In defense of Uber

Uber has made plenty of enemies, but there's also evidence of its positive influences.

Ever since I've been writing the TechWatch blog, I've been pretty hard on Uber. I've taken the company to task for mis-classifying its drivers as contractors, for "stealing" value from the actual service providers, and for mis-using user data. And I haven't even touched on alleged attacks on the press or what's generally considered Uber's most contentious issue: Refusing to play by the same safety and public-interest rules and regulations that affect the competitors it's trying to disrupt.

I stand by those criticisms, but Uber and its ride-sharing compatriots have also led to some positive outcomes. I'm not talking about part-time drivers making extra money or entitled one-percenters not having to wait to hail cabs that don't meet their standards of style and elegance. I'm not even talking about the limited evidence that Uber and its ilk boost the number of cars available rather than just replace existing cabs. 

Instead, I want to give credit to Uber for helping to reduce drunk driving and making things a bit easier for women in places like Saudi Arabia.

Fewer DUI deaths 

Uber has long claimed that its service reduces drunk driving, and there's a certain logic to the claim. It makes sense that the easier it is for tipsy partiers to get around and get home without driving, the less likely they are to get behind the wheel. And a study by Temple University researchers—which was presented at a conference in Vancouver, Canada, last week—appears to support the contention that the availability of ride-sharing services reduces drunk-driving deaths.

More freedom for women

Meanwhile, earlier this month Fast Company reported on How Uber Is Changing Life For Women In Saudi Arabia, where women are legally barred from driving. According to author Evie Nagy, Uber has "made a real difference in Saudi women's mobility." Nagy quotes Uber's Saudi Arabia general manager Majed Abukhater noting that anecdotal evidence suggests that 70% to 90% of Saudi Uber riders are women, "often for daily commutes to work, or to school." Uber currently operates in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Damman.

Here's the thing, though. These positive impacts would be even more positive if Uber would ratchet down its arrogance and try playing by the rules designed to protect riders and drivers. If Uber wants to agitate for changing those rules, great, but the company doesn't get a free pass for disregarding them just because it has an app.

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