What it means when Uber finally admits it is in direct competition with public transit

Uber has long proclaimed—despite the obvious tension—that it is an “accompaniment to public transit” for its users, long bragging on its own website about how it “extends the reach of public transit,” better connects folks with public transit, how it works with public transit to “create solutions,” how it “complements public transportation”…

The list is quite extraordinary and is Uber’s attempt at diminishing its reputation as a company that has re-upped users who would otherwise use mass transit in favor of a private car transit. Why? Because they prefer it—as do most humans, let’s be honest: Who doesn’t want more space and privacy when in transit? And, more importantly, can afford it: Uber is, by no means, an affordable alternative; its services widening the disparities between class and race in urban areas.

This all comes at a time when urban areas need to start desperately wrangling in single-person driving and increasing mass transit in order to meet climate-change goals. This all comes at a time when metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have seen mass transit numbers decline as the presence of Uber (and Lyft) increases in their cities.

Transit advocates have long questioned Uber’s actual loyalty toward and for public transport—and now they’re having their suspicions confirmed: The company’s filing for an Initial Public Offering has made it quite clear that they are in direct competition with public transit.

The beauty of these papers are that they cannot misrepresent—and for the first time in its history, Uber is finally being honest that it wants to override public transportation in any fashion it can.

Not only does the company openly admit that public transport “typically provides the lowest-cost transportation option in many cities”—which is a risk for its proposed growth strategy—but that it will increase benefits for drivers and consumers while losing money “until we reach sufficient scale to reduce incentives” (i.e. its user and driver base is ubiquitous enough to operate without having to offer those benefits any longer).

Later in the report, they discuss how increase this scale works:

“When we enter a new city or launch a new Ridesharing product in a city, we aim to reach efficient scale and liquidity rapidly to attract consumers to use our platform as an alternative to personal vehicle ownership and usage of public transportation and to achieve leadership in the ridesharing category… Based upon our experience to date, we believe that the operator with the largest network in a given market will often have the highest margin as a result of having the largest liquidity network effect, as well as the benefit of operating leverage.”

Again, the company will continue to lower ride prices and amp up driver benefits until it achieves leverage as one of the main operators of transit in a city—and that means facing off against public transit.

The ultimate question now is: With Uber finally admitting it could care less about mass transit or calming traffic or alleviating congestion or public investment, while the very human characteristic of desiring comfort overrule the need to make our cities more livable?

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 19 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.