Uber Technologies, Inc., commonly referred to simply as Uber, is a ridesharing company founded in 2009 and based in San Francisco, California. Uber operates at a significant scale. According to Uber's SEC filings, as of December 31, 2021, Uber and its subsidiaries operated in "approximately 72 countries" and 10,500 cities around the world. The company's drivers completed 6.3 billion trips during the calendar year 2021 and approximately 21 million trips per day on average during the third quarter of 2022.
Uber origins and business model
Uber was founded in 2009 and entered beta in February 2010 under the name UberCab, which was changed to Uber in 2011. Co-founder Garrett Camp conceived of the service after being forced to spend $800 on a private driver on New Year's Eve. During its beta and initial public launch in 2011, the app enabled users to hail a only black luxury car, which cost roughly 150% the price of a taxi to hire. The service expanded in July 2012 to enable users to rent (and drivers to drive) non-luxury vehicles at more affordable rates.
Today, Uber's business is divided into three main operational pillars: Mobility, which includes the company's flagship rideshare services; Delivery, which encompasses delivery services such as UberEats and recently (2021) purchased beverage delivery service Drizly; and Freight, which applies Uber's technical and logistical expertise to commercial shipping.
Despite the massive number of rides it provides every day, Uber is not profitable. The company invests very heavily in expansion (purchasing other companies, such as Drizly, Careem, Postmates, and Cornershop) and research (particularly autonomous vehicles), and has, according to its SEC filings, "incurred operating losses of $8.6 billion, $4.9 billion and $3.8 billion in the years ended December 31, 2019, 2020 and 2021", with a total accumulated debt of $23.6 billion (all values USD).
Uber countries and business alliances
As of January 2023, Uber serves approximately 90 countries (a full list of which appears in the table following this text). However, the specific list of countries Uber serves changes frequently. Uber's business evolves very rapidly due to a combination of factors, including:
- Ambitious expansion efforts in which Uber enters many countries
- Volatile business conditions that may force Uber to exit other countries
- Local laws that often restrict or ban Uber's efforts
- The creative business alliances Uber occasionally forms in order to remain in or enter some markets.
In most countries in which it has a business presence, Uber operates directly under its own name. In other countries, however, Uber operates via an affiliate or business partner. For example, in 2016, Uber ceased overt operations in China, but purchased an 18.8% share in competitor Didi Chuxing in the process, thereby preserving a behind-the-scenes presence in the country. Uber made a similar deal in Western Asia in 2017, merging its operations in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, and Georgia with those of Yandex Taxi (correctly written with a middle period as "Yandex. Taxi"), its leading competitor.
Countries and regions in which Uber is unavailable
Despite Uber's significant global presence, there are several countries, regions, or cities (including popular tourist destinations) in which its services are unavailable. In some cases, this is because Uber has not yet begun operations in the country. Other times, it is because Uber began operations in the country but later shuttered them due to competition or a lack of business. Still other times, Uber is unavailable because it has been banned by the national, state/regional, or local government, often at the behest of existing taxi companies.
Countries that have banned Uber include Bulgaria (2015), Denmark (2017), and Hungary (2016). Uber is also banned in major cities of some countries where it is otherwise legal. Uber's website maintains a list of cities in which the company operates, though it may not include countries served by business partners or affiliates.
Advantages of Uber
The introduction of Uber often benefits the general public in several distinct ways:
- Uber often fills a need for more reliable, affordable, and/or available for-hire transportation
- Uber provides job opportunities for those able to serve as drivers
- Uber enables users to summon a ride when they need it rather than attempting to flag down a passing taxi, rickshaw, or other vehicle, which may not regularly pass their location.
- Uber's automated fee and payment systems enable riders to see the fares for their trip ahead of time and ensure that the exchange is fair and the driver cannot take advantage of the rider by charging exorbitant rates.
- Similarly, Uber removes the need for passengers to micromanage the driver's route for fear of being overcharged
- Uber's review system gives the rider the opportunity to make actionable complaints if concerns do arise.
- Uber offers a modicum of security in countries where crime is high and self-employed taxi drivers unaffiliated with any professional company may rob or kidnap unsuspecting passengers.
Laws, protests, and other challenges faced by Uber
Uber faces barriers to entry in many countries and municipalities. Many of these challenges are logistical, such as the need to develop its service in different languages and to use different currencies. The majority of challenges, however, arise from the lawmakers and existing transportation industries of the countries the company wishes to enter.
Uber is often received with hostility by local taxi operators, unions, and other for-hire drivers, who view the company as unfair competition because it often skirts around requirements such as business licenses, insurance, and other regulations that taxis must follow. Taxi drivers may also object to Uber's more transparent (therefore less easily exploited) fee structure and lack of driver benefits. Lawmakers may also object to Uber's looser, less-regulated business model, which often classifies workers as contractors rather than full employees, thereby circumventing income tax laws and suppressing various workers' rights.
As a result of concerns such as these, Uber often faces protests, vigilante violence of varying degrees against its drivers, and any number of legal restrictions. Types of regulations include a per-trip surcharge, limits on the number of rideshare licenses issued within a city, per-mile and/or per-minute minimum trip fees, minimum wait times before picking up a passenger, restrictions on the right of Uber drivers who are currently without a passenger from entering certain congested areas, and various requirements for what Uber calls "regulatory, insurance, record-keeping, licensing, and other requirements to which taxicab services are subject". In extreme cases, a country or city may ban rideshare services outright.
For example, the Taxi Workers Alliance in New York fought Uber in 2018 and won, making New York the first city to place a cap on the number of app-based for-hire vehicles allowed on the road, as well as the first to mandate a minimum wage for the drivers of such vehicles. In Barcelona, Uber suspended services in January 2019 after the government, responding to protests by Spanish taxi drivers, ruled that Uber drivers must wait a minimum of 15 minutes before picking up a passenger who has requested a ride.