Is Uber Still Uber-Cool ?

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Source: Creative Commons.

Innovation is essential to today’s technologically-driven world, one that prioritizes connectivity, convenience, and efficiency in all aspects of daily life. It is in this environment that mobile applications have transcended our phone screens and reshaped entire industries. Uber, a taxi-service app, has reached international status as an alternative to regular taxis. Even in Singapore, Uber has grown to become a major competitor to Comfort Delgro and SMRT cabs. However, Uber’s mainstream success has been met with waves of controversy. With constant scrutiny falling on Uber’s business practices, with cities around the world such as London banning the company from operation, should consumers in Singapore return to pre-existing cab companies instead of using Uber?

Overall, the app offers more flexibility for both the user and driver than regular cabs.

An advertised selling point for Uber is that their ride fees are commonly cheaper than regular taxi services. Uber was the first mobile app to eliminate uncertainty for the user by tracking a cab before it arrives and allowing communication with the driver. Transactions can be made automatically, allowing both parties to travel cashless, without worries of unpaid fares or theft. Overall, the app offered more flexibility for both the user and driver than regular cabs. Competitive apps that incorporate these feature (such as “Grab”) for normal taxis are catching up, but is it too little, too late?  In Singapore, these factors attracted many early adopters to the Uber app, along with its potential benefit of lessening traffic and the need for public parking garages.

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Infographics by Chloe Venn.

However, that is not to say that Uber hasn’t stirred issues in Singapore. There have been several cases of driver misconduct, such as the recent jailing of an Uber driver for stealing a laptop and more than $18,000 from his passenger. Furthermore, working conditions for drivers are not always ideal either, often it can be fatiguing; so much so that in October, a Singaporean driver in his 60s died at the wheel.

Yet, in the face of controversy, the company has atypically refused to regard their drivers as employees.  A career advisor and specialist,  Pete Robertson, stated in his BBC article that this act of ignoring the employer-employee link “may have the side effect of de-personalizing the relationship between worker and supervisor”.  In claiming that its drivers are ‘self-employed’, Uber can exempt itself from responsibility for their drivers and their actions or misconduct.

Uber drivers in Singapore could be potentially earning less than we expect them to be.

Along with this, job security for Uber drivers has come into question. Robertson noted that “Flexibility in human resources allows employers to scale operations up and down rapidly, and with minimal cost. This is not just about keeping wage bills down, but also about employers reducing levels of economic risk, while workers increase their share of risk-bearing”. This ‘risk-bearing’ is limited worker’s rights and an absence of benefits or holidays for uber drivers. Moreover, according to the findings of mathematician Jade Lovell, explained in the youtube video, ‘Why Uber is A Scam’,  contrary to the company’s claims, Uber drivers do not earn more money than regular ones – especially when Uber’s commission, taxes and the cost of upkeep is taken into account.  Although salary is variable depending on the region, Uber drivers in Singapore could be potentially earning less than we expect them to be.

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Controversial Uber advertisement in City Hall MRT. Source: Eco Business.

Lastly, Uber has worsened its reputation in Singapore with an advertisement campaign in September that was regarded by many as  ‘disruptive’ to society. While they were sleek and humorous, the ads failed to align with the nation’s environmental protection and health efforts. Posted in MRT stations, they were perhaps an intention to steer Singaporeans away from traveling by the ever-so-inefficient public transportation system. In effect, they condoned laziness and attempted to convince Singaporeans to drive instead of using environmentally friendly modes of transport like the MRT, or, their legs.

The question of which taxi service consumers should use remains up to the consumer. However, soon, this question may be answered by Uber itself.

Nevertheless, the convenience, comfort, and cost-effectiveness of Uber sustain its popularity. The question of which taxi service consumers should use remains up to the consumer. However, soon, this question may be answered by Uber itself. According to an analysis by investment-banking company UOB Kay Hian posted in the Singapore Business Review, Singapore taxi company Comfort-del-gro may collaborate with Uber in a joint venture.  “Nevertheless, we believe the alliance is necessary for the long run as CD will need to embrace the new reality of the shared economy,” the analyst stated. Hopefully, such a collaboration could help reshape Uber’s image or at least reform the issues in its business here in Singapore.  It is difficult to say how this might affect the consumer, but it will be beyond their control if the merger goes through.  For now, it remains up to the consumer to decide whether if they want to take a local cab or if they are ‘cool’ with taking an Uber.

Author: Chloe Venn

Chloe Venn is a junior and a second year reporter for The Eye. She’s from the San Francisco Bay Area, but has only ever lived in Asia. She enjoys movies, rainstorms, and Thursday afternoons. You can contact her at: venn19557@sas.edu.sg

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