Uber changed the way people take public transport by making it cheaper and more convenient. But can the company weather the recent storm of controversies.
How did Uber’s troubles in the US start?
The troubles started in February when US President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees.
Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick, who was on one of Trump’s advisory committee’s was accused of breaking a strike by taxi drivers protesting the executive order. In retaliation more than 200,000 Uber subscribers deleted ride hailing app.
Then came a blog from an ex-Uber programmer Susan Fowler about the sexual harassment women regularly face in the company.
To cap it all, Kalanick was caught on camera insulting an Uber driver late last month. His words, “some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” during a heated debate with the driver Fawzi Kamel, created a stir on the social media.
Kamel struck up a conversation with the CEO while giving him a ride and had complained about Uber’s falling fare.
I stopped using Uber in 2012 when it became clear Travis Kalanick had no interest in doing the right thing. Same seems true today of @jack.
— Paul Bradley Carr (@paulbradleycarr) March 7, 2017
Are things better for the company outside the US?
Uber announced in February it was wrapping up operations in Taiwan after a confrontation with authorities there.
Taiwanese officials accuse Uber of running a transport company on a tech-company licence, not paying tax and avoiding insurance cover for the riders.
In Argentina, a judge ordered that Uber’s service should be blocked after local transport unions said they feared its members would lose jobs as Uber drivers, who could be anyone with a car, compete for passengers.
Uber also had to contend with thousands of drivers going on strike in India as they demanded better compensation and other incentives.
The European Court of Justice is soon to announce a decision on whether Uber should be categorised as a tech firm or a transport company.
Being declared a transport provider could be a major blow for Uber which avoids regulatory requirements that jack-up costs.
Uber had to sell its operation in China to a local company Didi Chuxing last year after an intense battle for market share.
Are customers happy?
Well, apparently most of them aren’t.
Uber has faced lawsuits that involve hundreds of assaults by its drivers.
For its part, the company last year said it had received 175 complaints of sexual assault including five rape accusations between 2013 and 2015.
Black customers complain they are made to wait for relatively longer when they book a ride and are often rejected, according to a study.
Uber is also under pressure to run fingerprinted background check on its drivers to weed out people with a criminal history – something the company resists.
Is Uber any different than other ride-sharing companies?
As far as the business model is concerned, it’s not.
Services such as Lyft in the US, Ola in India and Careem in the Middle East face similar issues.
But Uber gets more attention because of its size – the company is worth more than $60 billion. It also runs into trouble more often than the others because of its aggressive approach.
It recently admitted to using a software application that tricked regulators who tried to check if the company was offering service in neighbourhoods where it’s not supposed to operate.
Google even accused Uber of stealing its technical know-how on a self-driving car.
Are there problems with regulators as well?
Uber has expanded operations to more than 500 cities since its launch in 2009, often through bypassing local regulations such as the requirement that its riders have insurance.
The app connects drivers directly with passengers without taking on the burden of hiring employees, who are paid fixed salaries.
But the Uber drivers have approached courts demanding they be treated as employees who are eligible for minimum wage, overtime and expense reimbursement.
One of the biggest challenges for Uber is opposition from organised taxi owners.
Unlike the Uber drivers, taxis are regulated. They have to pay a licence fee to local authorities and pay for vehicle fitness tests.
If authorities start to treat Uber as a taxi-service-like company, then the ride-hailing business could lose even more of its original appeal.