Uber is a peer-to-peer ridesharing, taxicab, food delivery, and transportation gig company headquartered in San Francisco, California, and has been operating in over 900 metropolitan areas worldwide. 

I do not like the idea of the United States tech and gig giant operating in Jamaica. Why? Uber has been known to be at the center of many “shady” things since it was founded in March 2009. The ridesharing company has its fair share of unethical practices, and I believe that its newest targets are developing countries. 

Jamaica is not the first Caribbean island Uber tried to make a stronghold in, they tried in the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago. However, in just over one year, they had to pack up and leave. Uber opted to call quits in Trinidad and Tobago for several reasons; some of them might have included low credit card usage, higher cost (it is more expensive to take Uber than to take local taxis), high crime, and legal issues (Uber has been fundamentally operating outside the Trinidad and Tobago law as private vehicles are not allowed to operate as taxis).

I know our current disposition towards this initiative of Uber is pure excitement, and this has blinded us to the facts that have been laid out in front of us. We only see it as being potentially transformative to the public transport industry by bringing a safer and more reliable method of getting around.

However, the question that we are failing to ask is: What does Uber coming to Jamaica mean?

Safety Concerns for passengers

Violence against women is now on the rise, and people are becoming more fearful of the transportation sector, primarily taxis. So, the question is, do you believe that people should be ridesharing with strangers? I am personally against it. Uber has a terrible track record of properly vetting its drivers. This is evident in the Kalamazoo, Michigan shooting, which left six people dead, a crime that was committed by an Uber driver. In 2017, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) fined Uber $8.9 million for allowing drivers with “disqualifying” criminal or motor vehicle offenses to drive for the company. Uber even hired a driver who was an escaped felon. Again, they do not have the best track record when it comes to properly vetting their drivers. In a crime-stricken country like Jamaica, do we want criminals to be driving us around? 

While ridesharing is big in the US, it does come with its fair share of crimes. Unscrupulous individuals continue to pose as rideshare drivers to lure and kidnap unsuspecting passengers by branding their vehicles with an Uber emblem or claiming to be a passenger’s expected driver. We understand and agree that we need a reformed and safe transportation system, but Uber is not the answer to this problem, as it will only be adding to an already existing issue. 

It is also a known fact that Uber drivers earn low wages, and this puts drivers in a position to rob passengers frequently.

On top of all that, Uber will now allow its drivers and passengers to record conversations while commuting.

Poor treatment of drivers

Safety concerns are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Uber because they are also known for the poor treatment of their drivers. Unless required by law, Uber drivers are not considered employees but rather independent contractors. This prevents drivers from being able to access certain benefits such as gas compensation, tax, and overtime payment, among others. Drivers are expected to drive 50–60 miles per week and not get compensated for their vehicles. The more you drive, the faster your car depreciates, and this is not considered by Uber.

According to Hrant Goregian, a full-time Uber driver for five years in Los Angeles, “Uber treats drivers as just something they have to deal with until technology for autonomous cars gets to the point where they can eliminate drivers. They don’t listen to us.”

If Uber starts operating in Jamaica, it can be guaranteed that it will start by offering the best incentives to the drivers in terms of rider fare payment ratios. When Uber began in the US, it started with a rider-fare ratio of 80% to 20%. Where the drivers get 80% of the fare, Uber gets 20%. Today, Uber charges whatever they want. In some instances, they charge 70% of the rider’s fare. 

Yet Uber insists that their drivers are independent contractors. Three principles of the Jamaican Labour Law can be used in determining whether a relationship between Uber and its drivers is one of contract for service or of service. 

  1. A written contract between the parties
  2. The extent to which the person doing the work is under the direction and control of the other regarding the way the work is done.
  3. Where the contract contains an express term purporting to define the status of the party engaged.

Uber drivers meet all these requirements. Before one can become a driver, they are subjected to a term and agreement (contract) when signing up to provide services via the Uber App. The Uber App provides drivers with directives as to where to pick up and transport commuters and the time drivers are expected to pick up commuters once they accept to pick up a commuter. Drivers are also tracked by Uber via the Uber App. All Uber drivers are given the status of “drivers.”.

Monopolizing various business sectors

The Jamaican government and people have always been chanting the phrase “Eat what we grew” to decrease the number of goods that we import into the country. So, I expect that we will be chanting the same thing for the transportation sector, “Use service provided by Jamaican companies.” Yes, we understand that the transportation sector, more notably taxis, is like the wild west. Where the Road Code Act does not apply to them. However, taxi service companies such as Knutsford Express, Ontime Taxi, and Gadgepro Executive Charter taxi drivers adhere to the Road Traffic Act. The injection of foreign company services into our country is not the best way to solve this problem, as it will only add to it, as Uber would offer its services to all taxi drivers and none taxi drivers.

Aachen, Germany September 2019: Uber driver holding his smartphone in the car. Uber is an American company that offers different online transportation services

If Uber comes to Jamaica, you can guarantee that it will monopolize not just the transportation sector but other sectors as well. Offering its rideshare service to Jamaica is just the first step in its overall plan. 

We tend to associate Uber with just taxis, but they also control a massive market share of various business sectors throughout the world: transportation (Uber), food delivery (Uber Eats), and courier (Uber Freight). Allowing Uber to operate in Jamaica is like asking Uber to take control of our business sectors slowly but surely. 

Uber Eats
Uber Freight

Attacks on competitors

Uber is no stranger to targeting its competition for financial gains. On numerous occasions, Uber employees deliberately request services from competitors and then cancel the service later, tactics used to reduce the response time of competitors to legitimate customers. Documents provided to both Valleywag and TechCrunch are said to show this downright dirty trick by Uber employees. The document even revealed that Uber employees even tried to bribe its competitor’s drivers with incentives, like cash, to defect. These antics were done to ridesharing competitor Gett. 

Gett Taxis

Uber did not only show its wrath to Gett but also to Lyft as well. In 2014, Uber targeted Lyft after they announced that they were going to start operating in the tri-state area. Uber’s marketing manager created a street team comprised of Lyft workers to leak information to Uber regarding the launch plans of Lyft. Uber also issued a series of credit cards and iPhones to these drivers to create dummy Lyft accounts and spam other Lyft drivers, by requesting service and then declining the service afterward, like what they did to Gett. It was reported that over 177 Uber employees canceled approximately 5,560 Lyft rides that they were instructed to order and cancel by Uber. 

Imagine a Fortune 500 company attacking our local transportation system. We would stand no chance against them. They would dominate us. Uber has the money and the manpower to downright attack and obliterate any of our local taxi services and get away with it too. We, as a nation, prefer “foreign things” to our own. Be mindful that the attack will not stop with just our transportation system; it will move on to our slowly developing food delivery and courier services. 

Unfair pricing of ridesharing service

Currently, the most that we are expected to pay to travel from Kingston to Stony Hill or from Kingston to St. Catherine is JM $100. However, Uber charges are not consistent; their prices tend to fluctuate based on the number of people who are requesting their service in a particular area. Today you might pay JM $100 to travel from Kingston to Halfway Tree, and then tomorrow you are expected to pay $500. How incredulous is that? 

In all locations where Uber operates, people are expected to pay in US currency via the Uber app. Therefore, with the current situation with our exchange rate, we will be paying an incredible amount of money for transportation. This amount will only continue to go up as the US dollar continues to increase. At the time of writing this article, the Jamaican to US dollar exchange rate was JM $147.08 to US $1, respectively. 

Breaching of the law

As per the Transportation Authority, Act or the Road Traffic Act, private vehicles are prohibited from being used to provide taxi services. However, Uber services are completely reliant on the usage of private vehicles to provide ridesharing capabilities to the public. If Uber is to operate in Jamaica, it will most definitely breach the Road Traffic Act. 

With how the Jamaican transportation system is now, Uber will most definitely create an increase in the breach of the Road Traffic Act as it will now increase the competitiveness between taxi drivers – and now private drivers – to pick up commuters.

I strongly agree with the President of the Transport Operators Development (TODSS), Egerton Newman. Like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica does not have the facilities and systems readily in place to deal with a ridesharing service [Uber] actively and effectively, especially with crime on the rise on every turn that you make. 

Additional Read

CNN ­– https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/30/us/south-carolina-missing-college-student/index.html

CNN Business – https://money.cnn.com/2017/11/20/technology/uber-colorado-background-checks-fine/index.html

Levin Simes Abrams – https://www.levinsimes.com/uber-allows-thousand-of-criminals-as-drivers/#:~:text=June%201%2C%202018%3A%20Uber%20failed,protect%20passengers%20from%20sexual%20assault

Loop Jamaica – https://www.loopjamaica.com/content/uber-will-not-survive-jamaica-says-transportation-boss

Medium – https://medium.com/@marcswanston/4-reasons-why-uber-failed-in-trinidad-and-tobago-daa70db7ae29#:~:text=Here’s%20a%20few%20reasons%20why,as%20a%20form%20of%20payment

The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/may/07/uber-drivers-feel-poor-powerless-ipo-looms

The Mercury News – https://www.mercurynews.com/2014/12/10/biggest-risk-for-uber-lyft-passengers-not-feeling-safe/

The Verge – https://www.theverge.com/2014/1/24/5342582/uber-employees-spammed-competing-car-service-with-fake-orders#:~:text=Documents%20provided%20to%20both%20Valleywag,only%20to%20cancel%20them%20later.&text=First%2C%20ordering%20and%20canceling%20dozens,customers%20to%20get%20a%20car

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Crissy

    I don’t think Uber will work in Jamaica at all. As stated, safety is a big deal here and we’re already struggling with that. Pricing is also a factor as I’m sure it will cost more.

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