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HANLON: STATE OF THE UBER NATION

Sarah hanlon asks if Uber has lost its niche and mojo? GETTY

Sarah hanlon asks if Uber has lost its niche and mojo? GETTY

SARAH HANLON/ 24 HOURS

Uber has never had it easy.

Even though it's finally legal in Toronto, the ride-sharing company is still struggling.

Worth an estimated $66 billion, the 8-year-old company didn't have a good March: it had to endure self-driving car crashes, alleged driver-rider assaults, executive sexual harassment charges, its president quitting, dismantling its operations in Denmark and facing backlash after Uber drivers served airports where protests were being held against U.S.'s temporary travel ban.

So you're either an Uber fan or you're not - but the truth is there are over 900,000 active Uber riders in the GTA.

As it approaches its fifth year in our city, 24 Hours began to wonder, with more and more updates and an ever-changing list of options, has Uber lost what attracted so many of us to the ride-sharing app in the first place - its simplicity and novel approach to a tired market? Not if you ask Susie Heath, Uber Canada's senior communications associate:

The Uber service is always changing and some users often have a hard time keeping up: the vague car categories can result in a rider ordering incorrectly and paying more or surge pricing isn't affordable, especially those who might not want to share an Uber car with a stranger.

We make these changes gradually with riders and drivers in mind. The objective is to improve the experience on both sides of the equation. In terms of the surge - or 'Dynamic Pricing'- it used to appear as a multiplier within the app but now we have something called upfront fares. That is a result of rider feedback. There's a lot more transparency built in so people don't have to do the math. You really can see exactly what you're paying and you can scroll through the app and see what's there - whether UberX is cheaper than UberSelect at a given moment or vice versa.

Uber relies on technology to operate - but has it become a crutch? It seems many drivers depend on their sometimes glitchy GPS while some users feel they don't have the autonomy they would like when it comes to giving directions.

Technology is definitely helpful in those scenarios at giving you information during congestion, accidents or road closures. But I think for the most part, people are really using it to get to know the city. I find the downtown GPS is a bit wonky so I always ask the driver partners about this. It seems a lot of them use it when they are in an area that they have never been to. But for the most part, they are relying on it less and less.

Rider/driver feedback?

We are constantly receiving feedback and it is very valuable to us because it really is how we innovate. We recently just had our own mapping of cars in Canada this summer. These maps are making its way around the world. The purpose of that was to develop our own maps to improve the pickup experience because that was one thing we were hearing from people.

If someone is using Uber, there is a record of their travels. Is there a privacy/security risk regarding data leaks, hacks or corporate spying on potential consumers?

We as a tech company - along with other companies like Google and Facebook - have been pretty clear that consumer's privacy is of the utmost importance to us. So we have a team that is constantly monitoring and working to ensure the privacy of our riders and drivers.

With the explosion of sharing economies, are you concerned 'unsharing' will make a comeback?

I wouldn't want to speculate on that because I think technology like ours certainly has its benefits. The fact that we do have data that can show the comings and goings of riders and drivers is certainly helpful to law enforcement in the appropriate situations. We also have agreements with cities to share data that will allow them to plan for infrastructure based on traffic patterns.

Is it true if you don't rate your driver, your ratings go down?

Why am I being rated, to begin with? That is an urban legend. The rating system is just how we manage quality control. We view our drivers as customers as well, if there is a bad experience for a driver, the feedback experience is the same on both sides; which is very important to us and is how we maintain a certain level of quality for all parties.

Uber tidbits

- You must be at least 18 years old to request an Uber.

- An Uber trip automatically cancels after 4 hours. A passenger must request another Uber at that point. (Of course, your current driver can accept because it is the closest vehicle.)

- Drivers have the right or option to be choosy: they can enter a certain geographic area near home twice a shift to make the transition smoother and help eliminate non-paid commute times.

- You cannot order more than one Uber at a time.