Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: The dark side of disruption

While the Uber drivers I've come across so far have been positive about what they do this doesn't seem to be the universal experience.
While the Uber drivers I've come across so far have been positive about what they do this doesn't seem to be the universal experience.

Last week's column on Uber and the disruption (and displacement) the company's causing generated some annoyed correspondence from drivers who felt that I was cutting the ride-sharing behemoth too much slack.

While the Uber drivers I've come across so far have been positive about what they do - bar one chap in Sydney who drove an enormous Audi Q7 and said the earnings were rubbish - this doesn't seem to be the universal experience.

Most of the people who contacted me after the column didn't want to be named as they feared they would lose their jobs with Uber. That alone is worrying because they should be allowed to speak up.

Ben Wilson of the Uber Drivers' Association of NZ however has been a vocal critic of the company's business methods. Wilson rattled off a range of concerns for both Uber drivers and passengers, such proper background checks, passenger-carrying endorsements for licenses, certificates of fitness for cars, and more.

Wilson warned that Uber drivers can be fined up to $800 for not meeting NZTA legal requirements before they carry passengers.

Taxi drivers have to keep logs of how long they work each day and have medical checks. Uber drivers have no such requirements placed on them.

The drivers themselves rarely make much more than minimum wage, and there's a huge churn of people at Uber, Wilson said. That's quite a price to pay for a great rider experience, and saying goodbye to our existing taxi industry, perhaps.

Then there's AirBnB which operates along similar lines to Uber. Now a $42 billion giant, AirBnB like Uber is pushing the envelope and mostly shifting costs towards the independent operators who provide the accommodation it earns vasts amount of money from.

In some countries like Hong Kong and parts of Europe, renting out AirBnBs is illegal. Hong Kongers who flaunt the law and AirBnB their places risk up to two years' in prison and $36,000 in fines.

Despite the above the "sharing economy" companies still attract both customers and people willing to take risks in hope of rewards that may or may not materialise.

Like I said before, there's no putting the genie back into the bottle. Companies like AirBnB and Uber will be with us for the future, as technology makes them so easy to set up and operate, and to provide customers with choice and great service.

We should have a discussion however about how they're allowed to operate, but we won't unless something awful happens close to home or to us personally. Few of us care about the driver of a car we spend 20 to 30 minutes in, and whom we'll probably never see again. We should do though, as the wrong person behind the wheel can cause a huge amount of hurt and damage.

There are obvious reasons for regulation of passenger transport and guest accommodation, as unscrupulous operators would otherwise make a horrifying mess out of both areas. It's happened before, and it'll happen again when rules to protect public safety are weak.

That's something the Ubers and AirBnBs of this world need to respect. If it makes them uncompetitive or unable to provide the great service that attracts customers to them in droves, then their business model is wrong and the New Zealand government is right to threaten to ban them.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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