Uber has faced plenty of opposition from governments and the taxi industry, but it has always had two important groups on its side, consumers and people willing to work/drive for the company. However, there is increasingly a rift between Uber and one of those groups, and it could eventually lead to a complete split.
Drivers have been fighting back against Uber recently, attempting to wrestle more control from a company that views them as freelance contractors and not employees. Uber was forced to settle (to the tune of $120 million) a Massachusetts law suit from drivers that was attempting to give workers full employee rights.
Considering Uber’s model, giving drivers more power (like rights to training, healthcare, vehicle fixes, and more) was a dangerous precedent that was worth taking a $120 million hit on. That is unlikely to be the only driver uprising though, and already some groups are forming unions and looking to “get more” from Uber.
As a ride-sharing service, the San Francisco based company needs the drivers every bit as much as they need it, maybe more so. However, Uber has taken the first baby steps to a future where it may decide to get rid of drivers.
It has been rumored for some time that the company has genuine aspirations to be at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle wave that is coming in the next two decades. In Pittsburgh, Uber has started testing a self-driving vehicle that completes its service without the need for a driver.
Needless to say, the technology is in its infancy, as is the autonomous industry in general. The first driverless vehicles should hit showrooms in the next two years, but fully autonomous vehicles are not expected until 2025. It could be a quarter of a century until self-driving cars are the dominant mode of transport on our roads, but when it happens ride-sharing will play a big part in how people commute and travel.
Uber’s Pittsburgh tests show the company’s intentions clearly. The ride-sharing giant envisions a future where it does not need any drivers, with autonomous vehicles doing all the hard work. This of course would be wonderful for the company, allowing it to keep 100% of the profits from fares.
So, in some ways, Uber’s test and recent driver action against the company has set up a race that arguably neither group can afford to lose. At the moment drivers still have power and if they succeed in gaining full employee status at some point, replacing them with autonomous machines will be a thankless task for Uber.
However, if Uber can hold off a driver revolution long enough to implement its technological plans, the company may have a ticket to massive riches and a market where it has nearly no employee overheads.
Let the race begin.