Uber’s fleet grew faster than its number of drivers this past month, and that statistic is likely to continue. The company chose Philadelphia as the launch site for a squadron of driverless cars. Some are made by Volvo, with other companies eventually joining the fray in a fleet of diverse vehicles all united by their independence from a flesh-and-blood driver.
We know where this is going. Uber might tolerate—and even support its drivers—but the end goal of any company is to make their process the most efficient one possible. Eliminating drivers will save lives, gallons of fuel, and most importantly of all, a lot of scary claims about dangerous drivers.
If you’re an Uber driver right now saying “but that’s how I earn money,” then you’re not alone. And you’re probably not going anywhere anytime soon—even if you live in Philadelphia.
Right now, the Philly cars will still have someone in the driver’s seat, but mostly to make sure nothing goes wrong. Eventually once the test programs have been filled, there won’t be any need for them. It will save Uber money, and they’ll pass that on to you, according to Bloomberg:
“Trips will be free for the time being, rather than the standard local rate of $1.05 per mile. In the long run, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick says, prices will fall so low that the per-mile cost of travel, even for long trips in rural areas, will be cheaper in a driverless Uber than in a private car.”
But maybe the best selling point for users isn’t the savings—after all Uber has already had significant impact on the cab industry worldwide by reducing prices.
What Uber will eliminate are the occasional (even rare), but toxic social implications of having a person behind the wheel.
The Uber driver fleet unfortunately has the same problems that the rest of the world has: racism, sexism, abusive and violent individuals walking around looking to do harm. Except in Uber’s case, some of those shitty people have found themselves behind the wheel.
Remember the Uber driver who went on a shooting spree?
Read about this guy who harassed a 13-year-old girl for weeks on her way home from school?
It’s not just kids, as you probably know. Allegations of actions ranging from inappropriate come-ons to assault are all over the news. And they’ve made enough women uncomfortable that things like women-only ridesharing competitors have popped up.
None of this is meant to draw a correlation between Uber drivers and violence; Uber gets plenty of people—women and children included—safely to their destinations all the time, and plenty of drivers are hardworking people trying to make money. But these instances of drivers taking liberties and committing crimes all hit the headlines with the company name attached.
And it’s not like the drivers aren’t in danger too: shitty passengers can assault drivers just the same. And they have.
The difference is that, with a driverless car, the drunken violent rage is just damaging property. No one is in danger.
Bottom line: Drivers are the big liability here. Uber gets that. They may be a long way from having enough money to create a driverless fleet for all their needs, but it’s clearly the end goal whether anyone will admit to it or not.
Uber wants to stop being the scapegoat for rage every time one of their drivers turns out not to be a good person. Yes background checks are important, but as we know there are plenty of bad people who simply can’t be spotted because they have a clean record, or because they’ve not yet been put in a position where they can do harm.
And the working culture of driving an Uber neither attracts nor dissuades that kind of person. But collective paranoia on are part makes a headline more juicy with “Uber” in the name.
A world without drivers means Uber can spread its fleet around a city based on an algorithm, which means fewer shortages. It means better response times and fewer drivers refusing to pick people up because of their routes. It means fewer interpersonal conflicts between drivers and riders.
Bad people will still do bad things all the time. Uber just wants to stop getting included in the headlines while making their business safer, cheaper, and easier to use.