And that seems to be working pretty damn well. Purported internal documents last week leaked to Valleywag indicate the company is on track to rake in a prodigious $210 million in 2013 — nearly 70 percent more than industry insiders optimistically predicted even earlier this year.

Uber is, to put it mildly, filling a need. And it's a genius business model: Like a friend with benefits, it reaps all of the fun, while distancing itself from the difficult and complicated elements of life. The company has long denied responsibility for unstylish, legally questionable driver behavior or unsafe, inconvenient accidents. Past accusations of wrongdoing by Uber drivers have spurred convoluted messages; following allegations a Washington, D.C., driver attacked passengers, CEO Travis Kalanick informed the world via e-mail that it'd be ridiculous to "come away thinking we are responsible even when these things do go bad." Uber's terms of service explicitly eschew liability with regards to its third-party partner entities, such as the one that owns the Toyota Prius Whitmire was driving.

If Uber sees itself as beyond legal reproach — and all signs indicate it does — it's hard to conceive of a reason for it to install a safety feature like a camera into its vehicles. If Alva is being truthful, a camera would have confirmed the antisocial and even criminal behavior of an Uber driver. And if Whitmire is being truthful — well, what's the point of investing dollar one to exonerate a man you're not legally responsible for?

In Uber's world, it's Uber uber alles.

Taxis are nearly as old as
civilization itself — and some of the men operating boats-for-hire on the Nile 4,000 years ago may yet still be on the waiting list to earn their medallions.

The death struggle between "rideshares" and conventional taxis is just the latest iteration of new technology undercutting the establishment. In 1623, London's aquatic taxi operators bemoaned the coachmen who "rob us of our livings and carry 500 fares from us." Alas, this was a battle that would sink the boatmen. As the land-based cabbies might have put it, thar be an appe forre thatte.

By 1634, Britain's King Charles I imposed regulations on the number of cabs rattling through city streets in the name of congestion and safety. The business of determining just who could drive a cab soon descended into an orgy of nepotism and graft. Four centuries down the road, that's all still happening.

Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and the rest took a different approach. Instead of onerous regulations and a broken system, they extolled the free market — and no system. And, like gambling, that works great — when you're winning. Yet passengers soaring through the windshield or treated poorly by a driver might appreciate knowing just who the hell is ultimately responsible. Drivers crunched between dump trucks or blackmailed by inebriated riders might appreciate the longstanding investigation and discipline process undertaken by city officials — whose work resides in the public record.

Uber's gaudy financial numbers don't include the 14 bucks it refunded to Alva. And they also won't include much in the way of payments to Whitmire. After immediately suspending the driver, Noyes last week told us Whitmire was no longer employed by the town-car service partnering with Uber. This news hadn't reached Whitmire, however. It was left for SF Weekly to inform him. He soon called back, claiming the partner entity (neither he nor Noyes would name it) told him he was, in fact, still on its roster.

Confronted with this information, Noyes admits that, yes, the partner company hadn't canned Whitmire. But, no matter — the spokesman says Whitmire will never drive for Uber again.

In his brief career as an Uber driver, it's clear that Whitmire never understood who, exactly, he was working for. But perhaps that was fitting. Why should he know more than anyone else?

Historical material was gleaned from The Taxicab: An Urban Transportation Survivor, by Gorman Gilbert and Robert E. Samuels

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My Voice Nation Help

this writer has the best understanding of any article I've seen, (on the web or anywhere), and I've driven a cab, day and night for almost twenty years.  I now drive for uber but in a town car, it's a big distinction.  I'm making about what I did when I owned a cab and  drove for a company that owned several hundred authorities in a major city. I'm in favor of total degegulation and an open medalion system, give them away.

Cynthia McGarvie
Cynthia McGarvie

As with all transportation decisions, always use your best discretion.

Tyler Boshard
Tyler Boshard

I've had nothing but good experiences with Uber, however, the few times I've taken a taxi, have all been horrible.


I've wondered when we're going see some big lawsuits for companies like Uber, airbnb, etc. as a result of a horrible accident, fire...

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