This past week the news broke that Uber (embattled in many ways at the moment) will be pulling out of Denmark in response to new taxi regulations requiring certain kinds of meters and seat sensors. Definitely have mixed feelings about this one.
Uber has been forced to release data in several US cities (including New York City, obtained by data blog FiveThirtyEight https://github.com/fivethirtyeight/uber-tlc-foil-response) about their rides and trips. This pullout means that we may not see similar data from Denmark anytime soon, and represents a big loss. This data would be very interesting to see because so many Danes bike to fulfill their normal transportation needs. What are the kinds of trips that compel people to take Ubers in Denmark? What are the social needs this is filling that aren’t well served by bikes?
* Businesspeople in a rush to get to meetings across downtown Copenhagen? Then we should see significant usage between 8-4 on weekdays.
* Young people hopping between nightlife spots on weekend nights? Look for late night trips Thu night-Sunday morning.
* Shoppers who have purchased a little more than they can bike home with in one go? Look in the afternoon/evening near shopping districts and malls.
This data would be a fascinating look into the role of auto transport in a place with fantastic bike support and public transport, identifying key gaps in the transportation landscape. Gaps that we might be able to better address and fill in the future with new niche startups, or self-driving cars.
On the one hand, this seems to be a step in the wrong direction. Uber’s model is infectious and feels like progress toward the sharing economy – it allows for 10x the flexibility and convenience of a normal cab for both drivers and riders. I can’t tell you how many drivers I’ve ridden with who are in-between jobs or trying to save on the side for a wedding, buying a house, or something else important, and love that they can log in and make good money at a time that works for their schedule.
On the other, this is going to stop a concerning trend whereby Uber is the latest segment in a long road toward replacing established and well-protected labor with cheaper contracted labor. If we assume that there is a bump in demand for cabs in response to Uber’s entrance to the market (making new customers from the pool of people for whom existing cabs aren’t the right fit), then Denmark is consciously making the choice that replacing, say, 100,000 regulated and protected jobs with 120,000 contracted and unregulated jobs is too high a cost to pay for mere extra convenience.
And who reaps the benefits of the squeeze on new contract workers? Parent company Uber, the new 20% of casual riders, and upper-class people using the service who get extra convenience and access to transportation. Uber can be viewed as a transfer of wealth from poor to rich, or as way to make everyone wealthier, depending on how you see it. And we won’t get to see any data to help us get to the bottom of things.