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Old 03-01-2017, 04:01 AM   #1
Alan C. Lawhon
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Is Uber Doomed?

https://tech.slashdot.org/story/17/0...ver-over-fares

Kalanick's short fuse might possibly be triggered by articles like this:

http://jalopnik.com/uber-is-doomed-1792634203

and this:

https://www.susanjfowler.com/blog/20...e-year-at-uber

I wonder if short interest in Uber has picked up in the past week?
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Old 03-01-2017, 04:15 AM   #2
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

I'm not sure but I think Lyft has clearly been the better company for awhile now, I'm hoping they are able to pick up some business and close the gap. That being said, Uber is still so far superior over the average taxi company I'm not going to stop using them where Lyft isn't available. I agree that Uber is not being run well, and also don't think they can last long-term without paying their drivers more. They are running out of fresh meat that is willing to sign up for them, most drivers are at the point now where they are figuring out after maintenance they aren't making as much as they thought they were.
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Old 03-01-2017, 04:16 AM   #3
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

With it's current model I don't like anything about it. Ignoring the many PR problems, I think the independent contractor driver model itself is very difficult for a lot of reasons, one of which being that there are so many industries competing for those drivers (food delivery, packages, you name it). None of them can retain drivers and it's still a favorable market with low gas prices. They're also essentially in a gray area with compliance on ICs versus employees and that will eventually bite them, much more so than it has so far.

Eventually I could see them switching to an employee system and simply raising rates to offset it, but even that is problematic as costs will scale way up and turnover will still be obscene. As is, I think investors will wear out as they figure to light money on fire for a while. We seem to be seeing this with smaller-scale delivery companies.

If they can survive until the self-driving car era, they'll be fine.
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Old 03-01-2017, 04:30 AM   #4
Alan C. Lawhon
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

Burning That VC Money

Here's an interesting post from a [former] Uber driver.

[begin]

The driver is 100% right. Uber has set the fares so low, it is very hard to break even, much less make money. Under $3 to carry someone across town is not paying for anything. It's bull****.

At the same time, they are onboarding hundreds of new drivers every single week in my city. So they have tons of drivers competing with tons of drivers and everybody is losing money on damn pool rides. The worst thing is these new drivers are lured in with Uber fuel cards and Uber car leases they can get, but the fact is, you have to pay Uber for all that **** first before you make a dime. So if you lease a car from them, you are in the hole for $200 or more a week, before you turn the key and burn gas and your time.

When I drove for Uber, it was very rare that I made $200 a week working 8 hours a day. The money wasn't there, once pool went live. So if I leased a car from Uber, I would owe my soul to the company store into infinity and not make a dime. My lawyer does bankruptcies and she says she sees tons of clueless Uber drivers who got into these leases promised a way to make them pay and then they find out there is NO way to make the lease payment and keep the car fueled, much less make any take home money.

As long as clueless new drivers show up with dollar signs in their eyes, Uber will be happy to put them on the roads and ensure neither the existing drivers nor the new ones make anything.

This will eventually fix the low fare issues as drivers just quit and new ones stop signing up. But then Uber will probably be entirely irrelevant anyway.

Right now, Uber still sends me messages begging me to hit the road and drive. Guarantees of $20-40 an hour for making ONE trip per given hour. All sorts of promotions promising to double my earnings if I recruit someone else to drive. Who pays for this? Investor cash. Watch it burnnnnn.

I would be tempted to drive for $20 to $40 an hour and make that one required trip, but I hate Uber so much at this point I don't give a ****. I am DONE driving for them. They can ripoff somebody else.

[end]
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Old 03-01-2017, 05:35 AM   #5
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

I certainly don't see why anyone New would invest in Uber and they need money. Current heavy investors might throw more money in hopes of salvaging their original investment.

At this point Uber is a slew of negatives with no IPO on the horizon to bail them out. Even if they had it planned all the negative stories would have crushed it. I certainly think Lyft is in a more tenable place but with the competition heating up substantially in the next five years neither of them might be safe.

I'm not sure if it is possible to create a viable economic model that works for all parties. These services built themselves up on churning new drivers in and spitting them out. Uber being the worse of the two. They have got to be running dangerously close to exhausting the driver pool. I also don't think there is a lot of price elasticity. While some business comes from cabs, a lot of their business comes in place of getting rides from others, driving yourself, or alternative transportation. The services are appealing because they are, mostly, inexpensive. If they charged $30 for a few miles so they could have career drivers, they would have almost no customers.

Uber's expertise is on the app backend but for this particular service that is the easy part. That is why real threats are going to come from automobile manufacters, autonomous cars and some combination of those. Designing an app to manage rides is way easier than that.
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Old 03-01-2017, 06:44 AM   #6
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

[For disclosure, an organization I'm a part of has financial interest within this industry. No personal details or insider info here, but I have been present for investor meetings and some presentations, etc.][I am NOT qualified to give investment advice]

There's definitely going to be a price adjustment down the road at some point. Some disagree, but others believe that these contractor-driver companies will push prices up and force it. In many markets the added driver demand is already doing that, and everybody is feeling it, even food chains and florists who have their own drivers - they can't afford the new premiums and are themselves pushed to outsource. On the other hand, customers won't adjust overnight - the bottom line is that their rides & deliveries are being subsidized by investors while the ridesharing/delivery systems take a more complete foothold.

My opinion: If you're not a company with the resources to scale and fight major legal battles, this is the wrong industry and you should get out. The barriers to entry are deceptively high and filled with a lot of smaller parties that will be absorbed or disappear.

As far as the driver pools, I don't know about exhausting them necessarily, but all of those companies appear to have been reduced to taking anyone with a license, car, a relatively clean driving history and passable background check. Forget personality or work history or reference checks - so driver performance is unreliable, turnover is obscene, and you open yourself up to other problems. Conversion of applicants to drivers is low, turnover is measured in weeks.

The costs of acquiring a constant supply of drivers is a real problem. Look through the want ads in any major market and that's almost all you see. You'd be stunned at the annual costs for this end of the business - I've heard the suggestion that this industry almost singlehandedly pushed Craigslist job ad costs higher.

You also have to be careful with contractors, since you can't legally "manage" them or dictate certain things about how they go about their work.

Add to that there are other legal pitfalls and potential difficulties...

Long term I think these service prices need maybe a 50% bump or so with more than half of that going to drivers, in order for things to level out. That's combined with all of the growth they'll need, and other tech-side efficiencies they'll continue to iron out.

Now, with Uber, they're such a monster that with enough growth they can continue to strangle the market. I wouldn't personally touch it with my money, but if you can look far enough down the road there's definitely potential. It's going to eat a lot more investor cash and the kind of inorganic growth they'll wind up doing won't be cheap though. I'll bet they continue to expand their services, not just with UberEats but also delivering pretty much whatever can be delivered. I know the sub-delivery companies out of Amazon warehouses are kind of a mess in many cases too. Massive market.

Last edited by Minirra; 03-01-2017 at 06:49 AM.
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Old 03-01-2017, 08:50 AM   #7
Alan C. Lawhon
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Minirra View Post
[For disclosure, an organization I'm a part of has financial interest within this industry. No personal details or insider info here, but I have been present for investor meetings and some presentations, etc.][I am NOT qualified to give investment advice]

There's definitely going to be a price adjustment down the road at some point. Some disagree, but others believe that these contractor-driver companies will push prices up and force it. In many markets the added driver demand is already doing that, and everybody is feeling it, even food chains and florists who have their own drivers - they can't afford the new premiums and are themselves pushed to outsource. On the other hand, customers won't adjust overnight - the bottom line is that their rides & deliveries are being subsidized by investors while the ridesharing/delivery systems take a more complete foothold.

My opinion: If you're not a company with the resources to scale and fight major legal battles, this is the wrong industry and you should get out. The barriers to entry are deceptively high and filled with a lot of smaller parties that will be absorbed or disappear.

As far as the driver pools, I don't know about exhausting them necessarily, but all of those companies appear to have been reduced to taking anyone with a license, car, a relatively clean driving history and passable background check. Forget personality or work history or reference checks - so driver performance is unreliable, turnover is obscene, and you open yourself up to other problems. Conversion of applicants to drivers is low, turnover is measured in weeks.

The costs of acquiring a constant supply of drivers is a real problem. Look through the want ads in any major market and that's almost all you see. You'd be stunned at the annual costs for this end of the business - I've heard the suggestion that this industry almost singlehandedly pushed Craigslist job ad costs higher.

You also have to be careful with contractors, since you can't legally "manage" them or dictate certain things about how they go about their work.

Add to that there are other legal pitfalls and potential difficulties...

Long term I think these service prices need maybe a 50% bump or so with more than half of that going to drivers, in order for things to level out. That's combined with all of the growth they'll need, and other tech-side efficiencies they'll continue to iron out.

Now, with Uber, they're such a monster that with enough growth they can continue to strangle the market. I wouldn't personally touch it with my money, but if you can look far enough down the road there's definitely potential. It's going to eat a lot more investor cash and the kind of inorganic growth they'll wind up doing won't be cheap though. I'll bet they continue to expand their services, not just with UberEats but also delivering pretty much whatever can be delivered. I know the sub-delivery companies out of Amazon warehouses are kind of a mess in many cases too. Massive market.
Minirra:

I'm curious as to your opinion concerning Ryan Felton's "Uber Is Doomed" blog post. (It's the second link in my OP.)

I suppose it's possible Mr. Felton is biased and/or just doesn't like Travis Kalanick and his "Ayn Rand" mindset. I suppose it might be possible that Uber is another Amazon-in-the-making. However, Felton points out some fairly compelling reasons for why Uber may never be profitable. (I'm no Harvard MBA, but the argument that Uber probably will not be able to achieve massive economies of scale - the way Amazon achieved massive economies of scale - seems plausible.)

I suppose the real question concerning whether or not Uber is doomed will boil down to this: How much patience (and money) will VC and billionaire investors be willing to sink into Uber before they say "To hell with it!" and pull the plug?

Also, I have a hard time believing savvy businessmen like Frederick Smith at Fed Ex and the crew running UPS are going to sit on their hands doing nothing while Travis attempts to destroy their business. (If the net long term effect of an [ultimately] "successful" Uber is to raise everybody's shipping costs on everything, I'll be happy to see Uber fail.)

Last edited by Alan C. Lawhon; 03-01-2017 at 08:57 AM.
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Old 03-01-2017, 08:59 AM   #8
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

$200 for a 40 hr week? lIs he driving in Lost Springs, Wyoming?
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Old 03-01-2017, 09:08 AM   #9
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

I'm no businessman but I don't see how its sustainable. Here in DC the Uberpool option is so freakin cheap, can they really subsidize like that forever? Even a 50% hike in those prices would be amazingly cheap though!

Quote:
so driver performance is unreliable, turnover is obscene, and you open yourself up to other problems. Conversion of applicants to drivers is low, turnover is measured in weeks
Man, this is surprising to me. I have taken hundreds of Ubers and the quality is pretty consistently good. The rating system is accurate too...if I really wanted to be a bit more picky just cancelling rides where I got a driver under a certain threshold would work.
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Old 03-01-2017, 01:24 PM   #10
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

That video with the CEO and driver was great. Why is that guy still driving though, if he realizes its a losing bet? I was recently trying to explain this to a friend that was driving for them, that he was not really making any money. This video is what finally made him understand: https://youtu.be/fgQPj90OrQE
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Old 03-01-2017, 02:21 PM   #11
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

Many Uber drivers in my area also drive for Lyft. I've spoken to 5 of them and all say Lyft is better and they make more from Lyft than Uber but I have not bothered to verify that beyond their words.
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Old 03-01-2017, 02:35 PM   #12
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan C. Lawhon View Post

I wonder if short interest in Uber has picked up in the past week?
How do you short a non-public company?
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Old 03-01-2017, 02:53 PM   #13
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

For some of the reasons mentioned in the Felton article, I'm not convinced that Amazon is a great comp for Uber. Amazon's core business provided more possible line extensions than Uber's core business likely will.

My completely uneducated guess is that Uber will rise or fall depending on (i) it's ability to monetize the massive amounts of data that it is collecting; (ii) the price of oil over the next decade; and (iii) the timeline for driverless cars.

FWIW, I could see a future in which Uber fails to take over the world, but it succeeds as a less transformative company that is profitable, and operates, only in specific markets.
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Old 03-01-2017, 03:48 PM   #14
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

Costs for Uber don't decrease as they scale. Big problem.
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Old 03-01-2017, 03:55 PM   #15
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

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$200 for a 40 hr week? lIs he driving in Lost Springs, Wyoming?
I've passed through that town a few times before. Not a lot of night life there.

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Old 03-01-2017, 04:00 PM   #16
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

hope all the VC lose every penny funneled into this , keep burning that cash to subsidize both drivers and passengers.
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Old 03-01-2017, 04:22 PM   #17
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

They are losing $40,000,000 a week. loooool dumping money in at the $69 billion valuation or whatever.
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Old 03-01-2017, 04:36 PM   #18
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

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Originally Posted by markksman View Post
At this point Uber is a slew of negatives with no IPO on the horizon to bail them out. Even if they had it planned all the negative stories would have crushed it. I certainly think Lyft is in a more tenable place but with the competition heating up substantially in the next five years neither of them might be safe.

I'm not sure if it is possible to create a viable economic model that works for all parties.
RIght, but Uber doesn't want a sustainable solution here. They just want a "scrape by until we can deploy autonomous cars and cut out all the drivers" solution. They aren't looking to build a longterm relationship with career drivers, so of course they **** them at every opportunity.

Quote:
Uber's expertise is on the app backend but for this particular service that is the easy part. That is why real threats are going to come from automobile manufacters, autonomous cars and some combination of those. Designing an app to manage rides is way easier than that.
lol

you might as well say that airbus is a threat to fedex.
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Old 03-01-2017, 05:46 PM   #19
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

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I'm no businessman but I don't see how its sustainable. Here in DC the Uberpool option is so freakin cheap, can they really subsidize like that forever? Even a 50% hike in those prices would be amazingly cheap though!

Man, this is surprising to me. I have taken hundreds of Ubers and the quality is pretty consistently good. The rating system is accurate too...if I really wanted to be a bit more picky just cancelling rides where I got a driver under a certain threshold would work.
The DC market I actually know a good bit about where this is concerned, it's been pretty unfriendly to competitors. On an Uber fare you probably wouldn't see it, the person's doing their thing and just trying to get a rating. The part you don't see is the atrocious rates drivers get, and the constant churn because of it, and that's magnified by a relatively lower tolerance for increased prices. Drivers jump around from platform to platform there.

Here's ~50 Craigslist ads for Uber in that market, just from TODAY. That's a couple thousand dollars worth of spam on a Wednesday & there will be many more before the day is out. That's how bad it is.

https://washingtondc.craigslist.org/...jjj?query=uber
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Old 03-01-2017, 06:01 PM   #20
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

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hope all the VC lose every penny funneled into this , keep burning that cash to subsidize both drivers and passengers.
why? because you think its a bad investment? something else?
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Old 03-01-2017, 07:53 PM   #21
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

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Originally Posted by Alan C. Lawhon View Post
Minirra:

I'm curious as to your opinion concerning Ryan Felton's "Uber Is Doomed" blog post. (It's the second link in my OP.)

I suppose it's possible Mr. Felton is biased and/or just doesn't like Travis Kalanick and his "Ayn Rand" mindset. I suppose it might be possible that Uber is another Amazon-in-the-making. However, Felton points out some fairly compelling reasons for why Uber may never be profitable. (I'm no Harvard MBA, but the argument that Uber probably will not be able to achieve massive economies of scale - the way Amazon achieved massive economies of scale - seems plausible.)

I suppose the real question concerning whether or not Uber is doomed will boil down to this: How much patience (and money) will VC and billionaire investors be willing to sink into Uber before they say "To hell with it!" and pull the plug?

Also, I have a hard time believing savvy businessmen like Frederick Smith at Fed Ex and the crew running UPS are going to sit on their hands doing nothing while Travis attempts to destroy their business. (If the net long term effect of an [ultimately] "successful" Uber is to raise everybody's shipping costs on everything, I'll be happy to see Uber fail.)
Sorry I missed this - I agree with his take on the challenges, that's certainly consistent what I've seen. Seems to be a bit of bias but the reasoning is sound.

One of the problems I see is that Uber apparently positions themselves to be a super-affordable transportation option that anybody will use, where I suspect they'd be better off pricing themselves away from the bottom a bit and serving a smaller crowd who is willing to pay more. In some case they're cheaper than riding a bus which in the near- or medium-term is questionable to me.

He leaves out a few things going for Uber I think:

First, by far - over the past few years, investors have thrown cash at all kinds of similar contractor driver models and (badly) oversaturated the market, and we're seeing that money dry up now. Whoever's left should be in a better position to make adjustments price-wise, and face less competition for the drivers. This could be a big part of why Uber is being so price-aggressive right now.

Second we know related models can work and be profitable. Taxi companies do it on a local scale and manage, and they don't have the tech efficiencies with say routing or customer generation that Uber does. (Note: They also don't tend to **** around with their cash the way Uber has done).

Third, again, the market is massive and people want the service. I could pick at pricing strategies and whatever all day, but the bottom line is that people will use an app and pay to ride places. They need to find their sweet spot and iron out the approach but there's one there somewhere.

I'd add a possible small fourth in the case of rideshare companies, which is the potential to partner up with state and local governments as a replacement for government-subsidized transportation and maybe get some of those subsidy dollars themselves. I would certainly argue that the service contributes to productivity at least a bit.

...

As for the drivers themselves, I'm not really sure what there is to say there. It's a job that virtually anyone who for applies will get, provided they pass a simple background/MVR check and have a SSN + suitable vehicle. I can't speak for all of them but many companies have no in-person interviews, one of us did that trying the application process for Lyft and never spoke to a human, was never asked for a reference or work history either.

While I definitely take issue with some of the earnings claims you see in ads, beyond that they're on their own...a lot of them figure to have weak work histories and are terrible at math. Another factor is that taxes and other things aren't deducted for contractors, and I suspect there's a very high number pocketing all of it and delinquent on their taxes. Given how many industries are abusing the IC model I expect that problem adds up to quite a bit.
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Old 03-01-2017, 08:52 PM   #22
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

I was under the impression that Uber was going the route of driverless cars in the future
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Old 03-01-2017, 09:14 PM   #23
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

^ They're already rolling out tests in a couple markets it will eventually get there, but I'm not sure anyone can firmly back a realistic timetable for when this shift actually happens at scale, much less when it's going to translate into a meaningful cost savings. They don't fully control that the progress with self-driving anything and new tech is expensive. If anything I'd think this tech will increase their costs initially. They'll be providing and maintaining the vehicles, don't see insurance dropping for a bit, and they need a fleet sized to peak hours (that's a lot of high-tech cars).
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Old 03-01-2017, 09:46 PM   #24
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

Minirra, what do you do for a living? Just curious. Posts seem well thought out.
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Old 03-01-2017, 10:27 PM   #25
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Re: Is Uber Doomed?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Minirra View Post

...

As for the drivers themselves, I'm not really sure what there is to say there. It's a job that virtually anyone who for applies will get, provided they pass a simple background/MVR check and have a SSN + suitable vehicle. I can't speak for all of them but many companies have no in-person interviews, one of us did that trying the application process for Lyft and never spoke to a human, was never asked for a reference or work history either.

While I definitely take issue with some of the earnings claims you see in ads, beyond that they're on their own...a lot of them figure to have weak work histories and are terrible at math. Another factor is that taxes and other things aren't deducted for contractors, and I suspect there's a very high number pocketing all of it and delinquent on their taxes. Given how many industries are abusing the IC model I expect that problem adds up to quite a bit.
Its pretty much this. Any job with low barriers to entry and not requiring much in the way of skills is going to see wages race to the bottom. This will only continue as ride sharing grows. The floor on wages might be determined by the minimum level of quality / service they can tolerate. But the thing that has really made Uber viable has been the high levels of underemployment we've seen over the last 8 years or so. As the number of oil and gas and factory jobs increase and infrastructure spending kicks in the pool of drivers willing to work for nothing is going to dry up. That's probably one of the biggest risks to Uber right now.
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