Is Uber the Amazon — or the Enron — of the transportation industry?

Steven Hill
6 min readMay 9, 2019

Uber has been promoting itself in its pre-IPO roadshow as the “Amazon of transportation,” but the comparison is misleading. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is cleverly positioning his company so that it appears as more than just a taxi-like ride-hailing business, highlighting itself as an online platform that can connect users to a number of transportation-related side businesses. “Cars are to us what books were to Amazon,” says Khosrowshahi. This is part of Uber’s sales pitch for why it is different from its competitor Lyft, which has seen its stock plummet since its IPO as analysts start reasonably questioning how the money-losing ride-hailing business can ever be profitable.

But if we look more granularly at Uber’s side businesses, there’s not a whole lot there to suggest that those will ever be any more profitable than its taxi business. Those businesses are operating in industries either with low profit margins, heavy competition, immature, unpredictable markets, constraints on widespread product adoption, or wholly dependent on technology that is not even close to being ready. Let’s take a closer look at each of these side businesses:

Uber Eats. This is its food delivery business which Uber has heavily promoted in its IPO pitch. But the bottom line is that you can only squeeze so much profit from delivering an $8 burrito. Food delivery is fiercely cutthroat among many competitors, including Instacart, DoorDash, Postmates, GrubHub and more.

Bikes and scooters. Uber acquired Jump, an electric scooter and bike vendor, but the potential size of this market is unknown and profit margins are low. A recent study by the Center for Disease Control finding that a third of new users get injured on their first ride. Hospitals across the country have reported a dramatic rise in injuries, and even a few fatalities. Undoubtedly this is a big reason why another study found scooters mostly are “white dude transport machines,” since apparently that demographic is more willing to take a risky spin on this unsafe form of transportation. It’s hard to see how this service can be made safer, severely limiting its market potential.

Uber Freight. This is Uber’s service for contracting with individual truck drivers to deliver cargo shipments. This industry has a…

Steven Hill

fmr Center for Humane Tech, NewAmerica, FairVote, author:“RawDeal &Uber Economy” “EuropesPromise“ ”10Steps toRepairUS Democracy” @StevenHill1776