Reaching new fundraising heights, Uber is now seeking to conquer the world — willingly or by force. Neither white knight nor bloodsucking scoundrel, Uber is posing tough questions to our culture of innovation in Europe
The smartphone-driven rideshare and taxi alternative service company Uber, founded in 2009 and headquartered in San Francisco, has announced for the second time in 2014, a billion dollar-plus fundraising! The company, which offers applications linking customers with drivers, now overtakes records previously held by Facebook: € 2.7 billion raised (with $ 600 million of additional potential), and a market valuation at $ 40 billion.
Yet if Uber is known to the public it is more for the controversies it is raising in its “war” against the taxis, which has in recent months turned into a crusade against all comers and for “free mobility”: against street taxis, against national governments and regulators, against local governments, and even against less controversial private hire services (in France the so-called VTC hire services have joined a lawsuit against Uber).
World Streets is today kicking off a series of invited articles by authors from different countries and backgrounds, presenting their views on the topic of “The Uber Generation: Rogue Capitalism or Critical Paradigm Shift”. It is expected that this series will continue over the months ahead. The present posting is being circulated to friends and others who have expressed interest in this particular angle of the New Mobility Agenda as an advance announcement and call for criticism, ideas and contributions.
Why is it that virtually every major transport project built in the last decades in just about any part of the world has cost a great deal more than the original engagement, and served far fewer people than originally forecast? This pattern repeats itself time and again. Since the ones who end up holding the bag every time are the hard-working and apparently infinitely gullible taxpayers, it is possible to come to a conclusion. And that has to be that, up to now at least, we are terminally stupid, we fall for the same old trick every time. Why is that, and what are its implications for the quality of mobility services in your city and metro area? We invited Dr. Colin Black who is currently working to get a handle on these issues from an overall European perspective to share his thoughts with us.
As previously documented on World Streets the city of Tallinn, Estonia implemented Free Fare Public Transportation (FFPT) in January of 2013 for all registered citizens of the city. A year and a half into this policy voices from politicians, the media and academia presented an array of opinions in favour of, and refuting benefits of the policy. Thus in May of 2014 I visited Tallinn to conduct interviews with City staff, independent environmentalist consultants and academics alike for my master’s thesis in Urban and Regional Planning Studies at the London School of Economics. My research question was ‘Is Tallinn, Estonia’s free fare public transportation policy meeting its claimed motives as stated by the city’s municipal leaders?’
When one considers how things have gone in the last decades or thereabouts, it is not easy to believe in the survival of civilization.
I do not argue from this that the only thing to do is to adjure practical politics, retire to some remote place and concentrate either on individual salvation or on building up self-supporting communities against the day when the atom bombs have done their work. I think one must continue the political struggle, just as a doctor must try to save the life of a patient who is probably going to die.
But I do suggest that we shall get nowhere unless we start by recognizing that political behaviour is largely non-rational, that the world is suffering from some kind of mental disease which must be diagnosed before it can be cured.
In order to understand what needs to be done to create healthier lives and a better performing set of transportation arrangements, World Streets has from the very beginning made a consistent distinction between what we call “Old Mobility” vs.”New Mobility.” The difference between the two is simple, straight-forward . . . and substantial.
Old mobility was the dominant form of transportation policy, practice and thinking that took its full shape and momentum starting in the mid twentieth century, at a time when we all lived in a universe that was, or at least seemed to be, boundless and free of constraints. It served many of us well in many ways at the time, albeit with numerous and notable exceptions, though we were blind to most of them most of the time. It was a very different world back them. But that world is gone. Gone and it will never come back.