Make congestion pricing great again

CXXXVIII

Hello and welcome to Oversharing, a newsletter about the proverbial sharing economy. If you're returning from last week, thanks! If you're new, nice to have you! (Over)share the love and tell your friends to sign up here. This late edition brought to you by New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s “State of the State” and budget address, which brings us to…

Congestion pricing.

How do you get people to use cars less? Try making driving more expensive.

Support for congestion pricing, a tax designed to mitigate traffic by charging motorists to enter crowded zones, is at a historic high in New York, according to a recent Siena College poll of 805 registered New York state voters. Statewide, New Yorkers support a congestion pricing plan to reduce traffic and pay for subway improvements by a 52%-to-39% margin.

Support for congestion pricing outweighs opposition across almost every demographic. Liberals, moderates, New York City, suburban households, upstate, white, black, latino, every age group, every religion, every income level. Only conservatives and, interestingly, union households are more likely to oppose the measure than to support it. Support was particularly strong among black (64%) and latino (57%) respondents, as well as among people ages 18 to 34 (63%) and people earning less than $50,000, the lowest income bracket (60%).

Only about 10% of voters hadn’t heard of congestion pricing or had no opinion on it, setting up Cuomo nicely to propose a congestion pricing plan in his 2019 “State of the State” address this afternoon. Cuomo proposed a fee to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street. The fee, Cuomo said, would create “toll equity” by ensuring drivers paid to enter the busiest part of Manhattan, regardless of where they came in. The exception would be for drivers traveling along the FDR Drive, on the east side of the city, to go north or south in Manhattan.

Here is a quality screenshot of Cuomo talking about the plan while closing his eyes and making a face:

Vehicle speeds in the Central Business District have been dropping since 2010, most recently to 7.2 miles per hour. Cuomo’s office pointed to “remarkable growth of for-hire vehicles in New York City”—here’s looking at you, Uber—plus new bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, deliveries, and tour busses. Construction, of course, also factors in. Uber policy manager Josh Gold said in a statement following Cuomo’s address that the company supports congestion pricing for “all users of Manhattan’s congested roads.”

A mini-congestion surcharge on for-hire rides in Manhattan south of 96th Street was supposed to take effect in January, but remains on hold after cab drivers sued. That plan would add $2.50 to taxi rides, $2.75 to other black car trips and private rides booked through an app, and $0.75 for shared ride-hails, like UberPool or Via. Shared rides, in other words, get a big break.

Cuomo’s congestion pricing plan would apply to all vehicles and is projected to raise $15 billion, but it wouldn’t take effect until 2021, which feels like an awfully long time when measured in minutes-spent-waiting-on-a-stalled-subway-car. That $15 billion also represents only a quarter of the estimated $60 billion needed to rehab the city’s subway system, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio remains opposed to Cuomo’s plan for the city to split the cost of a shortfall 50-50. “If anyone thinks that money can be found in the city budget, they may be smoking marijuana,” de Blasio said yesterday—something else that could soon be legal in New York, if Cuomo gets his way.

Congestion pricing or a cordon toll is popular among transit wonks but historically has been politically unviable in New York and the rest of the US. Vehicle owners understandably chafe at the idea of having to pay even more tolls to get where they need to go, particularly if the toll is getting tacked onto a regular commute to work. A congestion plan proposed by former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg in 2007 met a quick death in Albany.

But congestion pricing works in cities that have implemented it, such as London and Stockholm. Vehicle speeds rise, and congestion and carbon emissions fall. “If you survive this valley of political death, and people actually see the benefits, and also realize that, in addition to the benefits, it’s actually not as bad as you thought—it’s not so hard adapting to this—then support starts going up again,” Jonas Eliasson, Stockholm’s director of transportation, told Curbed in March 2018.

Despite the support in New York, enacting congestion pricing remains an uphill battle. But it's a far more achievable and implementable fix to a city's traffic woes than waiting around for a hyperloop, or fully autonomous driverless cars, or flying taxis, or any of the more fantastical solutions being worked on in Silicon Valley. Those moonshots may happen one day, but in the meantime congestion pricing can hasten the car's exit from the American lifestyle.

Scooters!

They could also be coming to New York state, per a section in the freshly released executive budget. A “locally authorized scooter” is defined as a “two-wheeled device that is no more than forty-one inches in length, seventeen inches in width, and forty-five inches in height, which does not have a seat or saddle, is designed to transport one person standing on the device and can be propelled by any power other than muscular power.” In other words, a stand-up electric scooter, but not a moped.

These locally authorized scooters would be permitted to operate on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph or less, including designated bike lanes. One hand on the scooter at all times, must be 16 years of age or older, yield to pedestrians, ride single file, no drinking and scooting, speeds limited to 20 mph on roads and 8 mph on sidewalks (if local rules permit). You know, standard stuff. Oh and my personal favorite:

No person shall operate a locally authorized scooter outside during the period of time between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise unless such person is wearing readily visible reflective clothing or material which is of a light or bright color

I mean just imagine the ticket exchanges:

NYPD: Do you know what we pulled you over for?

Scooter rider: Er, no, was I speeding?

NYPD: No, you were operating in the one-half hour after sunset

Rider: I… er… is that not ok, officer?

NYPD: AND YOU ARE WEARING BLACK

Rider: Well, uh, yes, it is New York City…

NYPD *scribbles ticket*: Drive safer next time.

Key details.

Montreal’s new policy is if-you-see-something, say-something policy, when it comes to Airbnb. City mayor Valerie Plante is urging residents to report any lock boxes they spy attached to public property, like parking meters or bicycles. Local officials believe such lock boxes are the latest attempt by Airbnb hosts to dupe enforcement efforts, by making it harder to tell which properties are being rented on the home-sharing site, and recently directed city inspectors to cut down any lock boxes they spotted clinging to public property. “Our teams are at work,” Plante tweeted, of the lock boxes. “If you see them in your neighbourhood, don’t hesitate to report them.”

Lock boxes are an interesting proxy for the prevalence of Airbnb. Not everyone who has an Airbnb uses them, but they do make hosting a lot more convenient because your guest can get into the unit without you physically being there to hand off the keys. This would suggest—though I don’t have any data on it—that Airbnb hosts who use lock boxes are more likely to be frequent or seasoned hosts, and by extension exactly the type of host a city cracking down on Airbnb would want to target.

Lock boxes and smart locks turn out to be a robust discussion topic among Airbnb hosts, and also a niche market for locksmiths. For example, there is a $299 smart-lock on Amazon that advertises itself specifically as “Your Smart Lock for Airbnb.” Other smart-locks and lock boxes on Amazon describe themselves as the “Perfect solution storing keys for AirBnB rentals,” a “Preferred Partner with Airbnb,” and the “perfect choice for Airbnb rentals” (it only has one review on Amazon, but with a description like that, what could go wrong?). As for Montreal hosts looking to evade prying eyes, why not take a page from this host and install your lock box at the top of the door?

Elsewhere in Montreal, a man who was evicted from his apartment in December 2017 by a landlord who wanted to rent the units on Airbnb created a Facebook event for reporting illegal Airbnbs (it’s on Jan. 28, if you’re interested).

We Work Remotely.

I really have nothing to add to these tweets, so, shot:

Chaser:

This time last year.

Travis Kalanick tried to sell half his Uber shares, Handy pivots to retailers, “Shortcut Your Startup” (also I had the flu)

Other stuff.

I Am Ready for WeWork to Unleash My Superpower. WeWork and Softbank Live in Their Own World. Ford shut down Chariot because commuters didn’t want a better bus. Driverless car startup Aurora valued at over $2 billion. Driverless car startup Zoox gets new CEO. E-scooters test old traffic rules in Europe. Daimler drops platooning, focuses on automation. Airbnb host says unconstitutional for Nashville to block cancel her short-term rental permit. New York City alleges Manhattan brokers made $21 million off illegal Airbnbs. Bowery Valuation raises $12 million to automate real estate appraisals. Amazon to shutter Whole Foods 365 format. Amazon seeks leader for “perishable food platform.” Is Estrogen the Key to Understanding Women’s Mental Health? Sun exposure guidelines are unhealthy, unscientific, and quite possibly racist. A Silicon Valley Studio Apartment Is Being Rented to Two Cats.


Thanks again for subscribing to Oversharing! If you, in the spirit of the sharing economy, would like to share this newsletter with a friend, you can forward it or suggest they sign up here.

Send tips, comments, and unleashed super powers to @alisongriswold on Twitter, or oversharingstuff@gmail.com.

WeWork will unleash every human’s superpowers

CXXXVII

Hello and welcome to Oversharing, a newsletter about the proverbial sharing economy. If you're returning from last year, thanks! If you're new, nice to have you! Hope everyone enjoyed the winter holidays and is starting 2019 well.

I am not at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, thank god, but three of my brave coworkers are. You can sign up for their pop-up CES Daily Brief here.

Also in case you missed it, Oversharing got a theme song, check it out.


The gig is up.

Labor economists Larry Katz and Alan Krueger have amended their 2015 prediction of a gig economy boom in a new working paper (pdf). Where Katz and Krueger initially found a 5-percentage-point increase in gig work from 2005 to 2015, representing almost all US job creation over that period, they now believe it was a more modest 1 to 2 percentage points. Their updated findings follow a June 2018 report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that found gig and other alternative forms of work, quite the opposite of booming, had fallen as a share of US workers since 2005.

Katz and Krueger believe their initial estimate was flawed in part because they were observing a reaction to an American economy weakened by the 2008 financial crisis, rather than a permanent shift in the labor market. We have talked before about the theory that Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, and their legions of imitators succeeded early on because of the recession and weak US economy. Airbnb and TaskRabbit got started in 2008 and Uber in 2009, when millions of Americans had lost their jobs, homes, and life savings, and more than anything needed a modicum of financial stability. When jobs were scarce, being able to make money immediately by driving your car or renting a room in your house was a miraculous opportunity. It is less miraculous now that the labor market has tightened, wages are rising, and the liberated lifestyle advertised by gig economy companies has failed to live up to its promise.

Elsewhere in gig research, Americans are ride-hailing more, but not more often, according to a fall 2018 poll by Pew Research Center. Thirty six percent of more than 10,000 respondents told Pew they have used a service like Uber or Lyft, compared to just 15% who said that in a 2015 survey. Another 61% said they had heard of ride-hail services but not used them. Only 3% of respondents hadn’t heard of ride-hailing at all, down from 33% of respondents who hadn’t in 2015. While more Americans have now tried ride-hail services, the share that use them weekly or almost daily remains low, at 4% and 2% of US adults, respectively.

From 2015 to 2018, ride-hail use grew across most US adult demographics: age, education, and household income. (Pew didn’t break out race.) But as in 2015, young, educated, and relatively wealthy Americans made up the bulk of those users.

Ride-hailing, in other words, is not exactly democratic, but is more accessible than might be expected, even to people from lower income households. This makes sense considering how widespread smartphones have become—more than 75% of Americans own one—and how companies like Uber and Lyft have focused on introducing lower cost ride options like Uber’s Express Pool. To drive somewhere you need a car; to Uber somewhere you need a smartphone, a payment method, and the Uber app.

The wider gap in ride-hail use in America is between rural and urban populations. Only 32% of US adults who earn $75,000 or more in rural areas take ride-hail services, for instance, compared to 71% of adults in the same earning category in urban areas. That gap could reflect that services like Uber and Lyft are less available in rural areas, or that people in rural areas are more likely to own a car and therefore have less need for a ride service. Rural areas also aren’t conducive to shared ride services like UberPool, which work best in high-density areas where the company can match up enough people traveling in roughly the same direction to keep wait times and prices low, while paying the driver enough to make the job worthwhile.

WeBranding.

WeWork is rebranding as “The We Company,” it announced today, in a blog post that contains the word “we” more than 60 times. “The We Company’s guiding mission will be to elevate the world’s consciousness,” co-founder and resident cult leader Adam Neumann writes. “Living a conscious life means choosing to live proactively and with purpose. It means being a student of life, for life, where we accept that we are always growing and in a constant state of self-discovery, self-growth, and change.”

Elevating the world’s consciousness is understandably a big mission, which is why Neumann has broken it down into three more manageable sub-missions:

WeWork’s mission is to create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living. WeLive’s mission is to build a world where no one feels alone. WeGrow’s mission is to unleash every human’s superpowers.

Making a life! Ending loneliness! Unleashing superpowers! We—WE—are living in an era where “unleash every human’s superpowers” is a real thing that a real technology company backed by billions of real dollars can claim it is working to achieve. Sometimes I wonder whether the communications people who write and approve these statements roll their eyes or at least consider that instead of sounding inspiring, they evoke the ramblings of a deranged super-villain intent on reshaping the world. I look forward to Wefinity Wars, coming out from Marvel in summer 2020.

All this talk of world consciousness and superpowers also conceals a more sobering reality: WeWork failed to land a much-hyped $16 billion investment from Japanese tech giant SoftBank, settling instead for an investment of about $2 billion. The money brings SoftBank’s total investment in WeWork to about $10.5 billion. Half of the $2 billion went in at a $20 billion valuation and half at a previously announced $42 billion valuation, the Financial Times reported. This is similar to the trick SoftBank pulled with Uber when it bought existing shares at a $48 billion valuation but committed $1.25 billion in new funding at Uber’s previous valuation of $68 billion, so that the company could pretend its lofty valuation remained intact.

Why might SoftBank be alarmed? The Wall Street Journal reported that WeWork—I mean, The We Company—sustained heavy losses of $1.2 billion in the first nine months of 2018. It is also unclear how the company would fare in a global economic downturn, which some investors are predicting for 2019. Neumann characterized the smaller investment as an opportunity and compared his company to a diamond, telling Fast Company, “to make something very precious, you have to apply a lot of pressure.”

IPO no-go.

The ongoing government shut down may be holding up the IPO market, Fox Business reported:

While bankers have been working feverishly to get IPOs ready, Securities and Exchange Commission officials tasked with approving those IPOs haven’t been working at all the past 17 days as the partial government shutdown continues — a reality that could derail one of the biggest quarters for IPOs in years.

FOX Business has learned there is a backlog of more than 41 IPOs that need to be reviewed by the SEC before they can go public, according to data from Dealogic. The actual number of IPOs ready for review may be higher since many companies choose to file confidentially.

Several big-name technology companies are expected to go public as soon as the first half of 2019, including Airbnb, Pinterest, Palantir, Uber, and Lyft. The threat of market volatility and an economic downturn has also spurred some companies to file faster than they had originally planned. An SEC backlog from the partial government shutdown could inconvenience companies looking to get their offerings moving. On the other hand, richly funded companies like Uber are in a lot better shape than the more than 800,000 federal employees who could go unpaid because of the shutdown—some of whom are now driving for Uber.

Books!

Why would a company do a direct listing?

CXXXVI

Hello and welcome to Oversharing, a newsletter about the proverbial sharing economy. If you're returning from last week, thanks! If you're new, nice to have you! (Over)share the love and tell your friends to sign up here.

A very exciting update: Oversharing now has an anthem thanks to Walt Hickey, who wins for best secret Santa Secret gift ever. Walt writes Numlock News, an excellent numbers-focused morning brief you should all sign up for. The rap is by Mayamiko on Fiverr, who vastly exceeded any expectations I could have had for an Oversharing theme song, had I contemplated the possibility. Check it out on Soundcloud here.

And a programming note: Oversharing will be off for Christmas and New Year’s. Happy holidays, and see you in 2019!

Direct listings.

We talked last week about how Airbnb and Slack may each pursue a direct listing in 2019, the populist cousin of the initial public offering. In an IPO, the company hires underwriters (usually a group of banks) who buy shares at a particular price, which they then sell to clients and investors. The company can sell new stock and spends weeks or months traveling around the country in a “roadshow” to pitch its stock to prospective buyers. Existing shareholders, like employees and pre-IPO investors, are subject to a lockup period that prevents them from selling their shares immediately, typically for 180 days after the market debut.

In a direct offering, the company can’t sell any new stock, so there’s also no lockup period. Existing shareholders can sell their holdings immediately when the company lists on a public exchange. Spotify completed a direct offering in April 2018.

Why would a company go the direct listing route? According to Sam Dibble, a partner at law firm Baker Botts, the top reason is to keep employees happy. If a company has been private for a long time and doesn’t need to raise money, a direct listing is a great way to let employees cash out. It works best when the company is already a household name and can generate investor interest without the fanfare of a roadshow.

Dibble says other reasons to do a direct offering are to gain access to the public markets without having to pay fees to investment banks, which can be substantial, and to get a quicker sense of the true market value of the company. In a traditional IPO, the IPO price is often deliberately set below market to allow for a “pop” on the first day of trading. The stock price can then reset after the initial lockup period expires, freeing up more people to sell. “Anytime you buy a share on the first day of trading you’re kind of taking a big bet on what the real price is,” Dibble says, but with a direct offering you probably have a better gauge of the price after a month or two.

Here is a Harvard case study of Spotify’s listing that basically says that:

Having enjoyed great success in the private capital markets, Spotify had no immediate need for funding. So, with a large and diverse shareholder base, a well-known brand, global scale, a relatively easily understood business model, and a transparent company culture, Spotify felt that reimagining the process of going public through a direct listing was the path that best enabled it to achieve these goals.

Why don’t more companies do it? “It’s pretty hard to pull off a direct offering,” Dibble said. But you can see why it might appeal to Airbnb. The company was profitable in 2017, its employees have been itching to sell for years, and it has a lot of brand recognition from its guests and hosts.

Cleaning house.

Uber is paying off Travis’s—I mean, er, its—legal bill ahead of an expected 2019 public offering. The company paid $148 million in September for covering up a 2016 data breach that compromised the personal data of 57 million Uber accounts, including 600,000 driver’s license numbers, eight times what Target paid to settle its infamous breach in 2013. In November, a court approved a $10 million offer from Uber to settle a class-action lawsuit from two female engineers who alleged the company discriminated on race and gender. Per Bloomberg, Uber last week quietly resolved allegations that it “put thousands of women at risk of sexual assault by their drivers”:

Experts say the more baggage that Uber can put behind it before going public, the better.

“If you are planning an IPO, one of the first things you should do is clean house and that includes cleaning up any lawsuits,” said Alan Seem, a Silicon Valley finance and securities lawyer. “That’s one of the first things I tell them: ‘Lawsuits can distract from the investment story you want to sell investors.’”

Of course Uber has plenty of other things to distract investors with: driverless cars, flying cars, bikes, scooters, food delivery, temporary staff. I am honestly not entirely sure what the Uber story at this point is, but it seems to be something like, sure, we used to drive around like the bad guy in a Bond movie, but let’s not worry about that, we are under New Management now and focused on New Ideas and it is Very Exciting, Please Trust us and Invest. Can we bring you a McChicken?

Elsewhere in cleaning house, Uber tidied its accounting disclosures in the latest quarter. The third-quarter figures Uber shared in November came in a crisp spreadsheet with alternating gray and white rows, a huge upgrade from the pdfs it used to send around, which with their floating dollar signs, slightly uneven spacing, and “CONFIDENTIAL” splashed across the page in gradient gray font looked like they were designed by a middle schooler in Microsoft Word.

Beyond the aesthetic upgrade, Uber also stopped breaking out line items that disclosed how much it spent on promotions, driver earnings, driver incentives, and refunds. This “contra revenue” section of Uber’s semi-public quarterly reports gave the best glimpse at how much the company was paying to drivers every quarter, and what impact that expense was having on Uber’s bottom line. You could see, for example, that while Uber has spent more on driver pay in raw dollars over the last two years, it has reduced that expense as a share of gross bookings.

Here’s that blue line up close:

From a corporate perspective, lowering driver costs as a share of bookings is good, because it probably means the company is improving its margins on rides and deliveries. But it also adds merit to complaints from drivers who say they now get a smaller cut of what riders pay. This sort of color will now be absent from Uber’s quarterly filings, if the company has its way, simplifying the narrative for Uber a bit, and helping to make sure investors aren’t distracted by the wrong story.

Electrifying.

My coworker Akshat Rathi has broken through the Tesla bubble and written a fantastic series on the future of electric cars being in China. It sits behind a paywall as part of Quartz’s new subscription offering, but you can sign up here for a free trial, subscribe and enjoy a 45% holiday discount. Here is Akshat:

China’s had so much success using its carrot-and-stick approach to developing its auto market, that it’s ratcheting up the pressure. Starting in 2019, all Chinese carmakers that manufacture 30,000 or more cars per year will have to meet an NEV [new-energy vehicles] quota, that will rise in 2020.

China is expected to overtake the rest of the world combined in sales of electric vehicles by 2020.

Also in the series:

A crazy fact from the piece on China’s electric bikes: “Today, electric two-wheelers are so common in China that they account for 80% of all the greenhouse-gas emissions avoided by the use of electric vehicles—in the entire world.”

Comeback kid.

He’s baaaaaaack:

Everyone is getting ready for the prom

CXXXV

Hello and welcome to Oversharing, a newsletter about the proverbial sharing economy. If you're returning from last week, thanks! If you're new, nice to have you! (Over)share the love and tell your friends to sign up here.

Promposals.

Back when he was chief executive of Uber, Travis Kalanick liked to talk about how the company wasn’t ready to “go to the prom.”

“We’re like eighth graders and someone’s telling us we need to go to the prom,” he said in October 2015, responding to comments from then Uber-board member Bill Gurley criticizing startups that refused to go public.

A year later, Kalanick repeated the metaphor. “I feel like we maybe just entered high school,” he said at a conference in October 2016. “It’s the ninth grade. It’s not time to go to prom yet.”

Ninth grade turned out to be pretty rough for Uber, and rougher still for Kalanick, but the company scraped through to junior year. And, right on schedule, everyone started talking about going to the prom.

Lyft filed confidentially for an initial public offering, and then announced it in a Dec. 6 press release. Uber filed confidentially for an IPO the same day that Lyft announced its confidential filing. Both companies are reportedly worried about the uneasy stock market and a potential economic downturn next year.

Palantir and Instacart and Postmates (Postmates!) may also go public in 2019. Meanwhile, Airbnb and Slack, two other hotly anticipated prom-goers, might pursue direct listings, Recode reported. In a direct listing, a company sells shares directly to the public without the hired underwriters that typically orchestrate an IPO. Spotify went public in an unusually large direct listing in April.

If an initial public offering is going to the prom in a fancy dress and a limo (or an UberBlack, in this case), with all its ritualistic pomp, then a direct offering is the hipster kid who skipped out on prom to make a statement but kind of secretly wanted to go the whole time, and slipped in at the end in jeans and a faded blazer. It is “more democratic and decentralized,” says Investopedia, a good fit for Airbnb’s carefully cultivated ethos of being a company of the people, for the people, unless those people are local regulators, in which case, screw them, they aren’t welcome at the prom or the house party.

Stifling competition.

But you don’t need to wait for the prom for the drama to start! Defunct ride-hail service Sidecar sued Uber this morning in San Francisco, alleging Uber used predatory pricing and fake ride requests to capture the market, as it “became hell-bent on stifling competition from competing ride-hailing apps.”

Here is more from Reuters:

Sidecar alleged in the lawsuit that “Uber’s senior officers and executives directed clandestine campaigns” to place fraudulent ride requests on the Sidecar app. Drivers were inundated with ride requests sent by Uber that were canceled before they arrived at the pick-up destinations.

“That triggered a vicious cycle that undermined the ability of Sidecar’s app to challenge Uber,” the lawsuit says.

TechCrunch posted the full complaint, which states that Uber “intentionally interfered with the performance and quality of competing ride-hailing apps” and that senior Uber employees “directed clandestine campaign to submit fraudulent ride requests through its competitors’ ride-hailing apps.” This is old hat by now for Uber, which has been accused by at least two other competitors of the same tactic, and basically got away with it through sheer brazenness.

“Sidecar’s lawsuit has it backwards: new competitors, along with low prices, benefit consumers and reflect the exact type of competition that the antitrust laws are meant to protect,” Uber told everyone in a statement. “We believe the timing of this complaint, filed three years after Sidecar went out of business, is not a coincidence.”

Scooters!

The public health and transportation departments of Austin, Texas, are calling in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess the SCOOTER PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT:

The study will examine the health risks associated with the scooters in Austin, TX between Sept. 5 and Nov. 4 this year, centering on 37 emergency responder calls and 68 scooter injury reports from area hospitals. 

The goal of the study is to inform Austin’s rule-making around dockless electric scooters, for example, where the vehicles can be ridden and at what speeds. The city authorized six scooter providers to operate a collective 11,000 devices. Austin established preliminary scooter rules in November and plans to review them in February 2019.

The health study is the CDC’s first epidemiological study on dockless scooters. I am all for deploying scooters safely and preferably not on sidewalks, but sometimes you have to ask: why this? If the CDC wants to get involved in tech/startups, why not study the public health risk of social media or double-down on flavored-nicotine seller Juul, both of which are surely more dangerous than dockless electric scooters? Sometimes I worry the Silicon Valley speak is getting to me, but there is also something to the oft-repeated point that tens of thousands of people (37,000 in 2017) die a year in motor vehicle crashes and we as a society have just come to accept it, and would prefer to wring our hands over scooters, or to all but ban romaine lettuce after a couple dozen people fell ill from eating it. Ah, America.

Waymo One.

Waymo finally launched a limited version of the commercial driverless ride-hail service it had promised by the end of the year. Waymo One is available to a small pool of riders in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, who participated in the free “early rider” program the driverless car company had been testing there.

Waymo One is in every way a competitor to Uber. Customers request rides and confirm their location through an app. Waymo decides the best route and drop-off spot, which may require the passenger to walk a few minutes to their final destination, similar to a discount service Uber offers. Waymo even provides a price quote at the time of booking, employing the “upfront pricing” method that Uber introduced in 2016 as an alternative to the traditional taxi meter.

Waymo’s progress stands in contrast to Uber, which grounded its self-driving fleets after one of its vehicles struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, in March. Uber is only now preparing to resume autonomous testing in Pittsburgh, the New York Times reported Dec. 5, and with significantly lower expectations. Cars that drove up to 55 miles per hour before the Tempe accident will now be capped at 25 mph. They also won’t operate at night or in wet conditions.

Waymo’s service is far from perfect. Over the summer, one of the company’s safety drivers fell asleep on a highway outside of Mountain View, California, and inadvertently disabled the car’s self-driving software, causing it to crash into the highway median (paywall). More recently, a Waymo driver manually swerved to avoid a car in Mountain View and hit a motorcyclist, sending that person to the hospital. Waymo has reportedly started installing “fatigue” cameras (paywall) aimed at its safety drivers’ faces to monitor them for drowsiness.

Waymo also remains cagey with the press. The company has only let a handful of its supposed 400-plus early riders speak to the press, and often declines to clarify when a car is in driverless mode vs. manual mode. The Arizona Republic was confronted by Waymo multiple times when it spent three days following the company’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans for more than 170 miles to see how they drove:

After following a Waymo with two people inside for 31 minutes and 10.9 miles in late November, the Waymo pulled up to the Chandler Police Department Desert Breeze Substation. 

Two police officers rushed toward our vehicle, shouting for us to stop. An unmarked, silver police truck pulled out of the substation and stopped in front of us.

The officers explained that Waymo had called out of concern their driver was being harassed, and that multiple Waymo drivers have experienced harassment and aggressive driving.

The line between abundant precaution and paranoia is a fine one, especially for tech companies that have mapped so much of the world and collected so much data on so many people that it must be truly unnerving not to know who is driving behind you for 30 minutes, and with what intentions.

This time last year.

Former Uber employees have gone into debt to hang onto shares they still can't sell

Other stuff.

How an Uber Whistleblower Tried to Stop Self-Driving Car Disaster. Could Uber go the way of Pan Am? London rejects claim it is working specifically with Uber. Taiwan’s AsiaYo raises $7 million for lodging platform. Vroom raises $146 million for used car market. Lyft-Motivate bike-share deal raising eyebrows in New York City. Startups Aren’t Cool Anymore. The case for electric scooter efficiency. Investors cool off on scooters. Lyft launches grocery access program with cheap rides to the grocery store. Instacart shoppers complain about pay cuts. Why Are We Still Waiting for Electric Buses? Formerly homeless man in SF now earning $22 an hour as scooter mechanic for Skip. Driverless snow plows. How the Cashless Economy Shuts Out the Poor. I Don’t Date Men Who Yell at Alexa.


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Send tips, comments, and prom invites to @alisongriswold on Twitter, or oversharingstuff@gmail.com.

Uber drivers will get minimum wage protection for the very first time

CXXXIV

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A living wage.

New York City voted this morning to enact a first-of-its-kind pay floor for ride-hail drivers, who as independent contractors aren’t protected by state or federal minimum wage laws. The pay standard approved by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission aims to raise drivers’ take-home pay to $17.22 an hour, and gross hourly earnings to $26.51, an increase of 44%. The new pay floor could raise annual wages for 70,000 professional drivers in the city by as much as $9,600. The rules take effect in 30 days.

The taxi commission’s actions came amid a devastating string of suicides by professional drivers in New York City. Eight drivers have died by suicide since late 2017: Roy Kim, a yellow cab owner and driver; Fausto Luna, an Uber driver; Abdul Saleh, a yellow cab lease driver; Yu Mein Kenny Chow, a yellow cab owner and driver; Nicanor Ochisor, a yellow taxi owner and driver; Danilo Corporan Castillo, a Bronx livery driver; Alfredo Perez, a Bronx livery driver; and Douglas Schifter, a black car driver. A common theme in each case was economic despair and a sense of betrayal by politicians and regulators who had allowed the yellow cab industry to be steamrolled by companies like Uber and Lyft. Castillo wrote his suicide note on the back of a taxi commission summons. Schifter shot himself in front of City Hall.

The pay standard approved by the taxi commission makes use of a clever formula devised by economists James Parrott and Michael Reich in a July report on driver earnings commissioned by the city. The key to the formula is a “utilization rate” that adjusts the amount drivers are paid per mile and per minute to account for how much work they are getting each hour. The simple brilliance of the formula is that it puts the burden on ride-hail companies to ensure their drivers are getting enough work. If too many cars are on the road, causing a driver’s utilization rate to fall below the number set by the taxi commission, then companies pay more to make up the difference. (For more on the pay formula, see my explainer in Quartz from July.)

The expected pay raise for drivers is even more dramatic than the one Parrott and Reich initially calculated after the Independent Drivers Guild and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance successfully lobbied the taxi commission to adjust its expense estimates for drivers, which they said were much higher than initially assumed. The pay formula includes “out of town rates” that pay drivers extra for miles they drive outside city limits. The taxi commission this morning also voted to reduce credit card processing fees for yellow and green cabs to $7 per shift from $11.

It is notable that New York City and its driver advocacy groups have succeeded in ushering in what promises to be a material improvement to driver livelihood while other efforts to do that—a driver union in Seattle, employment classifications lawsuits in the UK and around the US—remain mired in litigation. We talked a couple weeks ago about a research paper on gig work from the Center for Global Development that argued that “the focus should be on improving the working conditions of independent workers… rather than continuing to pretend that regular, formal, contracted employment is the way that people—particularly youth—want (or even should want) to earn a living.”

The driver pay floor passed by New York City is a version of this thinking. Half a decade of arguing over whether Uber drivers should be contractors or employees has done little to improve their lot. These pay rules don’t pretend to answer that question. Instead they ask a more fundamental one—are drivers able to earn a living?—and, having answered it with a resounding no, set about changing the circumstances. Every city in the US should be watching, and thinking about whether to follow.

“Leave it anywhere.”

Bird is being sued for trespass in a class action complaint filed Nov. 30 by John Lautemann, a property owner in Santa Monica. Lautemann is suing Bird for trespass and nuisance, alleging the dockless electric scooter company is harming property owners, “as e-scooters are flagrantly left on their property or in an unsafe manner on the sidewalks adjacent to their property.”

The crux of Lautemann’s allegations is that Bird is “prioritizes users’ convenience over property owners’ rights,” with a policy that encourages Bird users to pick up and drop off their scooter “anywhere.” The complaint includes a screenshot of the Bird app in Apple’s app store that advertises this policy, which I’ve circled in red below:

The complaint argues that Bird’s $2 billion valuation is premised on this leave-it-anywhere business model. This is (1) because the dockless model makes the service more convenient for consumers, who can end a ride at their destination rather than a parking hub several blocks away, and (2) because the costs of running a docked scooter service would be significantly higher, between the price of installing docking stations (tens of thousands of dollars a piece) and cost of redistributing scooters from empty ports to busy ones throughout the day.

While Bird is getting rich—or at least a rich valuation—off this setup, Lautemann’s attorneys argue that its haphazardly parked scooters are cluttering up roads and walkways. The lawyers allege these actions are “exposing property owners to potential legal liabilities and burdening property owners with removing Bird’s e-scooters from their property or adjacent sidewalks.” Bird wasn’t available to comment.

Lautemann claims Bird scooters have repeatedly been left on his property since this past summer, “in the area reserved for parking cars, near the entrance to the building, in the courtyard, and in the corridor.” The company “did not seek consent from Plaintiff before operating in the area.” It’s unclear whether Lautemann asked Bird to remove the scooters, and his lawyers didn’t reply to a request for comment. But, the complaint asserts, “Bird e-scooters are GPS-enabled, so Bird knows or should know that e-scooters have been placed on private property without obtaining consent.”

This is an interesting argument, with implications much broader than scooters on sidewalks. There are arguably lots of things that a technology startup or any company that collects data on its product and users “knows or should know,” where “should know” seems to mean “should know by virtue of having the data.” Bird knows or should know where scooters are left; Airbnb knows or should know when properties are rented illegally; Amazon knows or should know when banned products are sold on its site; Facebook knows or should know when fake news is distributed. The Bird complaint is, in that sense, a microcosm of the debate over what responsibilities technology companies have as custodians of our data. Electric scooters just make it a little more tangible, relatable, and easier to follow.

Cruise control.

Imagine you are a police officer patrolling a highway at around 3:30 in the morning. You notice a Tesla Model S cruising at 70 miles per hour and, upon pulling alongside it, are shocked to discover its driver is deeply and totally asleep. Do you:

(a) Take the next exit—this isn’t your problem

(b) Turn on your lights and siren, roll down all your windows, and blast Ariana Grande at full volume in hopes of rousing him

(c) Pull in front of the Tesla and force it to a stop

(d) Hang out of the windshield and bang on the Tesla driver’s window while steering the car with your foot, like Angelina Jolie in Wanted

The correct answer, according to state highway patrol officers who found themselves in this exact situation on Highway 101 in Redwood City, California, last month, is (c):

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