Politicians and Regulators Beware, the Uber Economy is Here to Stay

Ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft saw huge demand increases in Portland between May and August, KGW reports, while taxi service slowed, according to a report released by the city of Portland.

The report showed that overall, ridership for private for-hire transportation was up 40 percent, giving more than 1 million rides in four months. Uber and Lyft saw a 125 percent increase in rides while taxi rides dropped significantly.

Lyft said the data shows a “strong consumer demand for transportation options like Lyft in Portland.” Uber posted a commentary on its website. “Ridesharing is serving East Portland and underserved neighborhoods like never before,” notes the commentary. “Wait times for ridesharing are shorter than other for-hire options at nearly every time of the day, in nearly every Portland zip code.”

The taxi union doesn’t have relevant comments to offer. It is, of course, understandable that taxi drivers resent Uber and Lyft threatening their obsolescent services with modern app technology and a superior, much more flexible business model.

All seems to indicate that a similar explosion of ridesharing is occurring in major cities in the US and, increasingly, worldwide.

Revolutionary Businesses Needlessly Hampered by the Government (Rubio)

uber-enjoy-ridePoliticians and regulators in the US and – especially – in over-bureaucratized Europe try to shut down Uber and Lyft with over-regulation to show support to the taxi drivers and “protect jobs.” But it’s also evident that the consumers are voting for the Uber economy, and the political and regulatory establishments will be forced to give in, or lose votes.

The Uber economy creates jobs – for example, there are 30,000 Uber drivers in New York City. Not, of course, traditional 9-to-5 jobs with employment security and benefits. Uber drivers aren’t considered as employees, but independent contractors. However, anyone with a family to feed and bills to pay will agree that an Uber job is better than no job.

These days, “jobs” are becoming a scarce commodity, earn-as-you-go freelance jobs are often the only option for the fast-growing masses of people without a fixed job, and the trend seems unstoppable.

Browsing the Uberpeople.net independent rideshare drivers community forum is a good way to take the pulse of Uber economy workers. Many drivers, of course, complain about long hours and low earnings after expenses – a few hundred dollars per week is what most full-time drivers make – but their advice to newcomers is often that, well, it’s better than nothing. A nationwide protest, organized by dissatisfied Uber drivers last weekend, wasn’t successful.

The Uber economy is much more than Uber the company, and doesn’t necessarily need companies as centralized service providers. New decentralized technologies for distributed web and phone apps could enable Uber-like services powered by the individual devices of drivers and consumers, without a company. Uber without Uber, by the people for the people.

Some politicians, especially Republicans, are beginning to realize that they should ride the Uber economy wave if they can’t stop it. After the much publicized Uber ride of presidential candidate Jeb Bush, other Republican candidates are coming out in favor of the sharing economy. Marco Rubio recently praised companies like Uber and Airbnb “as revolutionary businesses that are needlessly hampered by the federal government.” But Democrats should also pay attention, because the people seem to support the Uber economy.

Uber and Lyft drivers themselves could be a temporary phenomenon. “Within 10 years, we will see Uber laying off most of its drivers as it switches to self-driving cars,” said technology and business expert Vivek Wadhwa. But other sectors (e.g. home cooking, baby sitting, counseling, senior citizen care, sex services) that can’t be automated will offer new opportunities for a sharing freelancing economy enabled by new technologies.

The sharing economy is here to stay. Governments should accept that, and at the same time make preparations to give everyone a guaranteed basic income.

Images from Wikimedia Commons and L.A. Foodie/Flickr.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.