New York City Council votes to cap licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft

New York City Council votes to cap licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft

The New York City Council has approved legislation that will halt the issuing of new licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

The stated goal of the policy is to give the city time to study the industry’s impact. During that time, ride-hailing companies would only be able to add new vehicles if they’re wheelchair accessible. The legislation also allows the city to set a minimum wage for drivers.

There were drivers demonstrating in favor of the bill package outside City Hall today, and the Independent Drivers Guild (which says it represents more than 60,000 drivers for ride-hailing apps in New York City) praised the decision.

“We hope this is the start of a more fair industry not only here in New York City, but all over the world,” said IDG founder Jim Conigliaro, Jr. in a statement. “We cannot allow the so-called ‘gig economy’ companies to exploit loopholes in the law in order to strip workers of their rights and protections.”

Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, had asked their riders to oppose the legislation, saying that it would result in fewer drivers and less reliable service. They also suggested there were other ways to address the underlying issues, and in fact proposed creating a $100 million “hardship fund” for drivers as an alternative.

NYC drivers

Drivers demonstrating outside City Hall

In response to today’s news, Danielle Filson from Uber’s communications team provided the following statement:

The City’s 12-month pause on new vehicle licenses will threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion. We take the Speaker at his word that the pause is not intended to reduce service for New Yorkers and we trust that he will hold the TLC accountable, ensuring that no New Yorker is left stranded. In the meantime, Uber will do whatever it takes to keep up with growing demand and we will not stop working with city and state leaders, including Speaker [Corey] Johnson, to pass real solutions like comprehensive congestion pricing.

The company plans to explore other strategies to keep up with demand. Those include recruiting drivers with licensed vehicles who aren’t currently working with Uber, or finding additional drivers who could drive licensed vehicles at times when they would otherwise be idle.

Lyft, meanwhile, sent this statement from its vice president of public policy Joseph Okpaku:

These sweeping cuts to transportation will bring New Yorkers back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for communities of color and in the outer boroughs. We will never stop working to ensure New Yorkers have access to reliable and affordable transportation in every borough.

The New York Times reports that the cap will take effect as soon as Mayor Bill de Blasio signs the bill.

“Our city is directly confronting a crisis that is driving working New Yorkers into poverty and our streets into gridlock,” de Blasio tweeted. “The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action – and now we have it.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Wave Uber’s new Spotlight or send canned chats to find your driver

Wave Uber’s new Spotlight or send canned chats to find your driver

Uber is aiming to perfect the art of the pickup with three features it says minimize cancellations. Guaranteed pickup windows boost confidence that you’ll make your flight, and give you a credit of $10 if your scheduled ride is late. Pre-written messages let drivers and riders let each other know they’ll “Be right there” or “I’ve arrived” with a single tap.

And most flashily, three years after I suggested Uber let you hold up a colored screen so your driver could find you amidst a crowd of hailers, it’s introducing Spotlight. Each driver gets assigned a semi-unique color gradient to look for. Hit the Spotlight button, that color takes over your screen, and you can wave it to help your driver locate you. 

These optimizations show the depths Uber is willing to go to shave seconds off of pickups. That can reduce unpaid waiting time for drivers while boosting the number of rides they complete per hour for the startup. And the peace of mind that they’ll be able to hop in right when they’re ready could lure riders away from competitors as Uber dukes it out across the globe. The updates are rolling out on iOS and Android in the U.S. and Canada today.

“Human-to-human interaction is hard. Driver-initiated cancellations after the driver has arrived at the pickup point are particularly stressful,” Uber senior product manager for rider experience Ryan Yu tells me. But in tests of the new quick messages features, he said “We found cancellations on both sides reduced significantly, especially for drivers after they’ve arrived.”   

We can only hope this level of attention to detail will be applied to optimizing its internal company culture — a hope shaken by this month’s resignation of Uber’s head of HR Liane Hornsey after a probe into how she handled racial discrimination at the company, and the NYT’s report of insensitivity complaints about COO Barney Harford.

Uber has been steadily adding little improvements to the pickup process over the years. Here’s a quick, abridged list:

  • Incentivizing drivers to wait instead of cancelling by starting the meter after waiting at the pickup spot for more than 2 minutes
  • Live location sharing so riders can optionally let drivers see where they are as they seek the vehicle
  • Suggested pickup spots nearby where drivers can safely pull over, and avoid them looping around one way streets
  • Sequential pickups so you’re assigned the nearest driver, even if they’re still finishing their previous ride
  • Pickup location changing so you can choose a different spot nearby if you got the address wrong or are on the other side of the building

There are three upgrades in particular that serve as the foundation for today’s updates.

In-app chat between riders and drivers makes it so you don’t have to use SMS. Uber could only anonymize your number in some markets, creating privacy concerns, and SMS could be cost-prohibitive in some parts of the world. Uber messaging launched in mid-2017, and could be read aloud to the driver and replied to with a thumbs-up emoji to reduce the chance of distracted driving. Lyft still uses SMS for comparison.

Now both users and drivers will see the most common messages pre-written and sendable with the touch of a button so they don’t have to type. “Drivers noted that they were more reassured when their rider actually sent them a message,” said Yu, which can keep them from cancelling if the rider needs a little more time to get to the pickup spot. I asked if automatic translation would be available here, so if a driver in Brazil sent an American user “eu cheguei,” it’d show up as “I have arrived.” Yu told me “Translations are on the road map. We’re figuring out how to best pair them alongside voice.”

Uber added scheduled rides in mid-2016 shortly after Lyft did the same. You can plan a ride up to 30 days in advance, but you’re still subject to surge pricing in the moment. At least now you’ll get $10 credit if the driver is late. Unfortunately, the pickup window Uber showed me in the demo was 15 minutes, though Yu said it may very by region. I sometimes only make my flights by 10 minutes, and since my pickup ETA in San Francisco is typically only 3 to 5 minutes, I’m probably better off just booking the ride when I’m ready.

Uber’s Beacon and Lyft’s Amp are color-coded dashboard lights that help riders find their driver

Back in 2015, I suggested that “Uber could offer some signal on the driver or passenger’s phone to help them find each other.” A week later it announced it would start testing Spot, which let users pick a color that would light up on an LED bar installed on driver’s windshields. In November 2016, Lyft launched its Amp dashboard light that assigned a random color riders could look out for. A month later, Uber’s Spot had evolved into the dashboard Beacon light that lets users pick the color and is now available in 14 cities.

Today’s update gives riders a light too, which is great if you’re one of dozens of people waiting outside a concert or sports game trying to find their Uber. Hit the Spotlight button, and you’ll get instructions to wave your colored screen in the air. Drivers are permanently assigned a color that stays constant across trips so they can train themselves to look out for it.

“Spotlight is meant to supplement Beacon. Not all drivers will have a Beacon, and we want to pass that to two-way communication,” says Yu. But since the Beacon dashboard lights are always visible, Uber says that if a driver has one, users won’t see the Spotlight option and will instead just be able to choose the Beacon’s color.

Together, these features should eliminate most pickup problems. We’ll see if Uber’s competitors and international partners like Didi adopt them too. After retreating from markets like China in exchange for a percentage of ownership of the local leader, there’s more pressure on Uber to squash its homeland competitor Lyft, which has been gaining market share. Yet neither has offered an oft-requested feature some users would even be willing to pay an extra dollar for: a “quiet ride” where the driver doesn’t make small talk.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

With Lime teaming up with Uber, can rival Bird afford to go it alone?

With Lime teaming up with Uber, can rival Bird afford to go it alone?

Yesterday, we learned that 18-month-old, Bay Area-based electric scooter rental company Lime is joining forces with the ride-hailing giant Uber, which is both investing in the company as part of a $335 million round and planning to promote Lime in its mobile app. According to Bloomberg, Uber also plans to plaster its logo on Lime’s scooters.

Lime isn’t being acquired outright, in short, but it looks like it will be. At least, Uber struck a similar arrangement with the electric bike company JUMP bikes before spending $200 million to acquire the company in spring.

There are as many questions raised by this kind of tie-up as answered, but the biggest may be what the impact means for Lime’s fiercest rival in the e-scooter wars, 15-month-old L.A.-based Bird, which several sources tell us also discussed a potential partnership with Uber.

Despite recently raising $300 million in fresh capital at a somewhat stunning $2 billion valuation, could its goose be, ahem, cooked?

At first glance, it would appear so. Uber’s travel app is the most downloaded in the U.S. by a wide margin, despite gains made last year by its closest U.S. competitor, Lyft, as Uber battled one scandal after another. It’s easy to imagine that Lime’s integration with Uber will give it the kind of immediate brand reach that most founders can only dream about.

A related issue for Bird is its relationship with Lyft, which . . . isn’t great. Bird’s founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden, burned that bridge when, not so long after Lyft acqui-hired VanderZanden from a small startup he’d launched and made him its COO, he left to join rival Uber.

Lyft, which sued VanderZanden for allegedly breaking a confidentiality agreement when he joined Uber,  later settled with him for undisclosed terms. But given their history, it’s hard to imagine Lyft — which also has a much smaller checkbook than Uber — paying top dollar to acquire his company.

Where that leaves Bird is an open question, but people familiar with both Bird and Lime suggest the e-scooter war is far from over.

For example, though Uber sees its partnership with Lime as “another step towards our vision of becoming a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs,” two sources familiar with Bird’s thinking are quick to underscore its plans to expand internationally quickly and not merely fight a turf war in the U.S. (It already has one office in China.) 

That Sequoia Capital led Bird’s most recent round of funding helps on this front, given Sequoia Capital China’s growing dominance in the country and the relationships that go with it. Then again, Sequoia is also an investor in Uber, having acquired a stake in the company earlier this year, and alliances are generally temperamental in this brave new world of transportation. In just the latest unexpected twist, Lime’s newest round included not only Uber but also GV, the venture arm of Alphabet, which only recently resolved a lawsuit with Uber.

Another wrinkle to consider is the exposure that Lime receives from Uber, which could prove double-edged, given the company’s ups and downs. Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, appears determined to steer the company to a smooth and decidedly undramatic public offering in another year or so. But for a company of Uber’s scale and scope, that’s a challenge, to say the least. (Its newest hire, Scott Schools —  a former top attorney at the U.S. Justice Department and now Uber’s chief compliance officer — will undoubtedly be tasked with minimizing the odds of things going astray.)

Lime’s arrangement with Uber could potentially create other opportunities for Bird. First, by agreeing to allow Uber to apply its branding to its scooters, Lime will be diluting its own brand. Even if Uber never acquires the company, riders may well associate Lime with Uber and think, for better or worse, that it’s a subsidiary.

Further, Uber does not appear to have made any promises to Lime in terms of how prominently its app is featured within its own mobile app. which already crams in quite a lot, from offering free ride coupons to featuring local offers to promoting its Uber Eats business.

Consider that in January 2017, Google added the ability to book an Uber ride to both the Android and iOS versions of its Google Maps service. Uber might have thought that a coup, too, at the time. But last summer, Google quietly removed the feature from its iOS app, and it removed the service from Android just last month. If there wasn’t much outrage over the decision, likely it’s because so few users of Google Maps noticed the feature in the first place.

Lime’s arrangement could prove more advantageous. Only time will tell. But everything considered, whether or not Bird flies away with this competition will likely owe less to Lime’s new arrangement with Uber than with its own ability to execute, including making its mobile app the kind of go-to destination that Uber has.

Certainly, that’s what BIrd’s flock would argue will happen. Yesterday afternoon, Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia and a Bird board member, declined to discuss the Lime deal, instead emailing one short observation seemingly designed to say it all: “Travis [VanderZanden] is far more customer obsessed than competitor obsessed. That is a quality we look for in great founders.”

A Bird spokesperson offered an equally sanguine quote, saying that Bird is “happy to see our friends in the ride-sharing industry coalesce on the pressing need to offer a sustainable and affordable alternative to car trips.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch