This isn't the first time that Uber's ethics have been called into question.
The ride-hailing start-up had to defend itself from accusations of misogyny back in 2014. Around that same time, the company was also accused of intentionally sabotaging rivals like Lyft by ordering fake rides and then canceling them, wasting everyone's time. There have also been criticisms around surge pricing, particularly during emergency situations (Uber has since walked back the practice during emergencies).
But the company has now hit a new low.
How low can you go?
Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported on Uber's controversial leasing program, Xchange. Launched almost exactly a year ago, Xchange is a leasing program that's offered to Uber drivers with poor credit. Now that people have had some experience with Xchange, we're starting to see a very real and very dark underbelly.
Xchange is very much an attempt to grow Uber's army of drivers, which the company desperately needs considering its high turnover rates. Uber even scored a $1 billion credit facility from the big investment banks to help fund the program.
Routine maintenance is included in the lease terms, which can potentially be slightly better than traditional leases. Drivers are also allowed unlimited mileage, another incremental benefit compared to traditional leases. It's also a lot easier to break the lease without the hefty fees associated with traditional leases.
However, the target market is drivers that decidedly do not qualify for traditional leases. The program has been compared to predatory payday loans, which similarly prey on the poor and those with bad credit profiles. The lease payments are drawn directly from the Uber driver's paycheck, too.
But at what cost?
For example, Xchange reportedly charges $155 per week for drivers to lease a Toyota Corolla. That's over $600 per month. Meanwhile, prime borrowers can lease a Corolla directly from Toyota for $139 per month. So we're talking about a markup of nearly 350%, specifically because the driver cannot qualify for the traditional lease.
Bloomberg also spoke with a driver that would have to pay a total of $37,200 over the course of the lease, including exercising the purchase option, for a GM Chevy Cruze that's only valued at around $16,400. That driver pays $800 per month for his Cruze. That kind of money will buy you a BMW or a Mercedes, but of course the point is that the target driver is unable to qualify.
Uber's Xchange program is effectively trapping drivers into driving for the company. Sure, the driver can still quit and Uber will simply repossess the car, but Uber is clearly pressuring low-income drivers to work harder in order to cover the next week's lease payment. Some have likened the program to sharecropping.
Uber says that Xchange isn't intended to be a profit center, and is instead meant to offer "flexibility" to drivers. While there are some minor benefits of Xchange compared to traditional leases, do those benefits justify a 350% premium?
Put simply: No, they don't.
Editor's note: this article was updated on 6/7/2016.
Evan Niu, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends BMW and General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.