It’s the nightmare that the crowdsourcing companies fear, when something goes wrong and they might be held liable. Airbnb had their fair share of guests who had disastrous hotel stays, causing them to implement safety policies and checks.
Consumers think that they’re doing business with Uber, when really Uber is merely facilitating the connection with an independent contractor. In Uber’s words:
They’re saying it’s no different than if you went on a date on Match.com and had a bad experience. It’s not Match.com’s fault. Or if you bought a car on Craigslist that turned out to be a lemon, then it’s not Craiglist’s fault.
However, are these equivalent? If you hire a maid from Merry Maids, you’re buying based on that brand’s reputation. They come in their pink cars, follow standard operating procedures, and are effectively employees.
People expect that the Uber driver works for Uber, in the same way that if you get cold fries at McDonalds, that the McDonalds company stands behind it, even if it’s a franchise owned store.
Uber is wanting to treat their employees at 1099 contractors, hoping they can duck employment taxes and liability. In my unfortunate ride last Thursday, the Uber driver nearly got us killed by changing lanes in traffic without a signal and nearly hitting a cyclist. Had the cyclist not swerved, we would have hit them.
But calling Uber about this, as you can see, got us multiple assertions that it’s something we can’t take up with Uber, since the driver is a contractor. Had we got in an accident, Uber passes this on to the driver. Though I really like the Uber service, we do know that drivers for the other cab companies are protected by their company.
Not all drivers are perfect, but accidents do happen, especially given how fast Uber is aggressively scaling.
Everything is great and you think you’re saving money until just that one nightmare. We had to get out of this car and hail another Uber, against the driver’s assurances that things were fine. He wouldn’t let us leave.
By the time we were able to exit the vehicle and hail another Uber, it was too late to make it to the Caltrain station for our baby bullet down to Menlo Park. We’d have to take this Uber all the way down to Facebook’s headquarters, instead of via the train.
This cost us $178.93.
We asked if Uber would be willing to eat part of this. After 6 attempts, we were able to secure a $5 credit. Out of luck on the $178, according to Uber, since they’ve already paid the driver.
We gave Uber a few opportunities last week to clarify their position, in case this was a support rep that didn’t understand policy. Heather from their incident response reaffirmed that since the driver was able to get us to our location, no partial refund was possible.
I’ve probably ridden Uber over a hundred times in the last 4 years. But it was only until a week ago that I found out that Uber, in their words, is a technology company that merely connects passengers with drivers– and is in no way responsible for what happens. They are independent business owners.
Let’s say that one day you discovered an amazing airline– the coolness of Virgin in first class, but charged only a fraction of what you used to pay. But they happened to crash their aircraft 1% of the time. Would the awesome service and cost savings then be worth it, even with a 1% fatality rate?
Uber, as aggressive as they are in their business model and playing gray areas, is sitting on a time bomb with arguing that their employees are really contractors.
AirBnb, conversely, has taken the smart approach by implementing a safety guarantee, so travelers can have trust in their brand. Even Amazon, in skirting state sales tax for so long, knew they couldn’t play the loophole forever. The story at Uber just goes to show that a company of geniuses, no matter how intelligent and aggressive, will eventually fall down when customers discover the company doesn’t care for their customers.
Will we have more of God View or will this company, as bright as the people are, decide to put customers first? I’ll update this post should Uber folks decide that customers like myself are valuable and have a voice.