Nikil Saval at n+1:
The taxi system was and is an exploitative one, in which drivers were often classified as independent contractors. But ride-sharing is incalculably more exploitative. In regulated markets, taxi companies are at least required to maintain, acquire, and insure all the cars in a taxi fleet. Ride-sharing companies are not. This means for example, as Quartz reported recently, that Uber can force its drivers into “deep subprime” loans to acquire their vehicles, leaving them drowning in debt. In addition to undermining every possible regulation to screw their drivers more, Uber claimed as late as 2015 that drivers could earn $90,000 working for them. In a landmark piece for the Philadelphia City Paper, reporter Emily Guendelsberger worked as an UberX driver and discovered the truth. “If I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week with one week off, I’d net almost $30,000 a year before taxes,” she wrote. “But if I wanted to net that $90,000 a year figure that so many passengers asked about, I would only have to work, let’s see . . . 27 hours a day, 365 days a year.” The jobs created by ride-sharing are emblematically crappy, part-time, and contingent. In fact, according to the loophole in labor law that ride-sharing companies exploit, they’re not even “jobs” so much as gigs; the drivers are independent contractors who just happen to use the ride-sharing app.
But lying and rule-breaking to gain a monopoly are old news in liberal capitalism. What ride-sharing companies had to do, in the old spirit of Standard Oil, was secure a foothold in politics, and subject politics to the will of “the consumer.” In a telling example of our times, Uber hired former Obama campaign head David Plouffe to work the political angles. And Plouffe has succeeded wildly, since—as Washingtonians and New Yorkers are experiencing with their subways—municipal and state liberals are only nominally committed to the standards that regulate transport. Never mind that traffic is something that cities need to control, and that transportation should be a public good. Ride-sharing companies—which explode traffic and undermine public transportation—can trim the balance sheets of cities by privatizing both.