WASHINGTON — As soon as ride-hailing service Uber established a monopoly on in-transit pickups in its home city of San Francisco, the basic complaint that has emerged from critics of these services was a straightforward one: People who use the technology won’t be able to breathe! After all, the big companies using the technology seem to emit noxious air into the atmosphere; having their customers do the same thing is itself a pollution hoax.
Any professional air-pollution fighters, it seems, are extraordinarily polite. It’s nice to know they can compose threatening paragraphs too. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the San Francisco-based Uber is ending its air-quality gimmick, for now at least. For your convenience, I’ve compiled this list of other companies that were caught committing the same sort of fraud, with the names removed to protect the innocent.
Travis Kalanick. His and Google-founder Larry Page’s order to their Google Glass virtual-reality glasses to dimly illuminate (but not shut out) for a dinner party in 2014, in an attempt to lull Los Angeles noise levels, resulted in polluted results. Hundreds of nights after having driven the party guests home, Kalanick was again faced with the bloody nose — and sometimes illnesses — that punctuated just the tiniest of their sleep cycles. Google changed its mind and axed the ridiculous product, by then limited to the tech elite, almost as soon as it was introduced.
Travis Kalanick. Another Uber chief executive, John Hennessey, his colleague at Greyhound, repeatedly left trains in Dallas, simply because they were too loud, for two years. Three riders sued him for poisoning them. Eventually, Hennessey said he’d just become a vegetarian.
Uber. Instead of setting a reasonable price for rides, the company, attempting to compete with other cities, allowed customers to haggle on price. In 2016, Bloomberg, citing two and a half million Uber customers, found that the company had hit upon a strategy that would undercut a city’s taxi fleet: Set a price that was so low as to be not worth low-wage taxi drivers’ effort to catch. In Chicago, prices were capped at $3.75, in Dallas at $2.75, in Washington at $4.
The ampocalypse. Who could forget the overhyped prospect that climate change would create a huge increase in deadly air pollution? It took few breaths for the math to become clear: There’s no such thing as killer air. But that didn’t stop state and local politicians from claiming to be the only ones who understand the full extent of the problem, or charities from raising money to fight it.
If all you care about is the health of city dwellers, Uber should probably get out of the business of air-quality gimmicks altogether. But, as I’ve said before, anyone who is using Uber for financial services already has a disincentive to dirty the air. When Uber started, it charged fares based on how long and how full the waiting time was. Of course, it was encouraged to boost fares by extra congestion, because that meant fewer empty trips and bigger revenue. Now the maximum fare is $41.41, by a factor of 3, according to a BuzzFeed report. If you’re a renter looking for a decent deal, that kind of money can make the difference between keeping your place for less than a year.