Uber and Lyft looking to expand the definition of ridesharing…
by Mike Beggs
Uber and Lyft’s fight for market share finds both ridesharing firms reaching to expand their corporate footprint.
For instance, in early July Uber invested in the California-based scooter rental business Lime, whose motorized scooters will now be added to its’ app, “giving consumers another way of getting around cities, especially to and from public transit systems”, in the words of Uber vice president Rachel Holt.
“(This is) another step towards our vision of becoming a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs.”
Lime scooters can be rented out in more than 70 locations in the U.S. and Europe, and the startup is now looking to buy tens of thousands more of these motorized foot-pedal scooters, to expand its reach.
For Uber, the Lime deal comes just a few months after its purchase of Jump Bikes, which rents electric bicycles in several cities including Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Lyft is likewise looking for new forms of transport, buying part of Motivate, which operates CitiBike and other bike-sharing programs in several major U.S. cities including Chicago and New York. The business will be renamed Lyft Bikes.
On May 23, The Verge reported that Lyft will invest $100 million in new driver support centres offering discounted car washes and oil changes, basic maintenance, “clean bathrooms”, rest areas and coffee and refreshment, and information about vehicle rentals, career support, and tax filing.
It’s part of Lyft’s efforts to lower costs for its drivers. Lyft says it will also double operational hours at the 15 support centres currently operational.
Lyft COO Jon McNeill told The Verge, “We’re not doing 180 days of change. Lyft has been committed to drivers since our beginning.”
Uber, similarly, has over 600 “Greenlight” support centres for drivers.
Uber drivers recently completed their 10 billionth trip, worldwide. And despite countless challenges over the past year, it retains a stranglehold on the ridesharing market – with a 74 percent share, compared to Lyft’s 16 percent, and taxis’ 7 percent.
But it appears business travelers are gravitating to Lyft.
A recent Certify study of more than10 million businesses across North America found that Lyft gained 8 percent in market share in Q2 2018, over the same quarter in 2017. Meanwhile, Uber fell off by 3 percent, and taxis by 5 percent during that same time period.
And while Uber may be breathing a sigh of relief with the reinstatement of its London operating license in late June (where it has 3.6 million customers and 45,000 drivers), on July 24 The Guardian reported that the London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) has retained a lawyer and is weighing out a possible 1-billion-pound class action suit.
The LTDA claims that since Uber began operations in London five years ago, the 25,000 traditional black cab drivers have suffered lost earnings of 10 million pounds per year.
Should they opt to pursue it, this legal battle could go ahead in the fall.
And little over a year after Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi signed on and vowed the company would henceforth, “always do the right thing”, USA Today reports that Uber’s head of human resources, Liane Hornsey is the latest high-level executive to leave the ridesharing Colossus.
A statement from Uber read that, “She abruptly resigned after an investigation into her conduct.”
According to Reuters, Uber had hired an outside company to look into how she handled employees’ complaints about racism. She left just a month after the departure of Uber’s chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John, who became the highest-paid African-American at Uber when she was hired last year.
An anonymous group of Uber employees of colour alleged that Hornsey, and Uber’s human resources department ignored complaints about racist behaviour at the company. The group also alleges that Hornsey had used discriminatory language and made derogatory comments about Saint John, as well as the company’s global head of diversity Bernard Coleman, also an Afro-American.
On July 16, The Wall Street Journal reported that Uber is among several tech companies being investigated for gender discrimination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for gender disparities pertaining to hiring practices and pay. This federal probe began in August of 2017.
Meanwhile, a decision by New York State authorities could have ground-breaking implications on the way Uber, and Lyft drivers are classified.
The New York State Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board has ruled in favour of three ex-Uber drivers -- two of whom were kicked off the platform, while the third quit because he was making less than minimum wage.
The Board’s decision applies to them, and other “similarly situated” Uber drivers.
“This is huge,” Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance told Politico. “It’s really significant, because it’s the first bona fide safety net for drivers, in this economy. We now have a decision that reflects the official position of the State, one that the State has to fund and execute.”
With over 65,000 drivers in New York City alone, Uber is likely to appeal the decision— and is taking heat in the press and on social media, the world over, about how its’ drivers are allegedly scamming customers through “vomit fraud”.
The Miami Evening Herald reports that shortly after being dropped off by an Uber driver, they receive a note from the company reporting an “adjustment” in the bill – a cleanup fee ranging from $80 to $150.
The customer can only contact Uber through the “help” button on their app, and the company’s first response is to explain that the driver notified them of an “incident” during the ride, accompanied by photos of the alleged vomit in the vehicle. Passengers are finding it takes three or four e-mails to resolve their complaints and hopefully receive a reimbursement from Uber.
One anonymous Uber driver told the Evening Herald she was aware of frequent occurrences of vomit fraud, and that drivers have been, “doing it for a long time”. She noted that, “many people don’t review their e-mails or credit card statements, so the drivers end up pocketing the $80 or $150.”
It’s not clear what steps municipal government can take to stop the fraud, leaving Uber riders without needed protection. Miami police say this type of fraud “is difficult to consider as a crime”, and that any complaints are between the passenger, Uber and the driver.
But in Mexico, a national consumer protection agency just fined Uber $52,000 for “charging for additional services without the expressed authorization of the consumer, such as fees for cleanups, repairs, or items forgotten in the car.”
Meanwhile, both Lyft and Uber have dropped a Missouri driver from their apps, after he allegedly live-streamed hundreds of rides to 4,500-plus followers, without informing his passengers.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 32-year-old Jason Gargac live-streamed unsuspecting passengers’ rides to followers, who among other things, rated those passengers’ looks. The live-stream sometimes disclosed the passengers’ full names and addresses, as well as private conversations and intimate moments.
One of his passengers told CNN, “I feel violated. I’m embarrassed.”
Gargac told the Post-Dispatch he used the live-stream for “safety”, and for “people watching”.
The live-stream platform in question, Twitch, would not comment on specific users, but told the Post-Dispatch it, “does not allow people to share content that invades others’ privacy.”
However, the driver appears to be on safe ground, legally. For instance, Missouri’s outdated One Party law requires that just one party give consent to a conversation being recorded, for it to be legal.
And finally, WIRED reports that, in Seattle, BMW is launching an upscale competitor to Uber and Lyft, through its ReachNow arm. Customers will be able to summon a car immediately or book it up to one week in advance, as well as have the ability to request a certain radio station, temperature, or a quiet ride.
One big difference. Unlike with Uber and Lyft, drivers will be paid $14.85 an hour, have set schedules, and will be eligible for benefits and bonuses.