Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” History has proven this idea time and time again. Speakers inspire societal movements, discoveries alter science, and inventions change the way we do things. And if there is one invention that has changed the way we do things in the last ten years, it’s the advent of the rideshare app—especially Uber. If you’re interested in driving for the service, understanding how Uber has changed the world will help you appreciate your position all the more.
A Brief History of Uber
Uber’s history begins in San Francisco with founder Garret Camp. Camp, an already successful entrepreneur, often had trouble with the city’s taxi service. Then, in 2008, he was watching the movie Casino Royale when he noticed a scene where James Bond tracked the location of a car using his cell phone. This gave him the idea of an app that would allow you to track your ride through your phone. Later that year when he and fellow founder Travis Kalanick were having trouble getting a taxi in Paris, the duo set out to make their vision a reality. In March of 2009, the app launched in San Francisco.
Initially, Camp envisioned a fleet of sleek, black Mercedes Benzes that would pick riders up. But after some talk, Kalanick convinced him to follow a model in which drivers owned their own vehicles. This “inventory-less” model allowed Uber to expand rapidly. In its first years, Uber focused on a more high-end “black car” service, but with the advent of rideshare services like Lyft that catered to a more general clientele, Uber shifted with it. From there, it went on to expand its services to include food delivery and to reach other countries.
How Uber Has Changed the World
Altering the Face of Public Transportation
Given that its roots stemmed from frustration with public transportation, it makes sense that one of the primary ways Uber has changed the world is by changing the way we viewed public transportation and similar services. In the past, public transportation was limited by the time of day or location. In order to get a ride, you had to be near a bus or metro line at the right time or be in an area where a taxi was available. This could make things challenging for those who live in areas without a lot of public transportation. With Uber, you can now get a ride anywhere, at any time.
This idea can be incredibly helpful, especially for those who live outside of the city without regular access to public transit. However, it has created problems for public transportation itself. In fact, almost every major city across the United States has experienced a drop in public transportation usage, including taxi, bus, and commuter train, since Uber has exploded onto the scene. Here in New York especially, taxi drivers have felt the loss, with rideshare making up to 70.5% of the ride-hailing market as of 2018.
Unique Business Model Promoting Independent Workers
One of the factors that contributed to Uber’s rise to fame is that it does not rely on its own investments. As mentioned, Uber does not own its own cars and does not hire its own drivers; its profitability stems from allowing drivers to be able to ply their own trade. This unique model of partnering with independent workers has been taken up by other businesses such as Airbnb, Instacart, Doordash, and Rover.
With the popularity of these types of businesses has come a rise in the idea of a “gig economy.” As the name suggests, a gig economy is an economy based on organizations hiring workers for temporary, short-term commitments, or “gigs.” This system favors freelancers, independent contractors, or solopreneurs, as well as a flexible work schedule. The gig economy comes with its own challenges, of course, especially when it comes to work stability. But for those needing to supplement their income while working around normal work hours, it has been a Godsend.
Proposition 22 and Changes in Worker Rights
One of the impacts of the rise of independent workers is the way society views them. This idea came at a head in December 2020 with the passing of Proposition 22 in California. The idea behind this bill is that rideshare drivers will be considered independent contractors and entitled to a greater amount of employee rights. Some of these rights include an hourly wage, a stipend that will make healthcare more accessible, occupational insurance, and disability.
While this law only applies to rideshare drivers in California, this law provides precedence for other potential laws protecting the rights of independent workers. This can provide a greater amount of stability for other gig-based careers and industries. It’s telling that the state where Uber got its start is the first to make this move.
Changing the Way We Interact with Strangers
If you asked a random person off the street ten years ago whether they thought it was a good idea to get into a stranger’s car, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would say yes. This was true of all our interactions with strangers. From a young age, we were taught not to talk to strangers, go into their houses, trust them with our possessions, or accept food from them.
But with Uber’s rise, society began to see that we were able to slip into a stranger’s car largely without being harmed. This opened the door to share more of our resources with others, from our fashion accessories with StyleLend, to bikes with Splinter, to food services with Feastly, and even our homes with Airbnb. Although no sharing service is perfect, and even Uber must contend with lawsuits and allegations, it has certainly changed the way we look at our interactions with strangers.
For better or worse, Uber’s legacy has drastically changed the way we do things. Whether you’re driving in the flagship city of San Francisco or driving a TLC car for rent in Queens, NY, you’re also part of that legacy.