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  • Bob Knight

Whoa! Uber Just Did What?

Reports have leaked out this week that Uber is trialing a new pricing tier in California where the ride-share's customers can opt to wait longer for a less-expensive ride. By waiting a few more minutes, some customers could see a 25% reduction in fare.

At first blush, the new pricing tier seems like a good option for budget-conscious passengers or those less in a hurry. And there has been no backlash as of yet.

Hmm. Remind you of anything?

Last week, Net Neutrality officially came to an end amidst significant controversy. Members of the public and advocacy groups complained that an end to Net Neutrality rules would enable internet giants like Comcast, AT&T, Centurylink, and others to throttle content--in essence creating fast and slow lanes for customers who pay more for faster internet service--further widening the digital divide. We are glad to hear that most internet providers have pledged they won't throttle content.

There are direct parallels between the Net Neutrality debate and Uber's new pricing tier trials. So it begs the question: Why are consumers furious with the FCC, skeptical of internet giants, and yet willing to give Uber a free pass?

It's all about the brand.

For years, consumers have held a strong mistrust of government, hate the cable company, and have been let down by the taxi industry. We've seen YouTube videos of cable/internet installers sleeping on the job, showing up late, or showing poor customer service. Need something fixed? Your internet provider will show up between Noon and 4pm on a random Thursday--how inconvenient for anyone with an active schedule.

Conversely, Uber disrupted the transportation industry, an industry ripe for change. How many times have you called for a taxi that never arrived? How many rides have you taken in cabs that were filthy, unsafe, or void of air conditioning on a hot July day? My last trip to Miami, I rode in a cab where the driver kept all his toiletries on display (razor, shaving cream, tooth brush, and other items) in his cupholder. Compare this experience to an Uber that arrives typically within a few minutes, is clean and comfortable, and is charged to your credit card.

It's laughable that the same people who protested the demise of Net Neutrality rules will likely be among the first to embrace Uber's pricing tiers (after all, we are a nation that reads the memes our algorithms serve, and we tend to cherrypick our ideologies). But Uber beware: Fame is fleeting and the public's sentiment can turn on a dime--or by waiting a few minutes more--a nickel.

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