I remember it like it was yesterday. I watch WGN news every morning and they have their annual back to school show. Many sponsors have booths outside the studio and parents bring their children for carnival rides, school supplies, haircuts, and the like.
This was about 10 years ago and sponsors with deep pockets often were rewarded with live interviews during the broadcast to tout their “commitment to kids and education” under the guise of promoting the product.
And there they were. Two millennial types in front of the Uber sign boasting about the new internet app that will revolutionize ground travel. Naturally, I got online right away to get some intel on this new radical concept. I remember I had to sign up to learn more and refused to; so, I start to study the company through various Google searches and message boards.
Unlike many, I saw no threat, quite frankly I thought the concept was completely ridiculous and not even remotely plausible. I was not alone. Many in my inner circle and the industry did not take it seriously as well. As time went on, they did not go away. The Uber buzz continued to grow.
The first victim was the Taxi industry. Suffice it to say Uber mortally wounded the cabs. Many who were in Uber denial considered it second degree murder using the reasoning that cab drivers had it coming. They were dirty, rude, always speaking on their phones. Many reasoned they failed to keep a proper public positive profile. I am wishy-washy on the issue although I truly sympathize with those that lost hundreds of thousands on medallions and we can all admit they were not afraid of long hours.
Once the cab industry was decimated, they went after the Limousine/black Car industry. By now Uber was starting to gain a footing so the livery industry folded a lot quicker. By Uber’s third year the livery industry was severely wounded. This time numerous limo folk adopted an “if you can’t beat them, join them” program. They signed up to augment earnings and limit losses.
While all this repositioning and ground transportation realignment was occurring, a funny thing happened. The traditional limousine industry fatally wounded the brick and mortar bus charter business. Now if it was done intentionally, it would be first degree murder. I tend to think it was an accident which would therefore classify it as vehicular manslaughter. For the record, many out there still believe the old school stodgy charter bus operators went the way of cab people with no change, and an old school stubborn demeanor that did not stick with the new breed of Yelp savvy modern consumers.
Another mitigating factor was the dynamic duo of the SUV and the Sprinter. The tail really wagged the dog on that. I have not seen a vehicle pair create a market demand, consolidation and footprint like that since the 113” Lincoln stretch, later the Lincoln L invaded the industry way back when. I also personally think that one smart operator who installed the first stripper pole in a moving vehicle deserves credit. That moment morphed into the party bus phenomenon and the public could never get enough. The bus business was changed, modernized, brought up to date and grew like a weed -“our weed”.
As time progressed, we came to learn that Uber was not satisfied moving people only. They had their eyes focused on food, freight and of course fools. What they did not want to publicly acknowledge was much of the perceived business model relied on a perfected future autonomously controlled vehicle. That would be the bet that would eventually fail them to the tune of billions. It also proved they were unable to “control the crew” and maintain control.
Now don’t get me wrong. The concept of a driver taking a family from the airport home and round tripping it with 6 Arby’s beef and cheddars to someone who lives on his block fascinates me and frankly excites my inner logistic nerdiness.
Uber was in unchartered territory and we were fighting an enemy the likes we never envisioned competing with. As times progressed we merged, downsized, expanded our product offerings and the industry was starting a slow turnaround, a rebuilding and rebranding system-wide and worldwide.
Then the pandemic hit. I need not go into the horrible details and personal sufferings it caused but suffice it to say it was our “1929”. Then a funny thing started happening recently. Our old customers started returning. Here we were, still nursing our wounds. None or limited staff, fleets of vehicles with no gas, many still without insurance. We are at our most vulnerable state and the clients are returning.
Something, however, was bothering me. I just could not put my finger on it. Many of these calls were last minute or ASAP orders. I finally figured it out. Our customers are returning because UBER pulled the people plug. They are withdrawing support and allowing the entity to fail and disappear as it’s assets and fleets are being deployed elsewhere. Essentially, they threw the baby out with the bathwater.
They raped and pillaged an industry and when it stopped being manageable they dumped our former client base, now damaged goods on our doorstep and moved on to other endeavors.
I would go into more detail about Uber’s moral compass but I am unable to. They don’t have one.
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