There are two stories to Uber. Both matter.
The first story is this: Uber was founded in March 2009 by Travis Kalanick with a single, powerful idea: it shouldn’t be hard to hail a cab. Anyone living in a major metro area knows how important Uber and other ridesharing apps have become, rapidly turning street hails into a thing of the past. Powered by ubiquitous smartphone location tracking technology and fueled by nobody wanting to stand out in the rain waiting for that one taxithat’s not already taken, Uber erupted volcanically into the popular consciousness and quickly became a vital part of the informal infrastructure of cities around the world.
The second: Uber is a ruthless company that underpays its drivers, engages in troubling anticompetitive practices, is relentlessly opportunistic and profiteering to the point of jacking up fares in emergencies and breaking strikes in opposition to the President’s immigration ban, and fosters a toxic culture rife with worker exploitation and sexual harassment.
The second story is increasingly proving to be the dominant one.
Criticism of Uber and founder Kalanick is nothing new. From the outset, it drew criticism within the San Francisco area, where it first operated, for being essentially a service to keep rich people from interacting with the poor. Class issues have always been at the heart of Uber’s public persona; Kalanick is the sort who believes you get what you deserve and you deserve what you get, going so far as to berate one of his own drivers who complained that the pay structure had left him in severe debt. “You know what?” he said. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.”