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Uber Lurches Down Rocky Road

Uber's reputation seems to take a new beating every week with accusations of crimes or misbehavior on the part of its licensed drivers. The company wants to distance itself from unsavory incidents involving drivers, and that itself is cause for consternation. The company "will likely need to change leadership or is likely to fail like Netscape did," said tech analyst Rob Enderle.

An Uber driver in New Delhi has been arrested on charges of raping his passenger, prompting authorities there to ban the service from operating within city limits.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ Commercial Appeals Court has issued a preliminary judgment that Uber must stop working with drivers who lack a taxi license but charge passengers fares for rides.

‘Safe’ Is a 4-Letter Word

“This is an abhorrent crime,” Uber executive Saad Ahmad said in a blog post on the rape allegations.

Uber has provided the Delhi authorities with details about the driver, his vehicle and details of the trip.

“Safety is our #1 priority and in India,” Ahmad wrote. “Uber exclusively partners with registered for-hire drivers who have undergone the commercial licensing process, hold government-issued IDs, state-issued permits, and carry full commercial insurance.”

Some who have used Uber’s services may be a tad skeptical about Ahmad’s statements on the company’s dedication to safety.

Several Uber passengers reportedly have been beaten up by drivers, with perhaps the most high-profile attack occurring in September when Uber driver Patrick Karajah allegedly took a hammer to the head of passenger Roberto Chicas, leaving him with a fractured skull and in danger of losing an eye.

Another Uber driver went on an anti-gay, anti-American rant before beating up passenger Seth Bender in March 2013 in Washington, D.C., according to a lawsuit filed over the incident.

Uber “has a massively high valuation and is a young and relatively inexperienced company,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times. (The company last week raised US$1.2 billion in its latest round of funding based on a valuation of $40 billion.)

The company “will likely need to change leadership or is likely to fail like Netscape did,” Enderle continued. Otherwise, a driver might “massively cross the line — murder a passenger for example — and then it will become obsolete.”

Background? What Background?

Uber’s background check processes appear to need tightening up.

The company claims it looks into drivers’ pasts, but in an undercover investigation, NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate reported that an ex-con with a violent past was able to get an Uber license.

In Chicago, Tadeusz Szchechowicz reportedly drove for Uber for a year despite having had five prior arrests and two convictions for burglary and disorderly conduct.

The New Delhi driver arrested on allegations of rape reportedly had been arrested for the same crime three years ago but had been acquitted.

Uber did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Youth and Inexperience

Uber’s response to its drivers’ alleged attacks on passengers has been, at best, tepid. It took the company a week to refund Chicas the fare for his ride, for instance.

That could be because it’s only five years old, and management is still feeling its way.

Uber is a “fantastic company with a game-changing business model but a management team that is inexperienced and not quite ready for prime time,” said Charles Lewis Sizemore, founder of Sizemore Capital.

However, “that’s a common complaint for technology startups — and has been levied at even major tech giants like Google over the years,” Sizemore told the E-Commerce Times.

The Old Order Striketh Back

Uber is “challenging the status quo of public transportation and car ownership, both of which areas have special interest groups that have a lot to lose,” said Andreas Scherer, managing partner at Salto Partners.

“Combine this with the aggressive growth-oriented culture of Uber, and we have the perfect storm,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

However, it would be a mistake for Uber to take its foot off the gas, Scherer noted. “At the end of the day, resource sharing a la Uber makes a lot of economic and environmental sense as our global population continues to grow.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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