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Foss: Could someone please start local ride-hailing app?

Foss: Could someone please start local ride-hailing app?

Maybe it's a pipe dream
Foss: Could someone please start local ride-hailing app?
Alice Fakir and Bryan Kornegay pool in an Uber in New York on March 1, 2017.
Photographer: Edu Bayer/The New York Times

You'd never know it from the euphoric reaction to the state's decision to legalize ride-hailing in upstate New York, but Uber has had a terrible, no good, very bad year.

There have been scandals and lawsuits, accusations of sexism and poor labor practices, and reports of huge losses. The company lost $2.8 billion in 2016, leading the online news site Vox to observe that the company is "testing investors’ patience to a degree that’s unprecedented in the history of Silicon Valley."

Uber's upstate supporters successfully portrayed the company as a hip, classy, even benevolent alternative to the bad cab service that's endemic to the area.

There might be some truth to this - friends of mine do seem to think Uber is cool - but the company's dark side is significant and cannot be ignored. The bad coverage has been relentless, and some are even predicting the company's demise.

"Uber is doomed because it can't actually make money," the website Jalopnik, which covers cars and automotive culture, proclaimed in February.

Doomed or not, Uber is clearly run by jerks who seem to go out of their way to antagonize people, whether it be by refusing to go through the permitting process to test self-driving cars or misleading drivers about how much money they'll earn.

So if Uber dies, I'm not going to view it as any great tragedy.

I don't have any desire to use Uber, and probably won't.

But this doesn't mean I'm opposed to ride-hailing, or that I wouldn't consider using a different ride-hailing company.

Maybe it's a pipe dream, but what I'd really like to see is a locally-based ride-hailing service set up shop in the Capital Region.

The push to legalize ride-sharing was often framed as a campaign to legalize Uber.

But we don't need Uber to have ride-sharing.

There are other companies that provide this service, such as Lyft, and it isn't too difficult to imagine new companies trying to enter the ride-hailing market and chip away at Uber's customer base.

Why can't one of these new companies be based right right here, in upstate New York? Why must we look to Silicon Valley to rescue us from bad cab service?

No, I don't have any plans to start a ride-hailing company.

But I wish someone else did.

And by someone else I mean someone who lives in the Capital Region.

Uber is no longer the unstoppable juggernaut it's been made out to be.

The company's legal troubles and self-inflicted wounds have made it vulnerable. Uber might be valued at $70 billion, but its losses continue to outpace revenues, and there's a growing sense that this is unsustainable.

None of this means that ride-hailing is doomed, or that people don't want it.

They do.

But it doesn't have to be Uber that provides this popular service.

Someone else could do it.

Someone here, in the Capital Region.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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