GiGadgets | GiGadgets | Opinion: Autonomous Vehicles Represent New Age for Uber

Opinion: Autonomous Vehicles Represent New Age for Uber
to reinvigorate their reputation…and profits
Brittany North Cross
By Brittany North Cross
Jan 13, 2018

Notwithstanding the mounting problems Uber has faced in the last year due to corporate shake ups, public backlash, and underperforming financial targets, its biggest losses stem from losing battles to operate in countries worldwide due to its hiring and operating practices. With its refusal to cooperate with local governments on background checks or submit cumbersome ride-hailing regulations, Uber has seen itself pushed out of massive markets like London, Barcelona, and Houston (though many decisions are still under appeal). 

However Uber’s mission to move toward a completely autonomous driving fleet represents a new chapter in its relationship to communities around the globe. The potential partnership represents infrastructure investment for municipalities struggling to update their transportation framework for the 21st Century. If government regulators and ride-sharing companies are able to put aside their differences for technological innovation, the potential effects will have wide-ranging implications for achieving a more progressive transport future.

Our present millennium has seen overwhelmed municipal governments struggling to update crumbling roadways, provide functioning mass transit, and fight massive traffic congestion due to population booms. Large-scale investment is needed to combat these issues, but the tax burden on local citizenry makes improvements nearly impossible in the time and scale necessary.

Meanwhile consumers have flocked to ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to provide cheaper, more convenient modes of transportation than these governments are able to provide. But municipalities have not welcomed these companies with open arms. Their presence has caused conflict with powerful taxi/car service lobbies in addition to adding to traffic problems with their abundant use.

In cities like Austin and Copenhagen, Uber lost its ability to operate due to conflict with the taxi commissions which claimed the company must be subject to the same heavy regulations as them. Large US markets are threatened with losing ride-hailing services by requiring drivers to have a fingerprint background check, something Uber vigorously opposes. 

Uber claims its corporate background checks are sufficient, but subjecting its drivers to a burdensome federal process (which can take up to 4 months and include excessive fees) deters drivers from joining the service. Yet Uber sees itself as a technology company, not a ride-sharing provider, giving insight into its potential relationships with presently hostile bureaucratic partners.

The future of Uber and fellow ridesharing companies is in the adoption of autonomous vehicles for their fleet. Profits will sky rocket by eliminating compensation and insurance liability needed for its drivers. Furthermore, municipalities will be hard-pressed to deny a company access to their markets on the grounds of inadequate employment regulations and compliance issues. Ostensibly this seems to be a loss for governments looking to protect the taxi industry and prevent unemployment, but this is a shortsighted and pessimistic view of the situation’s potential.

Autonomous driving systems are not just about the vehicles, but depend on specific conditions in the transportation grids on which they operate. Roads, urban layouts, and the software which manages every local’s traffic system must be updated for autonomous vehicles to operate effectively.

If Uber wants the technology to take off, it will have to play a role in the rapid improvement of these systems. Local and national governments have the potential to rapidly accelerate community regeneration by conditioning Uber’s presence in their market on company investment in their infrastructure. The potential partnerships between the construction, technology, and motor industries are endless.

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