Ubercut

Here’s an app idea: make an app, let’s call it Ubercut, that allows Uber users to shortcut Uber and avoid paying the fat commission.

How would it work?

The app would run in the background on a phone and detect if the regular Uber app is running in the foreground. When it is and both a driver and a punter are using it at the same time, and are within pickup distance, it sends a notification of the type “you guys may want to make a deal” to both parties, e.g. doing the ride but for 90% of the fare suggested by Uber (splitting Uber’s 20% comm) and allows them to communicate, thus bypassing Uber before initiating a transaction. A comprehensive hijack would “read over” both user’s Uber screens to send notifications only when there is an exact match. This could be quite tricky or impossible to implement, but a simple passive version (“running the app at the same time and near in space”) can be done relatively simply, at least in Android.

The contracting parties would lose the benefit of the protection afforded by Uber for on-platform rides, but most such platforms mainly work hard on their disclaimers when it comes to cover unwanted trouble. Third party insurers could also offer cover the weary, for a fraction of an Uber commission. The Uber reputation system would still be operational as this is pure freeloading — no ride are initiated in the app directly (in the simplest version of the concept, one could also couple it with a cheaper or peer-to-peer matching platform).

What’s the benefit?

Disruption! Uber and other trading platforms that are dominant collect economy rent due above the cost of operating the service because of the network effect — it’s a winner take all game. This is a classic market failure. The existence of shortcuts would probably contribute to cap such rents.

Would it be legal?

If Uber lawyers haven’t anticipated that, we can be sure they’d add a ban to their terms if such an app becomes popular enough for them to notice. Would people care? Maybe, maybe not. Could they could sue their clients and drivers succesfully? I know not.

Would it be moral?

Unambiguously yes I’d say, as it is merely about applying Uber’s philosophy (disrupt incumbents, ignore the law, etc) to Uber itself.

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