Taxi aggregator service and gig economy pioneer Uber has an image problem. Charges of sexual harassment in the company and a work culture permissive of it; callous behaviour by executives in the aftermath of the rape of an Uber customer by the driver in India in 2014; a video of chief executive officer Travis Kalanick having a shouting match with an Uber driver over the latter’s diminishing pay—little wonder the blowback has been strong enough to compel Kalanick to take a leave of absence.
Those image problems exacerbate business struggles. Uber has clashed with regulators around the world—inevitable given the paradigm shift it represents. And a vexing question about its core business model refuses to go away: are the drivers contractors or employees? If pending cases resolve in favour of the latter, it would upend Uber’s business model.
All this as it continues to lose money; little wonder that several analysts have questioned its $69 billion valuation. Uber ushered in the next age of urban mobility, but staying at the top of the market it created is going to be a tough job.