There's a ton of room for improvement for Uber and their competitors. However, having lived in San Francisco for many years before Uber existed I never want to go back to the time when we had to rely on taxis. The system was corrupt, inefficient and overall a total bummer to use.
You couldn't depend on taxis to show up when you ordered them to go to the airport. The only way you could ensure arriving on time was paying for a very expensive black car service. Not to mention the ridiculous 5% "processing fees" to use a credit card to pay :/. If you didn't have cash taxi drivers wouldn't take you often times, or their payment systems were "broken".
I would definitely be in favor of paying a bit more, especially if I knew it would go to the drivers.
I was recently in Brazil and having Uber made the experience so amazing. We had the comfort of knowing we could travel all over the local area and have no problem getting home, even later in the evening. For the drivers they seemed really happy to have the opportunity to make money this way.
I recently met an Uber driver that taught himself english when he was a teenager and then after serving as an embedded translator for the US military in Iraq he was relocated to the US. He's 20 and driving for uber to help pay his expenses while he goes to school in Oakland.
I'm rooting for them to figure it out, I hope they can fix their culture, find ways to make being an uber driving a sustainable living and build a business that is a net positive on society.
Many years ago I dreamed of starting a taxi company in the U.S. because I had just been in my third taxi crash in New York. The drivers seemed rude, unattentive, the taxis dirty. I had worked at UPS and was sure you could have clean, safe, vehicles with uniformed and well-trained drivers, just like the Brits have.
But unions and regulations scared me off.
Then came Uber and Lyft, and I was so excited because it provided a way around the taxis. The software was SO GOOD! But somehow it became like eBay to me. Your experience varied by the driver, just like on eBay it varied by the seller or buyer. I came to prefer Amazon over eBay, because Amazon offered fulfillment from their distribution centers for third-party sellers.
Then came Uber's moral bankruptcy, awful business model, adding to congestion, and stealing of trade secrets from Waymo. I deleted Uber but continued to choose Lyft over taxis, with mixed experiences.
Now I've pinned my hopes on Waymo. They just signed a deal for 20,000 Jaguar electric SUVs, which they plan to put on the road as self-driving cars in 2020. Here's the thing: when Google really tries to do something right like they did with maps, gmail and their search engine, they really do it right. Maps are unimaginably difficult to me. They had 300+ engineers on it, satellites in the skies, cars taking pics of roads, backpackers taking pics of trails... Mind. Blowing.
There are Waymo cars in our neighborhood and me being a good citizen, I give them a good test on my skateboard, bike, and while I run. I do unpredictable things to them like kids and dogs would do when they don't think and run out in the street after a ball. I'm good at not thinking.
And my confidence in them is growing. Tied in with Google Maps, they can route these cars to optimize traffic, and hopefully it doesn't explode traffic congestion. There are a lot of models that seem to predict that self-driving cars will be much better at optimizing traffic because they know to merge on the freeway at freeway speed instead of causing a big slowdown by merging on too slow, etc.
I could definitely get used to getting rides in a Jaguar.
Tied in with Google Maps, they can route these cars to optimize traffic, and hopefully it doesn't explode traffic congestion.
It's heresay but one of my control systems profesors told me that one of the original self-driving car experiments (this would be late 80s or early 90s) was torpedoed when they had the officer in charge out for a demonstration. One of the goals was do demonstrate car training (as in railroad train) when one of the lead cars had a problem and the rest of the train piled into it from behind. I have doubts the story is true but I always think about it when automated driving traffic efficiency claims come up.
I keep track of a bunch of urban planning and transit types and one of them is Jarret Walker. He tends to argue that congestion is fundamentally a geometry problem in that you need to get a certain number of cubes through a certain volume in space and that rate can only be pushed so hard. The obvious answer is to batch people into groups, which I've seen Uber experimenting with (cue the disruption through re-inventing buses jokes) and that leads to some variant of microtransit. I've seen writeups elsewhere but Walker's articles are the clearest explanation of the tradeoffs in my mind.
A lot of people are really upset about the way Waze (which I think is owned by Google) "manages traffic" by sending lots of cars down previously quiet residential streets. They are really just creating more traffic jams away from the freeways. It doesn't really make traffic "better" - it just makes it bad on more streets. I saw a thread on NextDoor from some people in Los Altos Hills who complained that, at rush hour, there could be 40 or 50 cars lined up at a stop sign along their previously pretty quiet street. That's a very significant impact on a neighborhood.
I wish the money spent on ride sharing could have been invested in real solutions to the US's pathetic public transportation systems.
Hmmm, yeah, I hadn't thought of it that way. Come to think of it, sometimes returning from SF the nice voice from Google Maps will tell me she found a faster route and I should exit the freeway on Page Mill Road. I'll save 4 minutes. I think to myself, "Wow. Good thing I'm so technically savvy and was smart enough to dial into Google."
And then I see a whole line of cars doing what I'm doing and I don't feel so special. And then I notice 20 cars lined up at the stop sign in front of the equestrian center where I bike and had never seen traffic before. Hmmm...