When compiling my predictions for Uber in 2018, I studied a lot of data, read a lot of news and tried to peer between the lines of truth and fiction. Interestingly enough, there is enough information to comprehend two separate futures for Uber fully (For gig economies in general.)
Alternative Universe 1: Uber Who?
Imagine a $72 billion operation that succumbs to constant state and federal legal battles, where regulations start to take over the driving industry, ending the rideshare chaos free-for-all fun ride. Imagine whole continents setting regulations that demand drivers be licensed (as they were for taxi's) and that anyone driving for a rideshare platform is an employee, or the platform is responsible for the service. Imagine if cities ban ridesharing, or whole countries decide that taxi drivers cannot be endangered for the sake of private car owners seeking extra income (Japan). Imagine a world where car manufacturers stop playing patsy to a few ridesharing start-ups and consider their own potential power and infrastructure.
After all GM, Toyota, Ford, Hyundai, JLR and more all have local representatives in just about every country, state, and city (some in villages). So why rely on Uber to provide an AV future when these companies already have the infrastructure in place. They also have and control the maintenance infrastructure too. The fallacy of rideshare is that Uber and like are selling us their "irreplaceability" however, as Winston Churchill stated many years ago "There is a cemetery full of irreplaceable people," so too with companies. Rideshare is only software; it is an app. There is no magic in it; there are no centuries of developing business models behind it, it is a recent adaptation to the smartphone and internet and is actually changing and evolving on a daily basis. The rideshare gig is changing so fast that what was Uber in 2012 is not Uber in 2017 and will definitely not be Uber in 2019. Now let's look at all the legal issues, the many competitive changes, and the many disgruntled drivers as well as governments that will lead to regulations which will kill rideshare industries. AV will also kill rideshare as we know it, and so will blockchain.
Let's look at blockchain; it is a public ledger system that cancels out the need for a middle-person, which means that it is a true P2P network, where supplier and client can meet up in a central brokering ground and perform transactions directly. Sure, there will be rules to how a person or company can present itself, but in the end, when you order a ride through a blockchain system you are ordering it directly from the driver. Your complaints will be with the driver, which is the way it should be, and since it is a P2P network, bad drivers will not attract clients since they will have reviews that kill them. Check out in the next section why this is a double-edged sword. In reality, a market is only as strong as its popularity. This means that once drivers realize that they don't need Uber to reach clients, then they will take over their own marketing through localized blockchain networks. After all, a driver in Seattle does not care what a driver in LA is doing or who is being transported. The driver in Seattle is only interested in passengers in Seattle.
Bottom Line: Uber and ridesharing do not survive the changes, where the world shifts from an unregulated free-for-all billionaire gig economy to a regulated industry where drivers and homeowners must meet health and safety standards set down for Hotels and Taxis. Rideshare companies become employers of their drivers and AV is owned by car makers and public transport entities and not middlemen. In the end, gig economies will be trampled into nothing, and the other services (e-pay) provided by these companies will just become another set of services that are added to the overall confusion of suppliers that we have to choose from.
Alternative Universe 2: Uber Alles (Over All in German)
In this alternative future, we find Uber succeeding in its AV technology, and find the world transportation systems transformed into computer managed grids. There are no human drivers in the gird, this is due to their chaotic nature, and the impact one human would have on the entire system. In a true AV universe, all forms of transportation are computer managed. The system will remove all grid-locks and traffic will be reduced to zero. Land transportation will work in synchronicity, where passengers are picked up according to their time frame, but once entering the grid will become part of the AV time frame. Cars will flow like ants, there will be no congestion, as alternative routes are managed in a synchronized dance of algorithmic efficiency.
However, with all this going on, who actually owns the cars? Will they be private or public? Will there be rideshare companies or taxi services? If a company like Uber, which steadfastly claims it has no ownership over cars and drivers, suddenly owns all its cars, how will this impact their business model? Who will maintain these cars and what happens when an accident happens such as a blown tire leading to a collision, or weather conditions interfering with electronics leading to erratic patterns and crashes? In this scenario, there are so many human interference and natural "disasters" ready to strike a "perfect" AV system. Will Uber be able to care for so many vehicles, including insurance, maintenance, electronics and of course customer satisfaction? Since change is not immediate, I expect that Uber will find solutions to all these answers and become one of the world's largest transportation services in an AV society.
This is not over yet, add to the above scenario Uber's flying cars, AV of course, and you will find that air transportation is also managed by computers. In this scenario, rooftops become the prime property and no longer unused space. Rooftops in the Uber future are parking lots, and important ones, since they will take away from the ground gridlock, opening up roads and also making long-distance travel a door to door experience (literally).
Let's not stop. Imagine a world where sea and space freight are also computer controlled, (which they are already) Add to this freight, and you have an Uber world of door to door delivery, be the product a human, a package or a container. Uber will deliver anything and everything using synchronized AV technologies that enable humans to walk, cycle and use their legs, leaving the driving to computers, or to driving nuts that will use their cars for fun in specified human driving zones.
Add to this world the e-pay systems and collaborations between retail and transport. Where Amazon and Ali-Baba get in on the gig and decide to buy up their own rideshare company, or perhaps just collaborate with all in a global initiative to provide a seamless door to door retail service. Now increase the e-pay systems into fully integrated banking platforms that provide multiple financial services ranging from paying wages, providing credit and debit cards, giving access to financial exchanges (stock, forex, crypto) and offering discounts for key services.
Uber adopts blockchain to enhance its distance from drivers, it provides a portal which replaces its Uber App, but still takes a fee for all the hard marketing work it does. At the end of the day, a blockchain is only as popular as its popularity allows. Which means that Uber is offering a platform for drivers to connect to the Uber list of customers. This works now since it provides drivers with a steady source of customers provided by Uber. In other words, localized blockchain platforms will only be as good as Uber if they market themselves as much as Uber does.
Bottom Line: Uber and rideshare go from strength to strength, commandeering entire industrial sectors such as AV driving, air transport, and freight. Add to that the e-pay derivatives and the control of emerging technologies. The few rideshare companies that are now over ten-billion-dollar industries will continue to grow and expand, eating up everything on their way to total control of various markets.