Commentary | The problem with Uber

The app’s convenience is not worth endorsing precarious work

Even though I am a taxi fiend, I have never personally taken an Uber. But a lot of my friends do, and when they hear I need to take a taxi somewhere, they offer to call me an Uber. I always politely decline. No thanks, I’ll just take any old taxi as long as it gets me to where I’m going.

I might be naive to think that there is absolutely no difference between a ride in a regular Montreal taxi and an Uber. However, the truth is, I don’t trust Uber just yet. Calling a taxi from an app is cool, no doubt, and definitely beats waving down a taxi from the curb just to realize someone else is already in it. But the novelty of Uber – and its lower cost – is overshadowed by the harsh reality it has created for its workers.

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the regulation of Uber in Quebec, with the debate primarily focused on the impact of Uber on the taxi industry. Evidently, the hype around Uber has usurped customers from regular taxi service providers.

But the main problem, in my eyes, is not how Uber affects the taxi industry; rather, I can’t support a taxi service that exploits its workers. I’m not behind the times or opposed to technological progress because I stand against Uber. Rather, I am simply acting in solidarity with its workers.

While the benefit of working for Uber is being able to choose your own hours, among other things, the company worth billions is reaping up to 28 per cent of each worker’s earnings. In addition, Uber does not cover its drivers’ gas or car upkeep expenses. On the job-rating site Indeed, Uber drivers have reported that, at the end of the day, they end up making less than minimum wage.

Uber’s drivers are not employed by Uber – the company prefers to think of them as “partners.” This means that they don’t have any of the benefits that a company employee would typically have, such as insurance or vacation days. Their work situation is also very precarious – they are at risk of being deactivated (in essence, fired) when their passenger rating dips below 4.7 out of 5.

I don’t want to economically support Uber, because by doing so, I would become complicit in putting the company’s workers in a precarious position.

I would, however, support a similar service where the workers would retain their fair share of earnings. It could still use an app, but its attraction to potential customers would not be limited to convenience and low cost; it would also include the social benefits of the service.

An example of an ideal company would be a drivers’ cooperative – one that ensures its workers’ security with employee benefits, is committed to its drivers, and provides them with a stake in the company’s management. While Uber is unlikely to reach this ideal, it must improve the working conditions of its drivers, and show the same loyalty to its workers as the workers do to it.

Uber’s workers are ordinary people who are looking to make a living; the convenience and lower price of Uber comes at the cost of these workers being taken advantage of. This is why I choose not to use Uber until it changes the way it treats its workers, and you should do the same.

Kiara Bernard is a U2 Philosophy, World Religions, and Communications student. To contact her, email