Uber’s rapid expansion over the past six years has seemed nearly unstoppable, even though the company has faced an equally tenacious stream of lawsuits. One of the biggest plaintiffs worldwide is the taxi industry, which has brought complaints against Uber from every angle: they claim Uber bypasses local and national commercial licensing and insurance requirements, that Uber exploits loopholes whenever they can, and the taxi industry has even called Uber’s use of electronic technology to connect fares with drivers unfair. But try as they might, the taxi industry’s lawsuits haven’t halted (or even slowed, it seems) Uber’s growth. And last month, Uber announced development plans for another nail in the traditional taxi industry’s coffin: Driverless Uber Taxis.
At Quoted, we’ve debated the viability of driverless vehicles and we’ve speculated about how soon we can expect to see them on our roadways. But while we’ve observed and discussed, Uber has been making some major moves. The Sunday Times reports a new partnership between Uber and the state of Arizona to begin testing and implementing an autonomous taxi service in the state.
Robotic Chauffeur Jeeves, at Your Service
As The Sunday Times reports, the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, recently held a press conference in which he announced an executive order both allowing and supporting the development of driverless vehicles in his state. The University of Arizona and Uber will work together to develop and test a true driverless taxi service. Ducey specified that the program will include cars in which no operator is physically present. Not even Google’s self driving cars are there yet.
The pilot programs will operate on the campuses of public universities in Arizona and will be supported, by executive decree, by Arizona’s Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety. These and other agencies will be required to, “undertake any necessary steps to support the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads within Arizona.”
The Death of Taxis
In May of 2014, Slate quoted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s reasoning why Uber may actually be the death of Taxis. At a tech conference Kalanick said, “The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car—you’re paying for the other dude in the car. When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.” Cheaper than owning a vehicle, and certainly cheaper than taking a traditional taxi.
What About Uber’s Drivers?
Uber’s own drivers might also begin to see their time with the company as finite with this latest news. Though Kalanick promised at the same conference last year that driverless cars are a “multi-decade transition,” the deal with Arizona proves the groundwork is very much underway. Though Uber’s employment opportunities and economic growth potential are currently some of its major selling points with municipalities around the world, and though their job creation goals are admirable (and in the millions), moves like the one in Arizona demonstrate Uber’s bottom line: ferrying customers at the best possible prices—not job creation.
The business of rides-for-hire will of course continue to evolve, and the latest development in Arizona is a reminder that just like the traditional taxi industry, the current model of Uber won’t last forever.
Tell us in the comments—would you take a driverless Uber?