Op-ed: The AMS should not lobby for the rich, evil corporation that you love

Taxi company Uber sent lobbyists to the AMS this summer to convince them to advocate for “ridesharing” -- where you share your money with a company like Uber and they share a ride with you -- on a provincial level.

Uber is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad company, and the AMS should waste not an iota of its limited resources promoting the interests of the phenomenally wealthy American corporation valued around $50 billion.

My hatred for Uber baffles my friends in San Francisco and other cities where the company operates. Summoning a cheap taxi ride from a phone app on your phone and having it arrive minutes later is awesome. Likewise, Uber has made it possible for people with more time than money to make a few extra bucks. But Uber is a uniquely bad actor in the world of “ridesharing.” Breaking the law is built into their business plan and they consistently mislead and endanger both drivers and riders.

As with all laws, some taxi regulations are good, others are bad and many cities are in the process of rewriting their laws to respond to public interest in these new ridesharing companies. That’s great! Unfortunately, Uber has decided that the law simply does not apply to it.

Two French Uber executives were arrested in July after France’s parliament barred Uber from using drivers without a taxi license and the company declared it would simply pay their illegal drivers' tickets. Meanwhile in California, Uber suspended at least 12 drivers in January for following the law by registering their cars as commercial vehicles.

(We won’t get into how these drivers had purchased their cars through an Uber subprime financing program where they give you shitty loans to buy cars to drive for them. They also reportedly want to manage your student debt. Yikes.)

Uber has sued one American city to halt the release of the company’s driver insurance policy. That policy proved controversial after an Uber driver hit and killed a six-year-old girl walking in a crosswalk. Uber said they weren't liable because their drivers are -- bafflingly -- "not employees."

(We won’t get into how the state of California is threatening to shut them down for refusing to follow state labor laws and release certain data.)

“‘Stop me if you can’ is Uber’s strategy,” a French investigator complained to the New York Times.

That arrogant attitude is one thing when it comes to dealing with government regulators – it’s entirely different when applied to passengers.

Uber has charged riders hundreds of dollars to travel a few blocks when drivers are in high demand --  even during blizzards or other emergencies.

Last fall, a woman in Los Angeles was kidnapped by her Uber driver and taken to an empty lot where the he locked the doors and refused to take her home. Uber apologized only for the driver's “inefficient route” and eventually refunded her fare.

Another Los Angeles woman reportedly woke up in a motel next to her shirtless Uber driver after passing out in his cab the night before. In a similar case, a woman in Washington, DC woke up in the back of an Uber only to find her driver with his hands allegedly under her shirt. Another DC passenger had his Uber driver get into a high speed police chase and refuse to let him out of the vehicle.

Closer to Vancouver, a woman in Seattle reported being sexually assaulted after her Uber driver stopped in a park and forced the woman to get out of the car in the middle of the night.

Then there was the San Francisco woman whose Uber driver violently pulled her from the car and smashed her iPhone on the ground. Or the Uber driver charged with hitting a passenger in the head with a hammer.

One New York City journalist recounted her Uber driver pulling out an iPad and showing her a photo he had taken of the woman in her workout clothes earlier that day.

After the first few of these stories came out, Uber starting tacking on a $1 “Safe Ride Fee.” But the district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles have actually repeatedly sued Uber for misleading customers about just how "safe" those rides are.

The lawsuits allege Uber lied about the strength of driver background checks and charged illegal and fraudulent fares. Competitor Lyft was accused of some similar bad practices but simply agreed fix the problems.

“[Lyft] is acting as a responsible corporate citizen. Settling is what usually happens. Uber has refused -- they have not cooperated,” the San Francisco district attorney told Forbes.

They are still not cooperating. This week Uber was sued again for allowing a convicted murderer, unlicensed drivers, drivers with DUI convictions and drivers convicted of sexual assault and rape to driver passengers in California cities.

Turns out, Uber background checks don’t involve taking drivers’ fingerprints. Unlike Lyft, Uber doesn't even screen drivers in person. Instead it offers them a brief YouTube tutorial before they hit the road.

If the AMS wants to make ridesharing part of their renewed transit planning efforts – something I’m sure many students would support – they should make clear to the province that companies using apps to connect drivers and riders are welcome and would provide an important utility to students. But at the same time, they should demand the province and Metro Vancouver refuse to permit Uber from prowling the streets of Vancouver.

Arno Rosenfeld is a fourth-year political science major and Features Editor at The Ubyssey.

Correction: a previous version of this article stated Uber was valued around $3.5 trillion.