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UBER: Who Is Responsible in a Sharing Economy?

Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

With a $4 billion valuation, Uber is among the fastest growing startups around. The app-based service helps people find a taxi and then facilitates the transaction, but what’s getting more attention is that just about anybody with a car can register with Uber to be a de facto taxi. With this new “sharing economy,” many questions of regulation are emerging, some of which are coming to a head with a wrongful death suit filed on Monday against Uber. Sophia Liu, a 6-year-old girl, was struck and killed by an Uber driver on New Year’s Eve. The driver, Syed Muzaffar, was on his way to pick up his next fare at the time of the accident. Uber’s legal team has argued that because Muzaffar did not have a fare at the time, “he was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident.” The family’s attorney has countered that because he was on his way to pick up a fare, he was in fact representing Uber at the time of the accident. For drivers like Muzaffar, Uber has commercial insurance, but it only kicks in when there is a customer in the car; otherwise, the driver must have their own coverage. Is Uber accountable for the actions of its drivers in-between fares?

  Kirk: In the sharing economy, we do put ourselves at more risk. While it may not be practical for Uber to screen and license every driver, online resources could enable them to weed out the least capable by checking driving and criminal records, and by requiring adequate insurance. There is a rationale for "let the user beware" as long as the rudimentary measures are taken. eBay faced this problem of serving as the market for many and unknown buyers and sellers, and then solved most of the problem with user ratings and payment processing that protected the buyers. Uber should also carry some level of liability insurance, and should not hide behind the distinction that Muzaffar was going to pick up a fare rather than carrying a fare at the moment.

  Patrick: For me, I think Uber’s app clears all this up. Say you want to get a cab. The app recognizes your current location and sends a signal to all of the drivers in the area. If the driver is willing to take the fare, they indicate this on the app, followed by the customer choosing to accept or decline that particular driver. Once done, the app tells the customer how long until the driver arrives, and even tracks the driver by GPS. The transaction starts then and there, and so should Uber’s liability.

Uber and a Child's Death (NY Times)

Statement on New Year's Eve Accident (Uber)

Framework for Thinking Ethically (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics)



Comments Comments

Brendan said on Jan 31, 2014
Patrick's comment reveals another stakeholder here, often mentioned in the news. A "Cab". Cabs are highly regulated requiring lots of oversight on drivers, vehicles and companies. Uber is operating a cab company with part-time drivers without the same level of oversight. From a fairness perspective, this is challenging. Also, of course safety will be less without the oversight. Is this OK? Are users adequately informed that Uber is lacking the safeguards of other similar providers? - Like - 1 person likes this.
Patrick Coutermarsh said on Jan 31, 2014
I agree, it's a big problem. As much as Uber want to be seen as democratizing commerce, you can't deny that there is a significant advantage gained in avoiding the regulations that traditional taxi and hotel businesses are subject to. As far as consumer awareness goes, I think it comes down to whether Uber is classified as a traditional cab service, or they are treated as being in a different category (this case will probably get the ball rolling one way or the other). Another concern is the drivers themselves. A lot of Uber drivers also drive for traditional cab companies. And while they get to pick their hours with Uber, they don't get the benefits that you get with the traditional cab companies. - Like
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