Is Uber taking us for a ride?
Remember when getting a taxi meant calling a despatcher or standing by the roadside waving your arms frantically in the hope of catching the eye of a passing cabbie?
Today, many of us turn instead to our smartphones to quickly and conveniently hail a ride.
Indeed, recently, there has been a profusion of taxi apps here, from San Francisco-based Uber to Malaysia-founded GrabTaxi, Easy Taxi from Brazil and London-born Hailo, which recently made its debut in Singapore.
Among these newcomers promising to reshape the urban transportation market, Uber is easily the most high profile, for reasons both good and bad.
Apart from allowing users to book regular taxis, Uber has also crafted a new business model, taking on the taxi firms by acting as an intermediary to connect private-hire drivers in an emerging sub-industry dubbed “ride sharing”. As a disruptive technology start-up, Uber has taken on its mission with an enthusiastic — some might say abrasive — zeal. Using none-too-flattering language, it has made no bones about its full-frontal assault on the established and, in many cases, highly-regulated taxi industry.
Founded in 2009, Uber’s most recent fund-raising valued the company at around US$40 billion (S$52.6 billion), placing it on par with Delta, the world’s largest airline with a heritage of 80 years. That is not bad for a five-year-old firm that is essentially an app and little more.
But while the mega-valuation naturally grabs headlines, what it means in reality is unclear.