Let’s Quit Pretending About Uber

UPDATE: Uber contacted me in response to this post and told me that the advertisement it describes had been taken down.  This response was very encouraging.  This post remains as part of the record, but if you read it, please also read my follow-up, here.


Can we stop pretending that Uber doesn’t want to destroy our high-capacity transit systems?  Because this ad really clears up any doubt, doesn’t it?



So Uber isn’t even just trying to attract customers off of buses.  This ad shows that it wants them off the subway too.  In this implied vision of the future, most useful transit systems die from elite apathy once the elites are all on Uber.  From this we can deduce that Uber’s notion of the ideal city includes:

  • moving people from big vehicles (transit) into more numerous small ones (Uber), and therefore …
  • increasing the total volume of vehicle traffic, which is to say, increasing congestion, … which means:
  • creating a new imperative to wipe out sidewalks, parks, bike lanes so as to make room for all these cars, and also
  • destroying one of the last few places in the city where a millionaire might sit next to the guy who washes dishes in her favorite restaurant, thus achieving an even more perfect state of rigid class segregation.  In this world, a majority who can’t afford Uber has no good transport options and is therefore pushed further away from the sources of opportunity that they could use to improve their lives.

I apologize if I sound like a killjoy, but the logic here is as firm as the logic behind climate change.

When corporations state their intentions this clearly — especially if those intentions line up with universal corporate goals of growth and profitability — we should believe them.  We should believe that Uber, given the chance, really would lead us into the dystopia of gridlock and class segregation that this ad implies.  And when it comes time for transit agencies to make deals with these organizations, they should know who they’re dealing with.

And yes, when I really need ridesharing (only after checking the transit options first), I prefer Lyft for now, a company that actually seems to respect public transit and wants to complement it rather than destroy it.  And I look for the local companies that are doing the same things.

Because every purchase you make is a statement about what kind of world you want, regardless of whether you mean that consciously.

A response from Uber would be welcome, but really, this ad says what it says, doesn’t it?


54 Responses to Let’s Quit Pretending About Uber

  1. Joseph October 4, 2016 at 8:29 am #

    Great post. A world in which everyone takes an Uber instead of the subway or a bus is a world worse than we have now: more people in cars in front of you slowing you down on your journey to your destination, all while depriving public transit of ridership that helps sustain it for the majority of people not in Uber’s socioeconomic reach. Cars are cars, whether they’re being driven by me, a stranger, or a robot.

    • kettal October 4, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

      Nobody can fully predict the self-driving cars effects at this time. We all have theories.

      If Uber leads to “more people in cars in front of you slowing you down”, then mass transit will continue to have an advantage, and it will survive.

      If Uber continues to be more expensive than transit, then mass transit will continue to have an advantage, and it will survive.

      If neither of these things happen, then transit will die, and no amount of praying will bring it back.

  2. tacony October 4, 2016 at 9:04 am #

    If subway service is really so awful that Uber is a better option, can you blame people for choosing it if they can afford it? Wanting people to have less transportation choice so they are forced to take a worse option seems especially cruel.

    Very few people can afford to use Uber for all trips. Transit riders and Uber riders are made up of the same minority of Americans who don’t have cars or don’t just drive their own car for every trip. Uber makes it easier for people to give up individual car ownership. It makes it easier for people to live their lives with a backup plan if they, for instance, are stuck with a train that’s not arriving and need to be somewhere. Why criticize a service that expands the audience for transit?

    Lots of wealthy people in Manhattan take the subway to work despite the fact that they could afford to drive– or could afford to take a cab or a black car or an Uber. Why? Well, traffic congestion is bad and the subway is frequent and fast, so it’s quicker and more convenient. But at the first sign of a problem with the train, many sprint back up the subway stairs and hail a cab instead of waiting on a crowded platform with the masses for who knows how long for a delay due to “signal malfunctions” or “a police investigation.”

    The vast majority of Americans don’t take transit, so I think it’s more helpful to see Uber (Lyft, etc) as expanding the pool of potential transit riders than to see it as peeling off the wealthiest (and/or most time-sensitive?). The idea that we will see “useful transit systems die from elite apathy once the elites are all on Uber” is hilarious. That already happened 50 years ago when the elite gave up on transit and drove everywhere and we remodeled our cities to make driving our own cars the only sensible way to get around for the middle classes. Even in comparatively transit-rich New York, Bloomberg made headlines for occasionally riding the subway to work, and the current mayor doesn’t even do that. In a world where personal car ownership is king, I can’t see any fault in making it easier for people to do without, which Uber unquestionably does.

    • TOM October 5, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

      Lots of wealthy people, and of all people living in Manhattan, walk to work. Check out that mode share. Highest in NYC.

  3. P October 4, 2016 at 9:50 am #

    I think this is all a bit over-dramatic.

    If Uber was really a threat, we should have expected Taxis or bicycles to have killed off public transport a long time ago.

    The fact is, public transport in low-density areas is often terrible. Missing the bus or train on a service that might only be hourly IS a disaster.

    In Queensland, Australia, Uber and public transport are set to become more integrated, with rideshare vehicles taking more of the coverage role of flexi


    Uber is just another tool in the tool kit. It has a role, just like buses, bicycles, walking etc have their roles also.

    A knife wielded by a robber can kill, but the same knife wielded by a surgeon can save.

    It is all in how it is used.

  4. Peter Schmiedeskamp October 4, 2016 at 9:58 am #

    I suspect what you’re seeing here is a disconnect between different parts of Uber (i.e. marketing vs. actual policy). Most of the policy people I met during my brief tenure at Uber seemed clear on the idea that the biggest market opportunities were with displacing SOV travel, not transit. It’s certainly possible that people have different views on this now, but I suspect this was just unfortunate marketing. My guess / hope is that Uber is still looking for win-win arrangements with transit.

    You are right, I think, that Lyft has been more consistent / entrepreneurial in seeking cooperative agreements with transit agencies. Some of that success is likely due to Lyft’s otherwise happier reputation. But, some of it certainly speaks to the disposition of the company and to the general awesomeness of Emily Castor and her group.

    Finally, I know for a fact that you have fans at Uber (no doubt Lyft too). You might find that your thoughts on what it means to complement transit find their way into reality!

    • SF Planner October 8, 2016 at 5:46 am #

      Peter and Jarrett,
      I would disagree that Lyft seeks to complement transit rather than destroy it. Earlier this year, Lyft start putting ads on Muni bus stops in San Francisco with images and statements such as shown on the following website: http://sfcitizen.com/blog/2015/11/05/so-lyft-is-paying-our-sfmta-to-put-up-bus-stop-ads-that-make-lyft-look-like-a-transit-system-stops-that-just-wont-stop/. The image only displays the Muni Metro system and ignores the vast bus network that is intended to get a person everywhere in the City with only one transfer. This blog and Human Transit book extolls the value of network design and the role buses play in it, including praise for San Francisco’s design. Lyft ignores this.

      I attended a California American Planning Association Conference session last year where an employee from Lyft gave a presentation. During the presentation, the presenter was marketing Lyft line. The presenter showed images of how Lyft line worked and proceeded to get extremely excited about how two people could be connected along the 24th Street corridor to connect to the 22nd Street Caltrain station in San Francisco. The example was supposed to display how Lyft complements transit. During Q&A, I pointed out that the route in the Lyft line example mirrored a Muni line (now the 48 line and proposed to be replaced by 58 line in future). Therefore, I asked, how does Lyft line not compete with transit? The presenter had no idea that there was a bus line there and asked me the line number. He then proceeded to respond that Lyft works better with rail than bus. Both the ad and this response are technological (bus vs. rail) arguments, which this blog routinely criticizes.

  5. Ed October 4, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    Huh. I wonder if the TTC knows that Uber is using a picture of one of the Sheppard line stations (not sure which one, I don’t take that line very often).

  6. Jeff Wegerson October 4, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    All taxi services increase congestion more than private cars because private cars are parked between uses whereas taxis are in travel lanes between uses. It matters not whether they are driven or driverless.Getting people out of their private cars and into taxi services (including app services) increases congestion more than riding/driving and parking.

    To the extent that disruptive capital dollars are used by unprofitable unsustainable ventures to lobby for increases in car travel space over all other uses (parking, biking, walking) and especially dedicated transit lanes, then you, Jarrett, are quite right to view them as antithetical to urban environments. And while they are no more likely to succeed than the previous century’s attempts they can set back this century’s limited but effective efforts at restoring quality city life.

    • kettal October 4, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

      “whereas taxis are in travel lanes between uses”

      The taxis who troll for fares, this might be true.

      One which can park and wait for a smart-phone to call it? In those cases, your theory is NOT true.

      • Jeff Wegerson October 5, 2016 at 8:31 am #

        I suppose it depends upon how close is the parking. Would they consistently park closer than you would?

        • kettal October 5, 2016 at 8:57 am #

          I would say yes probably. Short-term parking would be easier to find than a spot your car for the whole day.

          • Ian Mitchell October 5, 2016 at 10:33 am #

            Off-street car storage worsens cities more than cars on the road do.
            The less of your city that is parking, the more pleasant of a place it likely is to walk.

  7. Wanderer October 4, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

    Uber’s “policy” may be to replace single occupant vehicle trips. But their ad people aren’t being stupid or obstinate when they target transit passengers. Transit passengers are the low hanging fruit for Uber. They’re already used to traveling by means other than driving their own car. They may not even own a car. Taxis flourish best in strong transit environments, where people are making non-driving trips. Uber as a taxi replacement thus is most viable in urban environments.

    Uber’s actual, implemented policy is something like “We own the transportation world, you just live in it.” Uber has consistently fought even the mildest efforts at regulation, just like any 19th Century robber baron. It’s completely unsurprising that they would they would target transit passengers as a key market.

    • Ian Mitchell October 5, 2016 at 10:38 am #

      The 19th century robber barons built America’s rail systems, you realize, right?

      Whether it was August Belmont (IRT), Francis Marion Smith(Key system), or James J. Hill (Great Northern), the only reason there is rail-based “public” transit in many of America’s cities is that it was, at a time, a profitable investment.

      • Dexter Wong October 7, 2016 at 1:21 am #

        Do you realize that Francis Marion Smith was competing with Southern Pacific in the East Bay? Southern Pacific had set up network of suburban rail lines that were considered local extensions of its own large rail network. The competition only ended with the completion of the Bay Bridge and SP threw in the towel in 1940. Then Key System fell on bad times and was sold to National City Lines in 1947 and then the rail lines were slowly turned into bus lines with the last converted in 1958.

  8. Andrew October 4, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

    *Frequent* transit kills this ad.

  9. Benjamin October 4, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

    In the 1980s, London Transport decorated some of its buses with the slogan “We’d All Miss The Bus.” We’ve known that our cities need transit longer than Uber has found a way to profit on the back of inadequate transit service.

  10. Ian Mitchell October 5, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    I still think this ad looks more like a woman, alone who has missed the last train of the night (hence nobody else who barely-missed the train), not the last train for another 5-20 minutes.

    That’s a trip uber probably should serve, considering the costs of providing 24-hour underground rail service.

  11. TOM October 5, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    When CitBike was in its infancy in NYC(not even on the ground), City financial analysts feared it would take fares away from the MTA. This would necessitate the City increasing its subsidy to offset the loss of revenues to the deficit-‘rich’ MTA. This would be most apparent in Manhattan where short-trips have their biggest payoff to the MTA.

    I’ve not yet seen an accounting of this loss, only how CitiBike trip numbers have grown. No one is asking how many trips are lost by the MTA.

  12. Isaac Rabinovitch October 6, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    There was a time when a millionaire might sit next to a dishwasher on public transit. Todays elites just don’t see themselves as part of the democratic mass. Compare John Rockefeller and Elon Musk, and you’ll see what I mean.

  13. Peter Laws October 7, 2016 at 5:58 am #

    OK, so Uber and Lyft aren’t “ridesharing” – they are taxi services even if the taximeter is virtual and not ticking on the dashboard. They are mostly unregulated compared to their traditional brethren, but taxis just the same.

    Along the same lines, Citibike, et al, are not “bikesharing” and Zipcar et al are not “carsharing”. They are vehicle rental companies. If you and your friends split the cost of a bike and then each use it when needed, *that’s* bike sharing. Completely different model.

    Nothing wrong with any of these but, please, can we call them what they are instead of pretending someone is sharing something?

  14. fernando February 22, 2017 at 10:28 am #

    Congratulations on the publication. To Uber every day more has evolved around the world helping drivers, passengers and respectively a city. It is also loved by many and hated by a minority.

  15. laura March 4, 2017 at 8:12 pm #

    Awesome content..

  16. Lana March 7, 2017 at 6:25 am #

    Only truths in this post!

  17. Isaac March 12, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    Uber is an excellent means of transportation, but to think on this side, really contribute to the transit and pollution of the great qualities

  18. Julio Cesar Marinho March 14, 2017 at 6:37 am #

    We have a new arrival here in Brazil and it is causing a great auvoroso, not so good for the competition that complains a lot of the desleaudade of exigencies but this is very pleasing to the user of this type of tranposte

  19. Luana March 16, 2017 at 8:36 am #

    Uber is the best

  20. Julia March 16, 2017 at 8:37 am #

    So, yes, the 3M $3 million challenge to break through a piece of bulletproof glass really did happen, but many of the facts surrounding the ad campaign have been altered over time as the story was circulated around the Internet.

  21. Alessandra da Fontoura April 8, 2017 at 7:35 pm #

    Congratulations on the publication. To Uber every day more has evolved around the world helping drivers, passengers and respectively a city. It is also loved by many and hated by a minority.

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  24. Ana July 23, 2017 at 11:44 am #

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  25. Vallin SFAS August 25, 2017 at 5:02 pm #

    Uber [oder Über…menschen] is merely a gateway drug to my chaffeured Lexani-Maybach.

  26. Robert August 28, 2017 at 7:22 am #

    Great article! Very good.

  27. Virgilio Al November 6, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    Hi Jarrett,

    I agree with your article, the traffic in the big cities is getting hard.

    For a lack of a good mass mobility plan, we are experiencing this chaos.

  28. ayssa bouzon January 3, 2018 at 2:42 pm #

    Muito bom seu conteúdo, como nosso transito esta cada vez mais complicado, nas grandes cidades, esta quase impossível sobreviver ao causo. transporte publico então uma vergonha total.

  29. Luana Souza January 22, 2018 at 1:16 pm #

    Excelente artigo, a uber tem crescido bastante no Brasil, um grande avanço na minha opinião .

  30. Tati February 13, 2018 at 4:43 am #

    Excelente conteúdo! Parabéns!!! Abs.

  31. Julia artesã February 26, 2018 at 4:14 pm #

    I work as uber in Brazil, I have nothing to complain about.

  32. ana santos February 27, 2018 at 6:46 pm #

    Uber is a giant nowaday.

  33. Maria Eloisa February 27, 2018 at 6:47 pm #

    Uber is a reality.

    Nothing can change that.

  34. viver melhor agora May 11, 2018 at 9:43 pm #

    uber is a reality, uber and evolution. Great article.

  35. como fazer tiara infantil May 14, 2018 at 11:03 am #

    Uber came to help with transportation. It’s fast, efficient.

  36. Maria Julia May 14, 2018 at 11:05 am #

    Uber is the best solution for a chaotic city like São Paulo.

  37. Gustavo May 14, 2018 at 11:06 am #

    Uber is here to stay. We need fast and affordable locomotion.

  38. Rafael May 14, 2018 at 11:08 am #

    I use uber every day for my work because where I live there is no subway nearby and the buses take time to pass and when they pass they are crowded.

  39. imobiliaria em pelotas May 14, 2018 at 7:15 pm #

    I guess uber is the best thing ever.

  40. papo de corretor May 14, 2018 at 7:16 pm #

    Uber saved us against the taxi mafia.

  41. Maria May 8, 2020 at 8:52 pm #

    Huh. I wonder if the TTC knows that Uber is using a picture of one of the Sheppard line stations

  42. Thite May 19, 2020 at 1:03 pm #

    I work as uber in Brazil, I have nothing to complain about.