.”

    Most of my cab drivers came from three places:
    – Russia
    – The Middle East
    – Africa

    Not really “local” cab drivers. Most of them had a tablet or phone with Google Maps on it attached to a holder on the dashboard to plot their route.

    I could have fun and tell you about:
    – The Arab cab driver that took us the wrong way down a one way street and almost hit an ultra-orthodox Jew crossing the street (think hat, black suit, curled sideburns, whole get-up).
    – The cabbie zipping through traffic in a beat up Crown Vic with no brakes.
    – The one white cabbie who responded to our call by getting out of the bar across the street from us, leaving his half-finished longneck on the curb next to his minivan taxi, jumped in, and pulled a u-turn to pick us up.

    But I’ll leave it to your imagination.

    The problem with the author’s love of public transportation and buses is, you get to ride with the public. And in Chicago, if you’re not riding a Metra train from a nice suburb to Da Loop, you’re riding with Diverse and Vibrant folks who are sizing you up as a target.

    “Uber also made cities more hostile to bicycles, by turning bike lanes into Uber drop-off/pickup spots. No worries – cyclists can just take an Uber!”

    Spare me your tears. Where I live bike-lanes are grift for politicians that take one usable lane from cars and NEVER seem to have bike riders on them.