Uber burst on the scene in 2009 and became a very visible pioneer of the so-called sharing economy. The app allows anyone with a car, or who can rent a car, to become a driver after a screening process, and has become hugely popular with customers fed up with high regular taxi fares. All that hasn’t come without a price, however. There have been protests, employee complaints, and horror stories from both customers and drivers. There’s been corporate drama, sinister allegations, and most recently, a string of damaging stories in the press related to corporate culture.
The company’s recent close ties with the Trump administration – Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sat on the new president’s advisory council – spawned the #DeleteUber social media campaign. Kalanick announced that he was stepping down from the advisory council in response to the pressure in February 2017.
There have been problems from every angle of the business and corporation, and many horror stories to tell. Here’s a round-up of some of the most outrageous.
15. Sexual Harassment
Apparently, it’s not that great to work for Uber if you’re a woman, at least according to at least two of the company’s female engineers. The most recent allegations come from Keala Lusk in March 2017, who left the company after she says she was subject to sexual harassment and sexism, including from her female manager. The manager shamed her for wearing a tank top, among other sexist comments. The allegations come just a few months after former engineer Susan Fowler Righetti, like Keala, went public with her story of bringing the allegations to supervisors, only to be ignored. A New York Times story found several more similar cases, and Righetti’s manager resigned after their investigation found that he’d faced similar accusations while working at Google. When another woman brought the issue up at a meeting, she was told, “the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.”
14. Hit And Run
Uber driver Syed Muzaffar of San Francisco struck and killed 6 year old Sofia Liu in December of 2013. Uber’s response? Simply to deny all liability by claiming that Syed had not been, technically speaking, logged into his Uber app at the time of his accident. They also promptly closed his account. The girl’s parents tried to sue Uber anyway, and the company’s lawyer’s dismissed the claim, saying the company had no liability. While Uber is supposed to screen its employees, Muzaffer ended up having a prior conviction for reckless driving. Police were initially reluctant to lay charges, but they eventually did in December 2014. The widely publicized incident did nothing to counteract the growing impression the public was getting of a company with a ruthless and competitive me-first culture.
13. Middle-Aged Drunks
A woman Uber driver from the Bronx told the tale of picking up a group consisting of what she called a “drunken ahole” along with the wife and a couple of her friends. With the three ladies in the back seat, the drunk got into the front seat with the driver, and proceeded to grope her while she was trying to navigate the streets. He graduated to trying to drape himself across her lap, from which position – with less than a block to go – he started to throw up profusely. There’s no charge for customer sexual harassment, but as it turns out, there is for cleaning charges when you barf all over the front seat. The drive of about 40 minutes ended up costing the man about $200.
12. Dodgy Drivers
In June 2014, a driver for UBERx, a discount version of the original, was charged with misdemeanor battery after he was accused of punching and elbowing a passenger. The passenger alleged that, in the middle of the cab ride, driver Daveea Whitmire pulled over and demanded that they get out. The assault is said to have happened when the passenger tried to take a picture of the taxi with their cell phone. Daveea proved to have a pretty unsavory criminal record, including several felony convictions related to drug charges. When the alleged assault took place, Daveea was out on probation on yet another charge. When questioned by Daily Beast reporters about the driver screening process, an Uber representative claimed that Whitmore had passed all the company’s background check criteria, while at the same time, continuing to deny that there was any problem with the process.
11. Crappy Customers
In late 2016, an Atlanta driver reported picking up a male passenger at around 2:30am on a Friday night. The guy sat in front with the driver, and on the way, asked that he pull over in a shopping center parking lot. The passenger left his wallet on the front seat and proceeded to jump out, pull out his Johnson and urinate right under a streetlight. Then, as the horrified driver looked on, he squatted, let out an “animalistic” grunt and emptied his bowels on the pavement. The driver couldn’t take it anymore, so he threw the wallet to him out the window and took off. Ending his shift early, he got a call on the way home from an Uber employee – the passenger had apparently called another Uber, gotten in, and then wiped his butt all over the back seat.
10. An Inefficient Route
UberX came under fire again in October 2014 when a woman claimed to have been abducted for a scary two hour ordeal. The woman said she was coming home from a party when she began to notice that the driver was not taking her to the destination she’d given him. She started demanding answers as to where they were going and what he was up to, but he ignored all her ever more troubled questions. It was 3am in the morning, and they ended up in a deserted parking lot, where the driver locked the doors and refused to let her go. The woman didn’t give up, though, and she began to scream and raise hell, to the point that the driver finally relented and took her home. When she complained to Uber, they only partially refunded her fare, apologizing for the driver’s “inefficient route”.
9. Tracking Your Hook-Ups
Uber apparently has a company blog, and according to reports, the company’s employees seem to get creative in posting things to amuse themselves. At one time, there was a post called “Rides of Glory” where enterprising Uber employees – apparently, with a lot of time on their hands – had tracked customers who used the app between 10pm at night and 4am in the morning. They actually took the time to chart the data on customers who were picked up and dropped off at hook-ups, from different cities, on various holidays, during the course of a whole year. Now, that’s like your local drug store tracking your condom use on Valentine’s Day, or how often certain customers use lube. Some things between a customer and a company should just remain sacrosanct.
8. Driver On The Lam
Ryan Simonetti of New York City Tweeted about his Uber experience in Washington D.C. in July 2014. Ryan was on a business trip, and on a Monday afternoon, he and a couple of colleagues called an Uber to take them to his company’s new offices in the city. He got in the front while the other two men got in the back. An D.C. taxi inspector was eyeing the Uber, and began to follow them as they began to drive away. When he asked about it, Simonetti says the driver told him not to worry because it wasn’t “a real cop”. As they approached an intersection, he apologized, then ran a red light. The Uber driver made a quick dash for the nearest highway and began speeding away well above the limit, but the taxi inspector was still on his tail. Ryan and the other two passengers were yelling at him to slow down. He eventually turned onto an exit ramp, and the quick-thinking taxi inspector burst ahead to cut him off. That didn’t stop the determined driver, though, who simply backed up the ramp, back onto the highway, once the three passengers were out of the car. He vanished into Virginia, and Uber deactivated his account.
7. Unscheduled Stop
In November 2016, two women in Hertfordshire, UK reported to the press that they had been taken on a frightening ride by an Uber driver. The two booked the Uber to get home after a night spent at the clubs. On the way home, the pair noticed that the driver was taking a different route then they’d given him. He claimed it was a detour, but in fact, they noticed that they were eventually going in the opposite direction. When they pointed it out to the driver, he became angry, quadrupling their fare. One of the two got the idea to cancel the trip on her app, and at that point, the two women claimed that the driver stopped by a reservoir, physically grabbed them and pulled them out of the car, yelling as he abandoned them and drove off, still yelling at them. After complaining to Uber, the two were refunded their fare.
In November of 2014, New Yorker and cancer patient Alexandra Craigle called an Uber after finishing radiation treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. While she waited on the cold, rainy sidewalk, she saw a regular taxi come by, and took it instead. She canceled the Uber trip, and that unleashed a torrent of abuse from the driver. He called her three times, left angry voicemails and text messages, one of which read, “You are not human.” Alexandra says she canceled the Uber within the company’s accepted 5 minute grace period, but the driver went so far as to tell her she deserved to have cancer. After her complaint, the driver was fired, and she was refunded $30.
Olivia Nuzzi, a reporter for The Daily Beast, has had her share of Uber troubles. Through social media posts and later in interviews, she told the story of being picked up by an Uber driver in New York City. Just before the end of her trip, the driver whipped out an iPad and showed her a picture he’d taken of her earlier in the day, as she’d been walking by Lincoln Center, asking if it was her. Olivia was understandably creeped out by what she described as a very close up shot of her. She mentioned it to Uber, and the company fired him, although they didn’t tell Olivia that. The driver began a campaign of email harassment against her and her employers, asking them to get his job back. While Uber denied giving the driver access to her information, it turns out that it is, in fact, company policy to provide drivers with their passenger’s full names.
4. Company Vendettas
Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael told fellow diners at a swank event in Manhattan in late 2014 that he thought Uber should set up a team of researchers and their own journalists to start digging up dirt they could use to discredit journalists who spoke out against the company. He specifically mentioned delving into people’s personal lives and families and singled out Sarah Lacy, the editor of PandoDaily, an online magazine based in the Silicon Valley. Michael later backed away from the remarks, which he said were made in a situation he thought was off the record, even though media was present. The belligerent attitude seems to go along with a company culture that is all about forcing their way into the market no matter what.
3. Sexual Assault
A rape charge against an Uber driver in Virginia Beach in March 2017 is just the latest in a long and sad string of rape allegations. The driver had been working for Uber for three years, and was accused of assaulting a woman passenger after dropping her off at home. In January 2017, a San Antonio driver was accused of rape after helping a woman to her apartment after a drunken night out. She had been called by a bar after she’d passed out in the bathroom, and it was bar staff who poured her into the car. In London, there were accusations of 32 cases of sexual assault in a 12 month period. That’s on top of the groping, creepy comments and other BS women passengers put up with.
In March 2017, Uber pledged to stop using so-called Greyball technology, a tactic it has used to operate in many jurisdictions where it was actually illegal to do so. That’s right, the company has admitted that it has been using a tool called Greyball that essentially cloaks its location. The tool was targeted at regulators the company believed were involved in sting operations in locations around the world where it was in violation of local laws. Greyball used a sophisticated algorithm that referenced social media posts, geolocation, and even credit card info to identify potential targets. Greyball gives its users an alternative – and non-functioning – version of the app. Right up to the recent admission, Uber executives had insisted that the Greyball technology was necessary for driver safety.
1. Uncle Sam Double Fantasy
A driver in St. Louis, Missouri told reporters that he’d once picked up a man and woman who were both dressed as Uncle Sam. The costumes included latex facial features and a great deal of detail, and the two of them looked identical other than in size. Once the ride was underway, the couple got into an argument over the fact that the woman had been flirting with someone else during the course of their evening. The argument escalated to screaming followed by a silent period. The driver had tried to tune out as soon as the yelling started, but after a few minutes curiosity got the better of him. He looked in the rearview mirror to see the vision of a double Uncle Sam making out with him/herself. “I still get shivers,” he concluded.