Gravel Institute on how Uber is a scam

Admittedly I only take taxis in the UK, Australia, Japan, NZ, Hong Kong, Singapore but the number of bad experiences I have had can be counted on one hand. I see no need for Uber in my life and no longer even have the app on my phone.

Trying to get my kids to stop using UberEats is a much harder proposition though even though I can see delivery riders getting screwed just like Uber drivers.


Scofflaws. Plain and simple.

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From your keyboard to Saint Christopher’s ears. :pray:


Yeah, for all the bad that Uber has done, being able to avoid unlicensed rip off artist cabs while traveling (well, if one ignores that Uber is such a thing), route scams, and cash and credit card payment scams has been great. And it’s forced cab companies to have better apps. Uber has been directly and indirectly beneficial to me on a number of trips.


autopian maybe?

:blue_car: :blue_car:


Right into a seat covered in crumbs, trash, and/or mysterious fluids. Boy, do I love public transportation perks.


My favorite cab rip-off story was the time I called a cab to get to the airport, then they put me in danger of being late because they decided to pick up another passenger. Grrrr, but I thought ok well at least I’ll save money splitting the fare but no, we were BOTH CHARGED FULL PRICE.

We actually took a regular cab home from the airport last month because Uber was going to take forever and there were the taxis lined up right there. The reckless white knuckle ride home reminded me of that aspect of cab rides I’d completely forgotten about- Ubers I’ve had, in my experience most (not all) of the time, driven much, much more carefully than the average cab ride I’ve had. It’s almost like the dreaded oppressive review system actually works at getting drivers to not scare the passengers.

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Having worked in South-East Asia, I can introduce you to people whose entire family lived in a small one-bedroom apartment, and poured their pooled money into a fancy car and keeping a few nice suits clean and pressed every day. A common assumption is that without the right appearances, it’s a lot harder get business. So I have no trouble picturing a poor immigrant Uber driver in a Merc. That sort of thing is a standard part of self-promotion in some places.


Some apropos musical accompaniment…


Aw fiddlesticks. Let them use the plentiful skybelts to walk among destinations. Since the misamatic plagues, everyplace is ventilated like a pneumatically isolated OR, pressure sickness has come to be our jam with no ill effects, and one may simply walk the forested plenum between buildings.


Well snap, if I have to be a revolutionary to run a paper that pays Journalists (or Vice, here) I may as well start a think tank (Gravel,) while at it …for exposu…it seems good! Every Journo. gets three emotional service lobbybots (no lobbying license required) to beat the advertisers into like-minded advertisers. Boy do the administrators of that service use a lot of blow.

And takes a long time to resolve but is about North Fork Preservation (N. Montana.) is the thing…deferring to their YouTube work mostly, but also with a Leisure Agenda. Sen. Mike Gravel relating to it. (New book, Apr. 19.)


Yeah… I appreciate the Uber video, but watching some of Gravel’s other vids??? Ooof.

For just one example, the ‘How Capitalism Exploits You’ video is an overly simplistic take on exploitation and capitalism that has some meager points that I agree with, but avoids the complexity of the situation (forex: how do you determine the value of someone who doesn’t directly produce a physical, fungible product (management, marketing, etc), and how does that fit into the profit/expenses/payment/exploitation calculus). That one, in particular, was pretty cringe worthy.

I feel like I want to agree with so much of this on a heart to heart basis, but I have to rebut on a couple points.

  1. The “evil taxi monopoly” is an UberLyft PR narrative that needs to be dropped. Absolutely there was exploitation & cronyism, but it wasn’t universal, and monopoly is not an appropriate term to describe in most cities many companies doing business under a set of publicly defined regulations. Reproducing that narrative isn’t helpful.
  2. It has nothing to do with the app or ‘keeping up’, and everything to do with VC money. Here’s my experience (working for a “tradcab” company on the west coast): We were serving app users through 3rd parties (Taximagic, then Curb) before UberLyft were here. We switched to GPS dispatching before they were here. None of that mattered. They bulldozed their way through city council, & then comes the money. So a company running 200+ cars max at the moment of deregulation, now put out as many cars as you want, except they all have to comply with those old regulations you liked, paint them up in your branded colors, install a meter & credit card service, etc. This is versus UberLyft offering $500~ bonus to new drivers. That’s essentially paying a small fraction of the cost of owning & operating a company vehicle, vs a company that is paying those costs & not offloading them to the driver/franchisee. So that doesn’t take long for them to ramp up to over 1000s of drivers, & this consumer choice benefit becomes a war of attrition. On top of that, corporate reps are sent out to EVERY place a driver makes money from (initially restaurants, bars, hotels, & social events…but later including dock workers & retirement home communities etc) dumping “free 1st ride w Lyft” coupons with a scanable code, and a helpful young person to help get it into your phone if you’re old. The margins in this job have always been slim, so guess what? Many full timers found something else to do, which in this moment now, results in long waits for the consumer. And as a double edged sword, the consumer who doesn’t want to pay the surge fare can roll the dice on the old $2.60/mile old way, & right now 15-20 of them in my city will be lucky, cause that’s how many drivers are out at night now. However many more that I can’t pick up are thinking “this is why we only use Lyft”, unwitting about what their preferred brand has orchestrated. So no, there’s no way we could have rolled over UberLyft early on, we did everything & still got rolled.
  3. As a side note, I feel genuinely bad for new companies with good intentions trying to twist this narrative, as in “the better version of…” on any aspect. It’s just not possible, they will starve you out or buy you out. The whole basic business sensibility of ‘profit=revenue-expenses’ was thrown out years ago, good luck

That’s one of the problems with YouTube. There are videos out there that will go in depth, but people won’t watch them because most people do not want to watch hour long videos about left wing economics. Meanwhile PragerU and other far-right channels make bitesized videos and fill peoples heads with bullshit.

The Gravel Institute is trying to deal with the problem, but they decided that they can’t do it the traditional lefttube/breadtube way.


If you’re looking for videos on economics, Professor Richard Wolff does occasional interviews on’s YouTube Channel. As far as I can tell, he knows his stuff, and he’s good at making the subject more understandable for n00bs like me. :wink:

(I can’t say whether or not would make a good counter to Prager or not; my impression is, they’re more liberal than truly leftist, and more of a news-focused channel. They came to my attention because streamer James from the 1nternet is one of their video columnists. He’s definitely a Comrade, but he focuses more on current events than economics.)

Edited to add clarification (in green.)

7 Likes seems to have the same problem that breadtube has, that ten minute videos are at the short end of their scale while a lot of the far right consider that to be to be the maximum.

Of course it’s a lot easier when your subject matter is white supremacist conspiracy theory bullshit and you don’t want your viewers to go outside your bubble and research.

ETA: Beau of the Fifth Column also tries to make shorter videos from a left wing perspective.




The most notorious aspects of NYC Medallion cab system were already being reformed. With higher quotas on issuing new medallions, loosening of restrictions on livery cabs and the Borough Taxi class launching the same year Uber did.

All NYC Taxis had already accepted card payments for years, and they were already starting to accept app based payments through shit like PayPal, Venmo.

Many livery cab companies already had web and app based payment and booking systems.

The medallion reforms, intended to make it affordable for independent drivers again, lowered the secondary market value of the medallions. Which caused issues for existing independent drivers who were banking on that value for their long term financials. But mostly for big cab companies and investment firms with large numbers of medallions.

And the value wouldn’t truly tank till the ride share companies took off. Most of the suicides you heard about were connected to that collapse in value. That also spurred a new speculator bubble with Michael Cohen grade people snapping up cheep medallions in hopes values would return after the Ubers got regulated. Only to end up running even sketchier cab companies to get their value out.

Uber’s big “reforms” were a loophole grade claim that they didn’t need medallions. First claiming their app just let private drivers car pool. And later claiming their app didn’t represent a street hail, but a livery booking.

The other one was requiring their “independent contractors” provide their own cars instead of renting them one. Absolving themselves of the fleet costs the traditional medallion and livery cab companies footed.

And lowered compensation for the drivers vs those companies in the offing.

Uber entered a system in the midst of reform and kicked it over a ledge. To corner the scum bag, corrupt end of it. They didn’t prompt reform by out innovating.


I’ve never used the NYC taxi system, but around that time (the few years before Uber was available) I lived a few miles from LAX. Too short of a distance to bother a friend, perfect to call a taxi. It didn’t seem worth it to schedule a ride share van (you might be the first pickup that drives around town). Most of LA isn’t great for taxis, so I didn’t have much experience outside of that.

I would call to get a taxi and get usually a 30-60m lead time which made it difficult to plan. I tried scheduling a pickup on their website. Nobody showed up. I called and they said, “Oh yeah. The website has been broken for awhile.” Then a 30-60m wait…I can’t remember if I made the flight.

Getting a ride back was bad, too. My place was just under the minimum distance depending on route and traffic. I knew this, tipped generously, and was upfront. They always gave me grief. Credit card machines were mandatory, but I still got the “It’s broken. Cash only” scam. After being pressed they’d pull out an old machine. I think they might have guilted me into driving to an ATM (a trip I also paid for) once.

Uber launched in LA in 2012 (NYC in 2011). Almost all of those things that were part of “reform” could have been addressed at least a decade before. I think it was around 2007-2010 Los Angeles had GPS on their busses. I remember sitting on the bus watching the position on a screen, but I remembered they didn’t have great connectivity to find out about the location if I wasn’t on the bus. I see an announcement from 2011 saying they were launching real-time data on web, phone, or text message. The tech was still new—but not unreasonably new. I also don’t think tech like GPS was the biggest differentiator at the time. I would have been very happy with a website for dispatching, credit card service, and something that reliably accommodated my trips.

I think the scammy parts of Uber’s growth were downplayed because of the long standing frustrations with the other things they improved. The guise of being a “black car service” was transparent and called out early on when they launched in San Francisco. I think if the only thing they had to offer were the scammy parts it would have been harder for them.


The thing to remember is the NYC has 2 separate cab systems. You have metered medallion cabs for street hails, that are very highly regulated. And then livery cars, basically your call for a pickup type cab along with limos and black cars that are barred from doing street pickups.

Most US cities handle it entirely with the livery style cabs, or otherwise merging things into one taxi setup. Weirdly a lot of places flat out ban street hail style taxis (like where I’m at now).

What we usually talk about with NYC Taxis is the medallion side. Fares are fixed by regulation, they’re only allowed to pickup street hails. The rates to airports and certain other key public transit locations are flat. A taxi is required to pick up up, required to use the shortest route, required take you where you want.

The thing about it is apart from a very specific mistake that would lead people to describe it as “legendarily corrupt”. The NYC medallion taxi system is (or was) considered one of the best in the world. It does more rides, more safely, cheaper, with fewer problems that almost anywhere else.

The devil in the situation was the issuing of medallions. They did the same thing with them as most cities with similar systems, and as NY State did with liquor licensing.

They had fixed quota or pool of medallions, and only issued new licenses when the number operating was less than the quota they’d determined. And only the number needed to hit the quota.

And they made them transferable.

So as demand for taxis went up, along with the city’s population. That meant it was easier to get one by buying out an existing one. Which meant less medallions returned to the pool. And fewer issued each year. Which meant the secondary market prices kept going up.

There weren’t “decades” really where reform was needed. It really didn’t become an issue until the 90’s, at which point Giuliani liked it just fine and kind of exacerbated the issue. It came to a head in the 00’s at which point reforms started. They could have avoided it decades before. And they probably should have fixed it after the State fixed the exact same issue with liquor licenses a few years before. But was a some what recent problem.

Basically independent owner operators and small cab companies got priced out of the metered market. Leaving consolidation by large cab companies. Who would lease a cab at exorbitant shift rates to drivers. Who needed to do particular things to cover that day rate. Including cluster in Lower Manhattan to focus on short trips, avoid the outer boroughs, and cheat the fare system. Then as values went up you had speculators who would buy medallions and lease those to the consolidated garages to keep them active. In hopes of selling them at a profit.

Further pricing people out.

Starting in the 00’s, post Guiliani there were increases in the number of issued medallions. Livery cabs were allowed street pickups in more places (and held to things like the flat airport rate). And the Borough Cabs were cooked up as a cheaper 2nd stream, with medallions issued in volume for low fees. And requirements to serve outlying areas. They also cracked down on fare cheating and a lot of the scummier cab companies.

The idea was to lower the secondary value of the medallions over time, to avoid the problems caused when the State basically removed the secondary market in liquor licenses in one go.

At which point Uber stepped in. Paying drivers less than either livery or medallion driving, but didn’t require a chauffeur’s license or give a shit about livery or medallion regulations. Which attracted a lot of drivers even if it paid slightly less. The barrier for entry was way lower.

The other thing they did was charge customers a shit ton less. Even where reported fares were much higher than the City’s meter rate. Burning investor cash to keep rides cheap enough to attract customers.

In first couple of years no Uber ride I took cost more than $5 regardless of distance. The bulk of them were free.

That pulled a shit ton of ride volume off the licensed cabs. So even if you made less per fare, you could make more, by taking more fares.

That dropped demand for medallions, and the value of them collapsed rapidly.

Then Uber dropped the rates they paid drivers, as they subsidized the cost to riders less and less.

Effectively they left all kinds of drivers with lower wages. And kicked off all the bad shit from medallion values dropping too fast.

They basically “out competed” reform by undercutting labor. They did that in a lot of places at the time, including LA IIRC.

For my part I never found any of the ride shares more convenient, safe or reliable than regular NYC street taxis. The only times I used them was when they were ridiculously cheaper. Most of the time I end up in one in NYC these days, it’s actually more expensive. And the drivers are still getting screwed, and the company is still burning investor cash to make it happen at that price.

And it’s worse out here in I live between a beach and a potato fieldsville. Uber and Lift are only spottily available. Last time I was with some one who insisted on checking the app, it was $140 for a 15 minute ride the local call a cab company did for $25.

So like some one up thread said it’s only really “better” from a really narrow perspective.