To Uber or not to Uber?

After I met up with an out-of-town visitor, I wondered how she was getting back to the airport.

"Oh, I'm using Uber," she said.

"A what?" I replied.

"Uber is this service where you can book a driver through this app and the driver shows up to where you are at," my Uber-using visitor said.

Suddenly she pulled out her smartphone, called up an app and scheduled a pick-up driver. 

OK, this is a great proactive revolutionary app, but is the use of it safe? Customers register with Uber ahead of time, use the customer's phone's GPS to locate the user and sends a picture text of the driver as he/she gets closer to the user. Still, does registration and texts of the driver make it all a safer experience? You decide. 

Users also have the convenience of inputting their credit card information when signing up, so no money changes hands when making a request/transaction. When it comes to cost, Uber can be quite pricey depending on the level of service users choose. My budget-conscious visitor used UberX, a cheaper choice.

Every day there seems to be a new app out there just waiting for smartphone users to download and eat up memory space on our devices. 

I'm torn with the amount of apps I download on my phone. On the one hand, I like to keep up with the latest technology when getting a new app. On the other, I don't want to slow down my device. The Uber app seems to be another one of those breakthrough apps that can change our lives by providing a convenience that did not previously exist.

After every time I learn about a new app like Uber, I typically say, "Why didn't I think of that?" Well, a group of San Francisco visionaries came up with this "taxi-on-demand" service that has been operating in about 20 markets. The idea has been a success with its users raving about how they can basically push a button and suddenly, a car appears. 

Lately, a handful of folks have been wondering if Uber is becoming the modern-day equivalent of Napster. If anyone is able to recall, Napster was that convenient music-file-sharing service from years ago. Traditional musicians, producers, distributors and record companies felt that Napster cut into their profits. Napster ultimately met its untimely end. Yes, Napster became a wing of Rhapsody, but its original setup came to an end. So, how could Uber face such an uncertain future? In this case, traditional taxicab companies see Uber as a threat to their profits. Typically, cities have been protecting taxicab companies' interests. So, taxicab interests could lobby cities to effectively find ways to either reduce or eliminate Uber. 

Former Obama administration official and campaign strategist David Plouffe most likely hopes to prevent that "Napster-type-demise." Mr. Plouffe joined Uber as a policy and strategy adviser. If Plouffe puts his government experience to use, he could convince cities to allow Uber to "stay and play." Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick is a bit more blunt on this "city governments versus fledgling business struggle" when he stated that, "...  the Big Taxi cartel -- has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers." 

Whether Mr. Plouffe is successful in saving and expanding Uber, one must admit that the electronic taxi-hailing service is an awesome idea. My question in this dilemma is: can existing services develop their own apps and compete with Uber? What do you think? Is Uber going to kill traditional taxicab companies and the scores of jobs that they provide or is this truly a service that provides consumers more choice?


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