How Uber Started To Suck

Uber’s public relations disasters were myriad five years ago. Drivers hated them. Story after story came out about their hubris, their regulatory problems, and their toxic workplace culture.

They’ve turned around that narrative, but the narrative now is that they’re just no longer a great product. They’re on demand transportation that’s often more expensive than a cab. They’re deliver for cold food that takes too long and now often makes stops between picking up your meal and bringing it to you. And they’re very little else.

Uber once had a vision far beyond transportation. They’d be intimately involved in moving people and things around cities. That would put them at the center of peoples’ lives.

  • So it made sense when they launched a rewards currency and a co-brand credit card that they might succeed with their own digital currency that was interoperable, far beyond Uber’s own ecosystem.

  • It would be a real currency, leveraging Uber’s reach and brand, that had uses in meat space far more practical than crypto.

Yet Uber has largely given up on its ambitions. I suppose that was the inevitable consequence of appointing the CEO of Expedia, of all companies, to replace their ousted founder.

Expedia is a company that advertises to generate traveler eyeballs and sells those eyeballs to hotels – the hotel is the customer not the consumer, and there has been little in the way of real innovation from the online booking platform in decades. Expedia even has a history of taking a weak rewards program and making it continually worse.

So not only did Uber largely leave its credit card deal dormant, never even advertising it in-app or during rides, they gave up on the card. And the card was the primary way their currency was being minted.

They’ve even mostly given up on the rewards program. It was mediocre at launch, but since then:

  • They’ve eliminated upgrades as a top tier elite benefit
  • They’ve eliminated ‘price protection’ (no surge) from a single favorite route as an elite benefit
  • They’ve devalued the currency. At a minimum you used to get 1 cent per point (so a minimum 1% rebate on spend, higher for more premium or better margin products). Now it’s tough to get that, with new redemption options that require higher point totals for lower values.

I use both Uber and Lyft. I have my monthly Amex credits, and I enjoy earning 10 Chase points per dollar with Lyft. Sometimes one or the other offers faster rides or better pricing.

My wife and I share a car, and my primary destination is the airport. The replacement for Uber’s ‘price protection on your favorite route’ elite benefit was 10x points on that route. My route is the airport. My airport roundtrips alone are enough to earn Uber’s top tier Diamond status.

Perhaps the biggest sign Uber has given up, or at least give up on loyalty? When they stopped extending elite status during the pandemic, and my status was downgraded, they never told me. When I re-earned Diamond status they never told me.

I have to remind myself how bad taxis were (and are) because Uber is so frustrating. Taxis were always limited in number by regulation, so there were never enough. They were hard to get. You’d spend time flagging them down on the street (in the rain and cold) and then they might not even want to go where you were going. Once you got one the car was invariably in poor condition, because they earned the same amount whether it was well-maintained or not.

So Uber is great compared to taxis but that’s something they accomplished almost a decade ago. Uber changed on-demand ground transportation but then it settled. For all of its sins, it used to be an innovative company and now it’s not. And that part at least is worth lamenting.

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