Does Uber Have Higher Prices and Worse Service Than the Taxi Industry Had Ten Years Ago?

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Following the Uber Files leaks, transportation expert Hubert Horan explains why Uber is “hopelessly uneconomic” and how its engagement with policymakers and academics aided its relentless pursuit of growth.

Earlier this month, The Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) began publishing stories based on 124,000 internal Uber documents leaked by Mark MacGann, Uber’s former chief European lobbyist. The Uber Files showed how Uber “duped” regulators and law enforcement officials,

won over politicians (including current French president Emmanuel Macron, who reportedly aided its lobbying efforts when he served as economy minister), and ingratiated itself with top academic researchers, using their clout and research to promote its corporate narratives.

The leaks, published as Uber users face much more expensive fares after the investor-funded subsidies that kept Uber’s prices artificially low for years have dried up, shed light on Uber’s “ethically questionable” conduct and its success in recruiting prominent figures in politics, media, and business. Yet Hubert Horan, a transportation consultant who in recent years has become Uber’s most vocal and persistent critic, is somewhat disappointed.

“It was widely known that Uber was willfully violating local laws, and that they had mounted a massive lobbying PR effort—unprecedented even by tech industry standards— to overwhelm any kind of legal or political or media resistance. These reports are useful in reminding people that the narratives that had fed Uber’s growth were all entirely fabricated, but I’m not sure that qualifies as something to stop the presses for,” Horan recently told ProMarket.

In 2019, Horan wrote a three-part series for ProMarket about Uber’s predatory pricing and reliance on “gigantic” subsidies, the narratives with which it convinced reporters to cover it in glowing terms despite its anticompetitive conduct, and the way it relied on well-regarded academics to present its PR messaging as the product of rigorous research.