2014 was a rough year for Uber in terms of public relations. Its Senior VP Emil Michael was caught making questionable comments about digging up dirt on journalists, the company was accused of making subprime loans to drivers, and one of its drivers assaulted a rider with a hammer. Add to that the growing media outrage over its surge pricing, the increasing questions about liability in light of the death of a six-year-old child in San Francisco, and its ongoing legislation battles, Uber has not been looking too good to the public.
Companies like Uber and Lyft are often coined as “ride-share” companies, but the Associated Press has recently corrected the term to “ride-hailing service” to more accurately portray the service that Uber provides. Unlike car-share companies where users actually share their cars, Uber users don’t share a ride–it’s more like a taxi service.
And taxi services are the ones who have been most affected by the success of Uber. Traditional taxi services monopolized the realm of for-hire transportation for decades. Without competition, their equipment became outdated and their service subpar. The appearance of companies like Uber and Lyft has forced traditional taxis to improve their operations in order to reduce wait times and make it easier to hail cabs and pay for rides. In addition, Uber has had a definite effect on American cities by providing affordable, reliable transportation. It reduces the need for car ownership and makes accessible parts of cities that were once more difficult to get to.
Last week, Uber announced its intent to share their trip data with local governments, starting with Boston. Cities are eager to have this data. Uber is able to collect information on locations, travel time, and time of day for rides: information that can be used to understand travel patterns and improve transit in cities. With all of its legislative and PR troubles, this move could help Uber and other ride hailing companies argue the benefits they have for cities.