The Global Rise of Platform Firms in Urban Mobility Markets

This research addresses one of the most pressing issues in contemporary market society: the controversial rise of the platform economy. Digital platform are radically transforming cities through the development and deployment of ‘disruptive’ technologies, presenting a range of vexing challenges for urban governance. This is most striking in the case of urban mobility markets where firms purport to create ‘free’ markets through their control of proprietary algorithms and ‘big data’ that hold the universalizing appeal of efficiency and modernity. This ‘disruption’ has diverse effects in different political economies and labor markets in the developing and industrialized world, but a common outcome across most cases is the concentration of power in the hands of oligopolistic platform firms and the institutionalization of increasingly precarious conditions of work. Further, while these firms have prompted sharp political reactions, they continue to claim to be neutral technocratic participants in urban spaces even as they challenge the legitimacy of public sector control. The analysis draws on fieldwork in Africa, Asia and the Americas on the implications for the future of cities and the future of work.