Juliet Schor, in her essay titled “Debating the Sharing Economy”, explains how Uber came about. After the 2009 recession, renting assets became more economically attractive, and similar initiatives proliferated. In transportation, “this included car rental sites such as Uber” (Schor 3). Economic theory states that in a free market if there is a demand for a service, firms will step in to fill this void. Uber took advantage of this void and filled it, to alleviate the market inefficiency. The definition of the word uber leads to how they define themselves as “the smartest way to get around. One tap and a car comes directly to you. Your driver knows exactly where to go. And payment is completely cashless” (https://www.uber.com/). Uber lends itself to economic, environmental, and social factors illustrated by Schor. It is a fairer system in many ways except economically as it excludes many of the lower class due to financial burdens that the prerequisites for driving for Uber or even using Uber.
Is it really a sharing economy and does it impact inequality by class?
On Uber’s website homepage they market the app as something that is “For the good of all”. Juliet Schor argues that a new sector, “the sharing economy” in which companies such as Uber have seen growth, has the potential to decrease economic inequalities. However, after taking a closer look, it becomes evident that companies such as Uber that partake in “sharing” practices do not necessarily decrease economic inequalities. In fact, many of these sharing platforms exclude a significant portion of the population from participating, which perpetuates and even increases economic inequalities. In Uber’s case, social classes that are financially able to purchase and maintain a vehicle that matches the company’s standards benefit more from sharing activities than those who do not.
Uber adheres to the principles of a sharing economy, but what if you have nothing to share? In a sharing economy individuals share their assets in turn for monetary compensation. If you are looking to make income from Uber, you must have a car to share, if you don’t you are only allowed to participate in the consumer side of this economy. The way Uber is setup; drivers must have capital in order to make capital. The requirements needed in order to become an Uber driver are more materialistic than skills oriented.
In order to become an Uber driver you must own your own car that is a 4-door sedan. The car must seat 4 or more passengers, excluding the driver. The year of the car must be 2001 or newer and have in-state plates. The car cannot be marked, a taxi, or salvaged. The car must also be currently registered and insured. After all this the car has to pass an Uber vehicle inspection.(http://www.idrivewithuber.com/uber-driver-requirements/). Uber drivers must have access to the Uber app, which is only compatible on Windows and apple Iphones. This creates social inequality. Those who do not meet any of these materialistic requirements cannot take part in driving for Uber. There is a significant portion of the population that cannot afford to pay the price to participate in a sharing economy.
So is Uber really for the good of all? There is a significant amount of the population that cannot purchase and maintain the type of vehicle that Uber requires. By only benefiting the individuals that are financially able to meet the materialistic requirements in order to be employed by this company, the sharing activities are not doing anything to solve pre existing economic inequalities. All this is doing is perpetuating them.
Does Uber impact inequality by race?
Uber does a better job with not discriminating overall. Unlike taxi drivers it is much harder to discriminate based on race due to the anonymity that the app adds. That is significant when comparing it to the overt racism that taxi drivers have had and still have today. For instance, many taxi drivers refuse to pick up people solely based on the color of their skin. Specifically black people are having the most trouble still. Taxi drivers will either drive by them, with no one in their car, ignore them or harshly refuse when asked by the potential cab rider. Here is an account of a black man trying to get a cab:
“First, I tried to hail a cab at 8th Avenue and 30-something street with no luck. Next, my daughter tried with no luck as well. Then, I said to my child, “I know, let’s use the white girl for bait. It’s worked before.” Kathleen (his wife) then stood out on the corner, hailed just like we had tried, and don’t you know that a cab pulled over in less than 2 minutes. It doesn’t even really anger me anymore, because it has always been this way, as long as I can remember” (LaRosa).
This happens all to often with cab companies and their drivers whether foreign born or not. One black taxi driver that was from another country even stated that he “promised himself not to pick up any more blacks” because of the hysteria that surrounds that race. For instance, Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow that in (un)conscious racist America, when citizens were asked to picture a drug user, 95% of them imagined a black man, when in reality they only constituted 15% of the users in America (Alexander, 106). That ties into what the taxi driver was talking about when he promised not to pick up any more black Americans. It is the rhetoric and hysteria surrounding African Americans and that is what is causing this overt racism and fear towards them. This ultimately leads to Uber being the fairer way for people to catch rides of all ethnicities. Uber makes things more equal strictly in this sense.
Socially Sustainable and Environmental Factors?
Mills states that “In large part, contemporary humanity’s self-conscious view of itself as at least an outsider, if not a permanent stranger, rests upon an absorbed realization of social relativity and of the transformative power of history” (Mills). Uber is transforming the history of transportation as they are replacing taxis and their companies that have been around since the 1890s as many find it today much more convenient, savvy, and useful. Uber is socially accepted as a great alternative throughout the country as well as overseas which is why it has continued to grow rapidly. However, the environmental impact of Uber is unknown and that would influence the social aspect of it if it was known. As of right now whether or not Uber is hurting or helping the environment because there are so many factors that play into it. Some reasons on why it is very difficult to measure is that we don’t know how much biking, carpooling, or public transportation would have went up without it. Also the study has to “include how long the trips are (as well as the time driving to pick up a passenger); whether the rider would otherwise have driven alone, taken public transportation or not have taken the trip at all; and the fuel efficiency of the vehicles involved” (Eaken). Lastly they have to gage who is buying, selling, or abandoning their cars today. All these factors make it difficult to gage. However, the Natural Resources Defense Council is undergoing research and will be the first to have this data and hopes to release the data by next Fall.
Uber as a part of the sharing economy is increasing economic inequalities while gaining social acceptability around the world. Due to the high bar of entry this form of sharing requires, limits a high population from participating. Socially, Uber has been accepted around the world as the friendlier alternative to taxis from all angles. It has the potential in the sharing economy to reduce eco-footprints, decrease inequality, and continue to grow as a reliable transportation service. With that said, Uber has not been around long enough to draw out and finalize conclusive evidence that it is totally sustainable.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Eaken, Amanda. “NRDC Urban Solutions to Lead First Climate Analysis of Uber and Lyft.” NRDC, 13 Nov. 2015. Web.
LaRosa, Paul. “Almost No More White NYC Cab Drivers, but Blacks Still Can’t Catch a Ride?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.
Mills, C. Wright. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford UP, 1959. Print.
Schor, Juliet. “Debating the Sharing Economy.” Great Transition Initiative(2014): n. pag. Oct. 2014. Web. Apr. 2016.