There is considerable excitement these days about Platform Cooperativism, with good reason (e.g. see earlier posts here, here, here). This concept can be dressed up fancy , but it boils down to the fact that the technology used by exploitative for profit platforms such as Uber can be used equally well to build on other “business models”, including worker and user owned cooperatives.
The tools are already in the hands of the workers, all we have to do is pick them up. Lean in, hell! Waltz right in and take command!
“Replacing Uber” is the poster child for this idea. We all understand it, and most of us need transportation. The problem is, Uber is a great service and an evil business. We all understand why we’d like to have a saintly Uber.
The Platform Cooperativism case is this: Uber is not really rocket science. it’s easy enough to replicate Uber’s technology. The basic tools are already freely available. Heck, even I could whack together a Uber clone, and I’m way out of practice.
The question is, can people build successful alternative businesses?
The Technology is Out There
This month, Nithin Coca iinterviewed Roman Pushki, the creator of LibreTaxi, an “open source alternative to Uber or Lyft”. This project is open source (and hence, hackable), and aims to substitute for the viciously exploitative ride hailing services.
- Free for drivers
- Anyone can use it
- Cash payment on arrival
In short, LibreTaxi is completely unregulated, unlicensed, and uncontrolled. There is no quality control on drivers or cars. There is vetting of either drivers or passengers. No one is responsible, you are on your own.
All this is a “feature” for, say, undocumented workers, people with junk cars, and drivers without driving licenses. But it is a “bug” from the point of view of safety, fair competition, and the rule of law.
LibreTaxi itself has no payment system, so it is up to the users to pay upon arrival.*
In my view, this cash payment makes the service much less friendly than Uber/Lyft, which handles the payment in the background. When the driver and customer don’t have to deal with money in person it makes the whole experience much friendlier. Sensei Claire Marshall has observed the psychological value of taking cash out of the relationship,
“the most startling thing I found in my month in the sharing economy. When money was taken out of the equation everyone was happier.” (, Pp 90)
Clearly, LibreTaxi is a bare bones technology, and is certainly not a full replacement for Uber. But you could build a replacement on this base.
* It would be perfectly possible technically to hack in connection to a payment scheme or, more likely, to cryptocurrency transactions. This would be a very logical extension of LibreTaxi.
Replicating the Business is Hard
In an earlier article, Coca discussed other “ethical” alternatives to the hated Uber. Of particular interest are taxi cooperatives or an increasing number of ride hailing services. These offer services technically similar to Uber/Lyft, with varied ownership and business models. Unlike LibreTaxi, these services embed the technology in some kind of organization, a cooperative or a local business, so they are legal and responsible, as well as “ethical”.
This all seems great, though it isn’t easy to be sure who’s who and just how “ethical”—for your own ethical standards—any given alternative is. Just because it’s not Uber doesn’t make it angelic—see Lyft.
It is also true that these services are far from universally available. The technology works pretty much everywhere, and we want these to be local coops and businesses rather than Earth striding colossi. But most of the alternatives are available only in major cities, and in some cases, only a handful of cities. This does most of us very little good, and leaves us at the mercy of the plunderers.
The tools are there, but there is a lot of work to do.
- Nithin Coca, Five (More) Reasons to #DeleteUber — And Some Ethical Alternatives. Sharable.February 24 2017, http://www.shareable.net/blog/five-more-reasons-to-deleteuber-%E2%80%94-and-some-ethical-alternatives
- Nithin Coca, Q&A: LibreTaxi’s Roman Pushkin on Why He Made a Free, Open-Source Alternative to Uber and Lyft. Sharable.March 22 2017, http://www.shareable.net/blog/qa-libretaxis-roman-pushkin-on-why-he-made-a-free-open-source-alternative-to-uber-and-lyft
- Claire Marshall, How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing. 2015. http://www.sharestories.net/