Ride-hail startup Juno seeks a buyer

CXLVII

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.


Selling out.

Juno, the New York ride-hail service that promised to treat drivers well, is seeking a buyer as it struggles to comply with local rules on driver pay. The company has been circulating a short pitch deck headlined “Unique opportunity to consolidate NYC market.” The document describes Juno as the no. 3 player in the New York City ride-hail market, with 14 million rides in 2018. It says Juno had a run rate of $270 million in sales and about $40 million in commissions from those sales as of January (presumably 12-month run rates, but the deck I reviewed doesn’t specify). Crain’s previously reported Juno was losing $1 million a day and for sale at a nominal price, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Juno was founded by Talmon Marco, an Israeli-American entrepreneur known for creating copies of hot internet companies and flipping them for a profit. His biggest success to date was Viber, a call and messaging app similar to Skype that sold to Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten for $900 million in February 2014. Juno got bought by competitor Gett, an Israeli ride-hail company that had struggled to gain a foothold in New York, in April 2017 for about $200 million. Gett also operates in Israel, Russia, and the UK. It now appears to be trying to unload Juno as it contemplates its own IPO and aims to be “operationally profitable” by October.

In New York, Juno claims it has been hurt by legislation to raise driver wages passed by the city in December and implemented by the local taxi regulator on Feb. 1. The pay rules put in place by the taxi commission are based on a so-called utilization rate and require ride-hail companies to pay drivers at least $17.22 an hour after expenses.

Juno and Lyft each sued the city over the pay rules and underlying utilization formula on Jan. 30. In an affidavit filed March 12 in New York State Supreme Court, Juno CEO Ronen Ben-David said the company had “incurred significant increased costs” to comply with the pay rules, but that both ridership and average hourly pay to drivers had declined. He said ridership had fallen 30% in February compared to January, while average hourly driver earnings were down 17% from the previous month.

In a separate affidavit also filed March 12, Lyft general manager for New York and New Jersey Ann Ferracane said Lyft raised ride prices to comply with the new pay rates and had since seen a “significant decrease” in the frequency of passengers requesting rides and total rides in the market. Ferracane previously estimated it would cost Lyft an additional $2.3 to $2.5 million per week to comply with the taxi commission rules, depending how they were implemented.

Juno withdrew its lawsuit last week; Lyft’s continued to a hearing on Monday, after which a judge denied the company’s request to temporarily halt the pay rules. The judge will rule in 30 days on whether to make that order permanent. Lyft maintains that the pay rules as implemented “hurt earning opportunities for drivers, and provide advantages to certain companies over others,” by which it means Uber, although smaller shared rides competitor Via has actually come out the best in all of this. Lyft believes that paying drivers higher rates, as mandated by the taxi commission, requires either that the company absorb enormous losses or raise rates on the passenger side, which depresses demand, which means less work and ultimately less money for drivers, undercutting the goal of the pay rules in the first place.

The logic isn’t wrong, but it’s also the consequence of a market in which demand was artificially inflated by cheap fares for riders and low, volatile earnings for drivers. The danger in any subsidy model is that when prices finally revert to the true cost of the service, some users might lose interest. Blue Apron, the meal-kit company struggling not to become a penny stock, knows this well; defunct food delivery services like Maple and SpoonRocket learned it the hard way. New York created the taxi medallion system to prevent taxi supply from exceeding demand, so that cabbies had consistent work, but over time pent-up demand from the medallions became the bigger problem, compounded by the decline of the subway system. Uber and Lyft gave this demand an outlet and fueled it with discounts for riders and bonuses for drivers. Eight years into the experiment, there are too many drivers chasing passengers who’ve grown accustomed to subsidies and don’t always want to pay the real cost of a ride, causing ridership to drop off when prices rise. Whose fault is that?

Home rentals.

Elsewhere in regulation, Airbnb and competitor HomeAway lost a big fight over a stringent short-term rentals regulation in Santa Monica, California.

Santa Monica’s law holds home rental companies liable for bookings that aren’t officially licensed by the city. Airbnb argued that violated the 1996 US Communications Decency Act (CDA), which says online services aren’t liable for content posted by their users. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the city that the law doesn’t run afoul of the CDA and puts only an “incidental” burden on the companies’ right to free speech, a decision that could have sweeping consequences:

The courts’ interpretation of the 1996 law and the protection it affords interactive online businesses has become a central theme in legal challenges to Airbnb and its rivals. Federal judges in San Francisco and Los Angeles have found that cities can hold the companies liable for processing transactions, as opposed to simply listing information from users. Yet in a separate case in Los Angeles, a judge concluded that Airbnb can’t be made responsible for renters breaking their leases when they list their apartments on the site.

“Even assuming that the ordinance would lead the platforms to voluntarily remove some advertisements for lawful rentals, there would not be a ‘severe limitation on the public’s access’ to lawful advertisements, especially considering the existence of alternative channels like Craigslist,” the judges wrote.

The decision could haunt Airbnb as it scrambles to clean up regulatory messes ahead of an initial public offering rumored for this year or early next. Airbnb and its peers in the home-rental space continue to face pushback for a business model that critics fear is turning housing intended for permanent residents into getaways for tourists. Several cities, including Airbnb’s hometown of San Francisco, have forced the company to ditch thousands of unregistered listings in an effort to bring the short-term rental market under control. If Airbnb can be held liable for unauthorized listings as the Ninth Circuit says, that opens the company up to even more risk in US cities where its home-rentals are contested—all the more reason for Airbnb to shore up the business with other stuff like hotel rooms and friendly buildings.

Scooters!

The results of an investigation into e-scooter injuries by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Austin Public Health Department are expected as soon as this spring, and honestly it’s about time. Scooter injuries have nothing on car crashes, of course, but they’re still landing plenty of people in the emergency room and have also led to a handful of deaths, most recently a 53-year-old man who crashed into a tree while riding a scooter in San Diego on March 13.

Over at Slate, Rachel Withers has an account of her own recent brush with death when she was hit by a car while riding an electric scooter in Mexico City:

It was on my way back from a morning taco de canasta, scooting legally in the bike lane, that I was broadsided by a white car that decided to turn right, through my lane, without looking, and drive off. I remember nothing except seeing the car at the last second, screaming, wondering if I was about to die, and really hoping I wouldn’t. I was stupidly lucky: I ended up with an ER visit, a concussion, a neck injury, and some nasty lacerations that remind me why knee and elbow pads exist, but that’s far less than what others have experienced (and I paid far less than what I would have paid for the ER visit in the U.S., too). A local woman riding behind me, also not wearing a helmet, stopped to help, and later wrote in an email that “you flew like a feather and you hit the road as a stone.” I don’t know what that means, but I do know one thing: I should have been wearing a fucking helmet.

Helmet-less-ness is a common thread among scooter injuries. Earlier this month, Jeff Taylor, a senior epidemiologist at Austin Public Health who is overseeing the scooter injuries study, told CNBC that health investigators had so far found less than 1% of riders wear helmets. The University of San Diego Medical Center, which has tracked scooter injuries admitted to its trauma center since September 2017, found 98% of patients weren’t wearing helmets, a little less than half had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit for intoxication, and a little more than half tested positive for drugs.

Some risk will always exist in riding upright on a narrow motorized strip of metal, but there are certain things cities and scooter companies could in theory do to make the experience safer. One option is to have stricter helmet policies, which brings with it the logistical challenge of whether companies that provide shared scooters (or bikes) should be responsible for distributing helmets to riders or otherwise making sure helmets are readily available. Bird to its credit does offer to send free helmets to all active riders (imagine what that does to its unit economics!), but seeing as at least half the appeal of the shared scooter model is convenience, it’s hard to imagine the typical rider lugging a helmet around with them all day.

Another possibility would be to lower the top speed at which scooters can travel, particularly in areas known to be busier or more dangerous. San Diego, for example, is may designate “slowdown zones” with a geofenced 8 mph speed limit for scooter riders. Then there is also the mysterious issue of scooters not braking properly, causing their riders to tumble off or, in the case of Nanette Bass in Arlington, Virginia, to jump off at 15 mph to avoid running into oncoming traffic. Maybe we should all take a page from these dudes and stick to using scooters to transport our stuff.

With great power.

Fast Company profiled Masayoshi Son, the “most powerful person in Silicon Valley.” Son is the chairman of Softbank, the Japanese tech conglomerate that has pumped enough money into US startups to be almost single-handedly responsible for our thriving herd of unicorns. Softbank led billion-dollar investments in Uber, Didi Chuxing, Oyo, Flexport, Fanatics, WeWork, and Nuro, to name a few. It’s currently contemplating an investment of $1 billion or more into Uber’s driverless car unit. I feel confident that if I stood on the right street corner in San Francisco for long enough, Softbank would also hand me a billion dollars.

Anyway here is Fast Company:

Computers, Son believes, will run the planet more intelligently than humans can. Futurist Ray Kurzweil coined the term “the singularity” to describe the moment when computers take over—and he predicts it will be here by 2040. The Vision Fund could move up this date. And Son is pouring unprecedented amounts of capital into the people and companies employing artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize every industry that affects our lives—from real estate to food to transportation.

When Son first detailed his vision, during an investor presentation in 2010—slides depicted chips implanted in brains, cloned animals, and a human hand giving a robotic one a valentine—there were plenty of scoffs. Many see this machine-driven future as frightening, or even dystopian. But Son believes that robots will make us healthier and happier.

Not creepy at all! Despite the rapid onset of the singularity, Son has a “300-year plan,” I assume because like any good billionaire he plans to live forever, at which point planning 300 years is about the same as getting Friday drinks on the calendar.

There is also a fun bit about WeWork:

WeWork’s potential lies in what might happen when you apply AI to the environment where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours. I head down one floor to meet Mark Tanner, a WeWork product manager, who shows me a proprietary software system that the company has built to manage the 335 locations it now operates around the world. He starts by pulling up an aerial view of the WeWork floor I had just visited. My movements, from the moment I stepped off the elevator, have been monitored and captured by a sophisticated system of sensors that live under tables, above couches, and so forth. It’s part of a pilot that WeWork is testing to explore how people move through their workday.

Also not creepy at all! The future is going to be great.

This time last year.

Oversharing took a break while I was in Singapore! Two years ago instead: Jeff Jones departure stuns Uber, Waymo’s case against Uber, and Airbnb eyes the skies

Other stuff.

Lyft seeks valuation of $21 billion to $23 billion in roadshow. Zoox seeks additional funding. Uber plans investor roadshow for April. Lyft lays off 50 bike and scooter workers. Lime lost $10,000 a month on bikes in Reno. Capital Bikeshare adds e-bikes for a $1 fee. Scooters descend on Austin for SXSW. Populus raises $3.1 million to help cities parse shared mobility. Brookline approves electric scooter pilot program. Instacart expands alcohol delivery to 14 states. Airbnb weighs investment in Indian hotel management startup Oyo. UK reviewing 184-year-old law that bans electric scooters. WeWork Labs launches incubator for food and agricultural startups. Walmart stumbles on grocery delivery to Manhattan. Amazon meal kits spotted at select Whole Foods. WeWork is watching you.


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 Juno acquisition offers to @alisongriswold on Twitter, or oversharingstuff@gmail.com.

Bird wants to franchise scooters

CXLVI

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.

Walt Hickey and I talked scooters, first- and last-mile transit, and the 2019 IPO rush for the weekend edition of his very excellent newsletter, Numlock News. Walt also gifted me my favorite-ever Secret Santa present, a theme song for Oversharing he commissioned from a freelancer on Fiverr.


Scooters!

Here is a story in The Verge on how Bird could spread the scooter gospel without going bankrupt. It’s called “Bird Platform,” a franchise-like setup through which Bird plans to sell scooters and license its technology to people outside the US and Europe. Those “entrepreneurs” would buy scooters from Bird and then pay it a 20% fee on each ride to use its technology. They would also shoulder all the costs of operating their mini-fleet of scooters, like charging and maintenance, which so far total around $2.75 per trip. In other words, Bird wants to Uber-ify scooters with the sort of “asset-light” business model that was all the rage in 2014.

“It came out of a brainstorm around how do we take the mission to the world,” says Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden of Bird Platform, who I can only imagine was so overcome at the mere thought of convincing folks to become entrepreneurs by buying scooters from Bird and then also paying it a fee to absorb all the operating costs that he forgot to fully formulate his sentence. Bird plans to test out this platform arrangement initially in New Zealand, Canada, and Latin America, and to all aspiring entrepreneurs there I can say only please read this first.

Passing upfront device and operating costs along to other people should help Bird’s unit economics which, as we’ve discussed, are quite bad. The lifespan of a scooter, for example, stops being Bird’s problem if the company simply, er, flips that Bird to someone else at cost. My guess is Bird is also hoping the platform setup helps it avoid burdensome regulatory costs, as it could argue the “entrepreneur” is the local operator and therefore responsible for things like a daily operating fee charged by the city.

Elsewhere in scooters, Wired reports that several companies—including Spin, Bird, and Lime—are starting to hire part- and full-time employees instead of independent contractors for their operational needs like charging and mechanical repairs in the US:

Spin is taking a different approach to scooter operations, at least in Los Angeles: Instead of contract workers, it's hiring employees to collect, charge, fix, and redeploy its scooters every day. Those who work more than 30 hours a week are entitled to full benefits: paid time off, health and dental insurance, and commuter benefits. They’ll get a W-2 form come tax season. If the experiment works in LA, where the company has hired 45 people so far, Spin says it expects to hire more workers in other markets as well.

Shifting to W-2 workers could make sense as scooter companies introduce vehicles with batteries that can be swapped out when depleted, instead of the entire device needing to be taken somewhere and charged. This swappable battery model is what a number of companies are moving toward, including Lyft, Bolt, and a company called VeoRide. When you can switch out the battery instead of the entire scooter, it makes sense to have a team of workers with a van full of fresh batteries traveling around a city and swapping them out as needed, and might be cheaper than paying contractors ad hoc. And since those battery-swapping workers might need to operate along pre-determined routes on fixed schedules, and receive some training, it’s logical to hire them as W-2 workers, with health and dental insurance.

Gigs.

Ten years is a good time to look back, so naturally both The Atlantic and Medium chose last week to publish retrospectives on the “sharing” economy.

The Atlantic built a spreadsheet of 105 Uber-for-X companies that received a collective $7.4 billion in venture capital, and tried to track what became of them. (Note that Uber and other ride-hail companies are excluded from this list.) It found about 18% were acquired, 52% are still in business, 26% vanished, and 4% achieved unicorn status, meaning a valuation of $1 billion or more. A few of these companies got started around 2010, but most of the Uber-inspired boom happened from 2012 to 2014, a golden era of venture-capital subsidies. These included six alcohol delivery startups, five laundry-washing services, and four on-demand massage providers.

Meanwhile, over at Medium, Susie Cagle declares the sharing economy “was always a scam,” and a “Trojan horse for a precarious economic future”:

For years, the sharing economy was pitched as an altruistic form of capitalism — an answer to consumption run amok. Why own your own car or power tools or copies of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up if each sat idle for most of its life? The sharing economy would let strangers around the world maximize the utility of every possession to the benefit of all.

This strikes me as a selective history. One reason we have such a hodgepodge of names for the “sharing” economy—gig economy, platform economy, networked economy, on-demand economy, peer economy, Uber economy, collaborative economy, etc.—is because people realized fairly fast that “sharing” was a misnomer for what was really going on. Even the government figured this out and in 2016 proposed rebranding these companies as “digital matching firms.” Arun Sundararajan, a professor at NYU Stern who wrote a book on the sharing economy, favors the phrase “crowd-based capitalism.” In the beginning there were a few true sharing platforms, like Couchsurfing, but it quickly became apparent that most were transactional. Cagle seems mad the “sharing” economy didn’t live up to the ideals preached by its biggest acolytes, but does anything ever?

Back at The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal puts it better:

The basic economics of moving human beings and stuff around the physical world at the touch of a button is not an obviously profitable enterprise. And even when venture capitalists are willing to buy growth for these companies, they still tend to pay their workers close to minimum wage—especially after considering expenses—and generally don’t provide the nominal security of an actual job.

The problem isn’t that the “sharing” economy didn’t share, it’s that it was a massive experiment in convenience made possible by smartphones, venture capital, and contract labor from regular people who tended to get screwed over when the venture funding went away and the company realized it didn’t have a sustainable business.

Also in retrospection, Uber will pay $20 million to settle a worker classification lawsuit that once seemed like the greatest challenge to its business model. The suit, which at one point encompassed as many as 385,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts, alleged that drivers had been misclassified as independent contractors when they were in fact employees. The chance that drivers could be deemed employees, forcing Uber to pay them benefits and a minimum wage, has hung over the company even as it has pushed toward an initial public offering. The settlement still requires approval by a judge (the judge tossed a previous $100 million settlement). It seems safe to say Uber will be glad to have this one wrapped up.

Deals.

Airbnb paid more than $400 million to acquire HotelTonight, a site that curates listings from boutique hotels and the occasional hotel chain. HotelTonight is popular among the millennial crowd for its mobile app, which offers “ephemeral” deals designed to help travelers avoid decision paralysis. It makes money by taking a cut of bookings generated through its site.

My coworker Rosie Spinks, who has written a good bit about HotelTonight, is interested in what the acquisition will do for Airbnb’s messy booking experience:

HotelTonight is also quite different from Airbnb’s booking experience—which, in step with the company’s impressive and dizzying transformation, has become increasingly complex. Once you get past whether you want to book a restaurant, “experience,” or accommodation, and you’ve entered your dates, destination, and number of travelers, you are then presented with four different categories for “home type” (entire place, private room, hotel room, shared room) and then, in another set of filters a couple clicks away, 15 different property types to choose from (ranging from boutique hotels and chalets to lofts and cabins). One of the perils of providing an “end to end” travel experience, it seems, is that you need the booking experience to keep up with it.

As someone who has personally become overwhelmed browsing inventory on Airbnb, I second this description. Airbnb is working to add more professional and curated listings—more hotel-like, you might say—to its site before it goes public. Such listings make it easier for customers with last-minute travel plans, which can be difficult for Airbnb hosts renting out a home or spare room to accommodate. They could also be easier to navigate than the dizzying array of home listings where you need to read a critical mass of guest reviews before feeling confident enough to book. In January, Airbnb said the number of rooms available on its site that hosts classified as hotels, bed and breakfasts, hostels, or resorts increased 152% over the previous year, though it didn’t provide the underlying numbers on that inventory.

The deal could reassure investors as Airbnb eyes a public offering. Risks to Airbnb’s business likely include competition from major online travel booking platforms like Expedia and Booking.com (Airbnb recently bragged that it had more listings than Booking.com, at 6 million compared to 5.7 million). The company also continues to do battle with cities over how its short-term home rentals should be regulated, putting the business at risk in some of its biggest and more important markets, like New York City, Paris, and Barcelona.

Meals.

Blue Apron might be a penny stock, but in-store meal kits are a boon to groceries, according to a recent survey by Nielsen. The market-research firm reports that 14.3 million US households purchased meal kits in the second half of 2018, up 36% from the same period in 2017. Nielsen counted 187 new meal kits as being added to retail stores during 2018, and said in-store sales of meal kits totaled $93 million for the year. This “meal kit mania” remains limited to wealthy consumers with income of $100,000 a year or more. Online, they are declining in popularity among middle income consumers ($50,000 to $70,000) who seem to have decided that they don’t want to pay a premium to get their recipe ingredients shipped together in a box. Meal kits are growing fastest among those ages 35 to 44, and after that with millennials.

Also popular among consumers is restaurant and grocery delivery, which remains a hellish endeavor for restaurants and grocers. The Wall Street Journal reports that the average cost of delivering an order for a supermarket is $10, but most stores recoup only $8 from customers because they fear alienating shoppers with higher fees. Only 1% of nearly 3,000 consumers surveyed by consulting firm Capgemini said they would pay the full cost of grocery delivery, a statistic that is both shocking and unsurprising.

Why unsurprising? Years of venture-capital spending on the food delivery space, plus Amazon’s free Prime shipping, have taught consumers to expect stuff—including meals and groceries—to be delivered practically for free at the touch of a button. That is hardly realistic. Recall Alexis Madrigal on the basic economics of moving stuff around the physical world not being an obviously profitable enterprise; recall Shawn Cook and his $94 cough medicine; recall why Maple took away the cookies. But once consumers expect to pay very little, it can be very hard to get them to pay more.

The problem isn’t limited to boutique grocers or mom-and-pop restaurants or Travis Kalanick’s cloud kitchens. Panera, Kroger, Target, and Walmart are all feeling financial pressure from their delivery efforts. Amazon has yet to crack it. Instacart, the leading grocery delivery startup in the US, “continues to lose money on orders, according to people familiar with the metrics,” the Journal reported. Let me repeat that: Instacarta company founded in 2012 that has raised $2 billion in financing, is valued at nearly $8 billion, and may go public this year—still loses money on the basic thing it does.

This time last year.

Oversharing took a break while I was in Singapore! Two years ago instead: Travis apologizes, Uber #greyballs, and absurd receipts from Postmates and Instacart

Other stuff.

Grab Confirms $1.46 Billion Investment from Softbank’s Vision Fund. Softbank launches $5 billion fund for Latin American tech. Softbank plans $500 million fund for early-stage investments. Remix raises $15 million to help cities plan transit. Court drops Paris lawsuit against Airbnb for illegal listings. Mobike retreats to China. Ritual raises $25 million for subscription vitamins for women. Italian co-working startup raises €44 million. “Don’t worry about making money right now.” Lyft-Udacity scholarships. Kakao launches e-bike sharing in South Korea. Amazon spent $14.2 million on lobbying in 2018. Walmart leads at grocery pickup. Move Fast and Build Solidarity. Cannabis companies see older women as a growing customer base. Boeing CEO predicts the Jetsons in a decade. Austin builds a mini Silicon Valley. Bolt nabs Bolt. “Capped profit.” Silicon Valley wants to build a monument to itself. How Sim City Inspired a Generation of City Planners.


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 scooter franchise agreements to @alisongriswold on Twitter, or oversharingstuff@gmail.com.

Lyft warns it may never make any money

CXLV

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


Lyft off.

Congratulations to Lyft for kicking off our 2019 IPO party! The company’s registration statement is here. It is very pink.

Unlike Uber, which has shared its financials with investors and select media for the last several years, Lyft has widely disclosed relatively little financial information until now. Delving into it gives us a better sense of how Lyft and Uber stack up.

Bookings (defined by Lyft as total value of rides and other revenue, such as shared scooter and bike fees, but not including tips, tolls, sales tax, and other parts of bookings that are passed straight from the customer to the driver or government)

Revenue (portion of bookings Lyft takes in service fees and commissions; roughly the share of sales left after paying out regular wages to drivers)

Net profit (spoiler, it’s a loss)

Meanwhile in risk factors, Lyft warned it has never made any money and can’t promise it ever will, a disclaimer popularized by companies like Twitter, Square, Etsy, Box, Dropbox, Snap, Blue Apron, Shopify, Twilio, Spotify, and of course the patron saint of all profitless companies, Amazon. As a writer on the internet, I guarantee you that any time you critique a company for being unprofitable, someone will pop up somewhere else on the internet to inform you that your analysis is sadly misinformed, and has missed that Amazon also was not profitable, and would you really bet against Amazon, because that seems awfully stupid. My counterpoint to this is that it seems statistically unlikely that every new unprofitable company will become the Amazon of its era, and in the ride-hail space in particular I would place my bets on Uber before Lyft, but sure, you never know, stranger things have happened.

Elsewhere in Lyft IPO coverage:

Scooters!

An updated version of last week’s Louisville scooter analysis is on Quartz. After consulting with resident Quartz data expert Dan Kopf, I limited the analysis to the 129 scooter IDs that first appeared in August 2018—the initial cohort of Birds, you could say, as Lime didn’t start operating in Louisville until November). Also, after Louisville chief data officer Michael Schnuerle said he wasn’t sure how scooter IDs were assigned, I asked Bird to share how it defined the ID number. Bird declined. With that in mind, here are the updated Louisville findings:

  • Average scooter lifespan was 28.8 days

  • Five of the 129 initial-cohort scooters disappeared the same day they went into service (a lifespan of “0” days)

  • The scooter with the longest lifespan made it 112 days, last appearing in the data on Nov. 29

  • Only seven of 129 scooters lasted more than 60 days

We also added some caveats, which I think are worth repeating here:

It’s possible the scooters Bird launched with in Louisville were already worn down from use elsewhere. It’s possible that after about a month Bird removed scooters from circulation in Louisville and put them in another city. It’s possible that if a scooter receives significant repairs, it’s put back into the market with a new ID number. It’s possible that our hero 112-day scooter is still out there somewhere! We don’t know, and the people who do aren’t sharing the information.

All that said, it’s also possible that the average scooter really was rendered useless after 28.8 days. As I said last week, the initial devices were clearly not designed for heavy shared use. Another factor we didn’t discuss last week is vandalism, which has plagued shared electric scooters across the US since they began rolling out. Where there are scooters, there are also people who will light them on fire, toss them into lakes and oceans, or hang them in trees, all surefire ways to shorten their lives. You can witness much of this on “birdgraveyard,” an Instagram account that documents scooter “deaths” and has nearly 80,000 followers. Scooter advocates argue these “bad actors” will eventually get bored, but as anyone who has walked around a city recently could attest, people never seem to tire of removing the front wheel from a bike.

Elsewhere in scooternomics, Nate Apathy, a PhD student in health policy and management at Indiana University, ran the numbers on Bird and Lime in Indianapolis. The city approved rules for dockless vehicles in July 2018 after pulling hundreds of Bird and Lime scooters that launched without permission off the streets in June. Those rules included an upfront operating fee of $15,000 per company, plus a daily operating charge of $1 per device, with an initial allocation of 1,500 scooters each.

Apathy initially estimated the average scooter lifespan in Indianapolis at 42 days, 70 miles, and 56 rides. That was more days, fewer miles, and fewer rides than in Louisville. The average scooter in Indianapolis did slightly more rides per day than in Louisville, but with a slightly shorter trip duration, for less revenue per scooter overall. After we chatted he re-ran it for scooters with an “end” date before Dec. 1, 2018, and found the average lifespan dropped to 31 days. Apathy made a table nicely summarizing the first go at these statistics, which I’m copying below.

Unemployed.

Uber must make unemployment payments to three former New York drivers after withdrawing an appeal of a ruling by the state Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board in early February, making the decision final after years of rulings and appeals. The board in July 2018 found the three drivers to be employees for the purposes of unemployment insurance benefits. In other words, even though Uber hired these drivers as independent contractors, the state found they were more akin to employees in this specific context.

The board in particular looked at Uber’s control over drivers, considering how the company dispatched drivers through its app, set fare rates and collects fares from passengers, maintained a five-star rating system and deactivated drivers below a certain threshold, and monitored drivers on breaking, speed, and routes.

“Although Uber contends that it is merely a technology platform that connects Riders to Drivers, its business is similar in many respects to other more traditional car service companies,” the ruling states. “Here, the technology merely replaces much of the duties of an employee-dispatcher to dispatch a trip request solely to the nearest Driver who may accept the dispatched assignment.”

Brooklyn Legal Services and New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which backed the three drivers in the case, hailed the verdict as a “huge victory” for Uber drivers in New York state and “an amazing precedent” for professional drivers seeking unemployment benefits across the US. The two groups are now hoping the state department of labor makes good on a promise to audit Uber to determine whether the company owes unemployment contributions for other “similarly situated” drivers. It’s unclear if and when the state labor department would conduct such an audit and how long it would take, much less what it would find.

CultureOS.

One thing I admire tremendously about The We Company, formerly WeWork, is its ability to sell its narrative. Here, for instance, is a recent New York Times Magazine profile of We, titled “The rise of the WeWorking class.” It is equal parts indulgent descriptions (“the neon and the daybeds and the fiddle-leaf figs, the wallpaper and the playlists and the typefaces”) and pseudo-philosophical commentary (“solidarity among colleagues can give strength and definition to any individual employee’s sense of independence”), a genre We and its “unusually thoughtful and candid public-relations representatives” (also a description from the Times piece) have mastered getting into print, journalists being unable to resist the literary flourishes that come with writing about the modern workplace as high art. The story won’t tell you much you don’t already know, but it contains some colorful moments, for instance:

When I interviewed [WeWork co-founder Miguel] McKelvey not long after the Summit, he had a very fuzzy time trying to explain the meaning of the “eight pillars” of its CultureOS and the relationships among them. But when he noticed that the P.R. representative happened to be carrying a single-use plastic water bottle, he admonished her to be mindful of her own consumption. 

Read: disposable plastic water bottles, like meat, are unwelcome at We, a company that cares deeply about sustainability and the environment, values that also happen to be of great importance to the modern urban consumer.

Oh, but wait:

WeWork Cos. chief Adam Neumann, an avid surfer, took the company jet to Hawaii over the December holidays and hit the waves with a surfing legend he admires, Laird Hamilton.

A private jet?

Raised on a communal kibbutz in Israel, Mr. Neumann has long shown a zeal for private jets. WeWork used to lease or charter jets for its founder and chief executive, but that changed last year when it bought a top-of-the-line Gulfstream G650, according to people familiar with the matter. That model jet sells for more than $60 million. Flight records show the jet was in Hawaii in late December.

A zeal for private jets!

That is from The Wall Street Journal, reporting that We recently led a $32 million investment in Laird Superfood, a natural foods business run by Hamilton. The private jet wasn’t really a focus of the story, but the image of Neumann jetting off to surf with his buddy in Hawaii does make a nice foil to his co-founder chiding We’s unusually thoughtful and candid rep for a single-use plastic water bottle, doesn’t it? According to the Journal, the Laird Superfood investment also isn’t the first time Neumann has put We’s time and resources behind his hobbies and personal interests:

Before the recent rebranding, WeWork in 2016 made an early investment beyond offices in Wavegarden, a Spanish company that makes pools with surfing waves. Mr. Neumann in the summers often hits the waves on Long Island before arriving at work, and he has said surfing creates community, the value he says is central to WeWork, say people who have worked with him.

Other investments made at Neumann’s suggestion include energy-drink and coffee-creamer company Kitu Life Inc., and WeGrow, a private elementary school in Manhattan with tuition of up to $42,000 a year, started in haste after Neumann and his wife Rebekah became dissatisfied with schooling options for their five children.

It is truly unclear what the unifying thesis is, other than stuff the Neumanns are passionate about and stuff they can pass off as a business plan. But that has always been the tension at We: what involves passion and what generates revenue. The core business had both, with, yes, its beer on tap and entrepreneurial hot deskers, but now We is trying to compete with office space giants and attract more traditional, blue-chip clients, while also preserving the ethos that made it a Silicon Valley star, and very rich in venture capital funding. And so asked by the Times whether We would contract with a client like Philip Morris, We demurred (culture! ethos!), before talking up its offerings for mid-sized businesses to Reuters for a story a few days later.

This time last year.

What happened with that crazy MIT study on Uber driver earnings

Other stuff.

Uber in advanced talks to buy rival Careem. Voi Technology raises $30 million for e-scooter rentals in Europe. German startup FlixBus buys rival Eurolines. Trustpilot raises $55 million for online reviews. Pittsburgh signs new guidelines on autonomous vehicle testing. Utah clears way for driverless vehicles. Munchery bankruptcy filing leaves little for vendors and gift-card holders. Airbnb says it has more listings than Booking.com. Uber expands rewards program to all US cities. The weirdest items left in Ubers. Uber driver stabbed to death in the Bronx. Uber drivers sue London mayor, allege racial discrimination with congestion fees. Taxi firm in Hong Kong denounced for intended partnership with Uber. Melbourne man admits to choking Airbnb guest to death over unpaid $210 bill.


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Send tips, comments, and IPO thoughts to @alisongriswold on Twitter, or oversharingstuff@gmail.com.

Shared scooters don't last long

CXLIV

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Scooters!

They do not last long!

I took a look at data on scooter rides in Louisville, Kentucky, shared online as part of the city’s open data policy. The latest data is available here. The data set I used was older and included monthly data on scooter trips from August through December. It also included a unique “ID” for each scooter, a detail that was key to my analysis and has been stripped out of subsequent data sets published by Louisville. The data doesn’t differentiate between Bird and Lime, but as Bird started operations in August 2018 and Lime that November, you can assume it skews toward Bird.

With that preamble, here are some things I found:

  • The average lifespan of a scooter in Louisville from August to December was 28 days

  • Median lifespan was 23 days

  • If you stripped out scooter IDs that first appeared in December, to focus on older vehicles, the average lifespan increased slightly to 32 days and the median lifespan to 28 days

  • Still stripping out scooter IDs that started in December, the median scooter took 70 trips over 85 miles

Scooter lifespan is a key factor in scooter unit economics, as you may recall. The more trips and miles a single scooter can cover, the better for shared scooter companies, which have to recoup the cost of each vehicle before they can start making any money. In October, The Information reported that Bird was spending $551 per scooter with a goal of reducing that cost to $360. At the time, I said that meant Bird needed five rides a day on a $551 scooter for 5.25 months just to recoup the initial cost.

The picture painted by the Louisville data is even worse. Transit enthusiast Nathan Stevens also analyzed the Louisville data for Aug. 9 through Nov. 30, and I’m going to pull in some of what he found to back out scooter economics in Louisville:

Utilization

  • 663 scooters in circulation

  • The average trip was 1.63 miles

  • The average trip lasted 18 minutes

  • The average scooter did 3.49 rides per day

Revenue

  • Both Bird and Lime charge $1 to unlock a scooter and $0.15 per minute

  • At 18 minutes, the average trip generated $3.70 in revenue (note that this, based on three months of data in Louisville is nearly identical to the $3.65 in revenue per ride Bird reportedly told investors it was averaging as of June)

  • At 3.49 rides per day, the average scooter generated $12.91 in revenue per day

General costs, based on reporting by The Information

  • Bird spent $1.72 per ride on charging costs

  • It spent another $0.51 per ride, on average, on repairs

  • Credit card fees cost $0.41 per ride

  • Customer support adds $0.06 per ride

  • Insurance is $0.05 per ride

Louisville-specific costs, from dockless vehicle policy (pdf)

  • $2,000 for a probationary license (required for the first six months of operation)

  • Additional $1,000 to receive full operating license

  • Annual $50 fee per dockless vehicle

  • Daily $1 fee per dockless vehicle

  • $100 fee per designated group parking area

Louisville daily scooter economics

  • A scooter generates $3.70 in revenue per ride

  • Deducting per-ride costs of charging, repairs, credit card fees, customer support, and insurance, leaves $0.95 per ride

  • Multiplied by 3.49 rides per day is $3.32 in net revenue per scooter per day

  • Minus the $1 daily fee leaves $2.32

Still with me? Ok. So, our scooter company walks away with $2.32 in revenue per day from the average scooter in Louisville. As we said at the beginning, Louisville data indicates that the average scooter was around for between 28 and 32 days. That means the typical scooter generated something like $65 to $75 in revenue for the company after most operating costs over its lifetime.

You see where I’m going with this. Let’s be generous and say the company paid $360 for each scooter, as Bird aims to. At the rates calculated above, that company only recoups $65 to $75 on the cost of each scooter—in other words, it loses $295 to $285 per scooter. That doesn’t even include the $50 annual fee per dockless vehicle, the $3,000 in combined licensing fees, or the $100 fee for each designated parking area. Plug in the $551 sticker price for a scooter, and the losses are even greater.

Bad as these numbers are, they maybe shouldn’t be surprising. The electric scooters Bird deployed for shared commercial use, at least initially, were rebranded Xiaomi devices intended for use by a single owner with a weight limit of 200 pounds. The average American man weighs 197.9 pounds and the average woman 170.6 lbs. These scooters were also designed to be used in mild weather and on flat surfaces. They were absolutely not designed to be ridden multiple times a day in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of terrain by Americans who, on average, are barely under the scooter weight limit before you adjust for clothes and any baggage (physical, not emotional) they might be carrying. No doubt facing such inconvenient truths, Bird in October unveiled an electric scooter designed with Okai specifically for sharing. It will require great leaps in durability and far cheaper prices for scooters to pay for themselves.

Asked about the Louisville data, a Bird spokeswoman disputed the notion that the typical scooter last only 28 days. “We have a dynamic fleet, move vehicles around, etc.,” she said. “Just because it looks like it was in Louisville for 28 days does not mean that was its entire lifespan.” Asked where scooters taken out of circulation in Louisville would be moved to—or what other cities Bird operates in near Louisville—she didn’t respond. I will assume they simply fly away.

More scooters!

Consider this a PSA:

Lime, one of the world’s largest electric scooter companies, is urging riders to be extra cautious while operating its devices because of a technical “bug” that can cause “sudden excessive braking during use,” the company announced in a statement over the weekend.

The company said testing has revealed that the sudden braking usually arises when scooters are being ridden downhill at top speed. The danger prompted Lime to issue remote updates aimed at fixing the glitch, which have led to a reduction in the number of braking incidents, the company said.

Surely that could never be a problem in a city like San Francisco which is totally, completely, and gloriously flat. Braking issues have also been reported in Switzerland and New Zealand. Lime claims the problem has affected less than 0.0045% of Lime rides, and said it could “work to mitigate but cannot entirely eliminate” such risks. True, you can never eliminate any risk totally, but imagine how this would be handled if the defect were discovered in a car. The automaker would issue a recall encouraging people to bring in their vehicles and get them fixed! Lime in theory has even more responsibility because it owns the scooters, not the users. Being told there’s a 0.0045% chance that your shared electric scooter could spontaneously lock and toss you off is like being informed your smartphone has a tiny probability of combusting. The risk is minuscule, but perhaps one you would rather not take.

Deals.

As Lyft and Uber gear up for initial public offerings, with Lyft expected to make its S-1 public sometime this week, discounts are back in style. Both ride-hail companies are ramping up their rider promotions as they vie for market share in the final stretch before an IPO. Lyft made the first move, The Information reported, and increased its US market share by around 4 percentage points.

It is funny how history repeats itself. Subsidies were also big when Uber and Lyft were first jockeying for control of the US market because more riders meant a better growth story and more dollars from investors. No matter that they were practically setting money on fire, they had hockey stick growth! Investors pledged all the dollars!

This time around, the IPO makes everything a bit more complicated (you might call it a complexifier). That’s because once Lyft goes public, it will no longer be able to control what information gets out there, like that its market share is approaching 40%, and instead will have to break out detailed financials in quarterly and annual reports.

(As a side note, Lyft appears to be benefiting from a game of telephone where an ambiguous fact reported by Reuters a few weeks ago—that “Lyft plans to tell investors its U.S. market share is approaching 40 percent”—has been repeated and aggregated and re-repeated and re-aggregated enough times to take on new life as an unqualified fact, with PitchBook writing in an analyst note today that Lyft’s growth is “robust” and it “recently achieved 40% market share in the US.”)

Rider sweeteners may look good now when all you hear about is market share, but freebies don’t come cheaply and the spending is sure to make a dent on Lyft’s bottom line. The company is likely aiming to stay ahead of those results by listing on the Nasdaq in late March, as the Wall Street Journal reported it plans to, long before first quarter numbers are due.

As of January, data analytics firm Second Measure, which analyzes anonymized purchases, took a somewhat more conservative view of Lyft’s US ride-hail market share, estimating it at 29% in terms of sales, compared to 69% for Uber. That said, momentum over the last several years has been in Lyft’s favor, with Lyft growing its share of sales while Uber’s share has declined.

If my inbox is any indicator, Uber isn’t sitting idle while Lyft doles out discounts. In the last week, Uber has emailed me twice to offer 50% off my next 10 rides, as well as 30% of 10 UberX rides. Lyft offered me 10% off 10 weekday rides earlier this month; my editor, who lives in San Francisco, recently noted that he was being “extra aggressively” pushed a Lyft promo for 25% off 10 weekday rides.

Stay tuned for Lyft’s public S-1 filing to kick off a very crowded and not-at-all-exclusive 2019 🎉 IPO party 🎉.

Extreme fasting.

“Eating is so last season; these days all the cool kids fast,” begins this great critique of “extreme fasting” in Silicon Valley by Arwa Mahdawi at the Guardian:

Starving yourself and constructing rigid rules and rituals around when and how you eat is generally seen as a problem when it’s teenage girls doing it; when tech bros do it, it’s treated very differently. Indeed, in many ways it feels like Silicon Valley is inadvertently rebranding eating disorders.

As Mahdawi notes, fasting and “biohacking” are popular in Silicon Valley, where the human body exists first to be optimized. Fasting acolytes insist their minds are clearer after a sustained period of no food, and that our modern lifestyle of three meals a day is complicated and excessive. The newest trapping of luxury is to be able to afford to starve yourself. I once attended a fancy dinner hosted by a venture-capital firm where a VC sitting near me lavished praise on fasting and described himself as “addicted” to his alternate fasting days, all while tucking into an avocado crab salad and a silver tray of oysters served on ice.

This time last year.

Uber and Lyft worsen congestion, Instacart's tipping bug, “mass destruction” of bike-share in France

Other stuff.

DoorDash raises $40 million at $7.1 billion valuation. Daimler, BMW form $1.1 billion partnership to take on Uber. Uber Eats could sell India business to rival Swiggy. Boxed prepares for a big 2019. ViaVan will launch on-demand bus service in London. Airbnb growing fastest in emerging markets. On-demand logistics startup Lalamove raises $300 million. Real-estate buying site Casavo raises $7.9 million. Jump bikes more popular than Uber in Sacramento. London cabbies lose legal challenge to Uber. Lyft adds Shared Saver. Lyft all in on Amazon Web Services. De Blasio changes mind, endorses congestion pricing. DoorDash cyclist killed in LA hit-and-run. Pinterest files confidentially for IPO. Cara Delevingne spends $25,000 on Postmates. Uber and Lyft Are Officially Part of the Healthcare System. Finance blogger dreams up car-free community in Colorado. Illegal Airbnb empire. The Trauma Floor. Barnacle bike. All of a Sudden, Flying From LA to New York Is Taking Less Than Four Hours.


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 barnacled bikes to @alisongriswold on Twitter, or oversharingstuff@gmail.com.

What Uber didn't share in its latest quarterly report

CXLIII


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.


Hidden figures.

Through the second quarter of 2018, ended June 30, Uber broke out driver earnings. These numbers were most recently disclosed in a “contra revenue” section of Uber’s income statements. And they were interesting! The company split driver pay into two categories: “net partner earnings” and “partner incentives and misc. payments.” The driver portions of Uber’s reports showed clearly why ride-hailing is such a low-margin business, and why the company would be so eager to move to a driverless model, and keep a greater share of bookings for itself.

But then in the third quarter of 2018, ended Sept. 30, Uber removed its contra revenue section and stopped breaking out driver earnings and incentives. Uber said at the time that it made changes to its third-quarter reporting, including to stop breaking out contra revenue line items, as it moved toward GAAP presentation best practices. They remained absent from the fourth-quarter results Uber shared with investors on Feb. 14 and distributed more widely the next day. It will be interesting whether the US Securities and Exchange Commission feels like these line items on driver wages, which Uber broke out semi-publicly for at least six quarters, need to be disclosed in the company’s IPO prospectus and quarterly reports once it goes public.

Whether these line items matter probably depends on who you ask. You could argue, for example, that even without the contra revenue breakout you can still estimate the share of bookings Uber passes to drivers by deducting revenue the company books from gross bookings. For an investor, that might be all that matters. On the other hand, these numbers could be instructive for drivers seeking more insight into their pay. In the first quarter of 2018, for instance, gross bookings rose 55% from the same period the previous year to $11.3 billion, but overall driver earnings increased by less, 49%, to $8.3 billion. Contra revenue line items also used to tell us how much Uber spent on promotions for riders, which fell on a year-over-year basis in each of the first two quarters of 2018.

The company’s latest results, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, showed slowing growth in both gross bookings and revenue, or what I like to call the upside-down hockey stick:

As Uber’s growth slows, Lyft is pitching investors on its rapid US growth ahead of a public offering expected in the first half of this year, Reuters reported. Lyft plans to tell investors it is approaching 40% market share in the US and has reportedly prepped earnings metrics to highlight this story. These include growth in bookings, total rides per passenger, commission earned from drivers, and the strength of its shared rides service. Not to be outmaneuvered, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told investors on a call on Feb. 14 that the global Eats food delivery business could soon surpass Lyft in terms of total bookings, a source familiar with the call said.

Criminal incompetence.

I am intrigued by criminals and petty thieves who use shared transit to facilitate their getaways. December: A man in Baltimore stole a cellphone at gunpoint and fled on a Bird electric scooter; a 19-year-old robbed a bank in downtown Austin and hopped on one of Uber’s Jump e-scooters to make his getaway. September: A burglar in Indianapolis used a Bird scooter to make off with a man’s wallet, laptop, and backpack. Earlier this month: A bank robber in a Chicago suburb took a Lyft to the bank, had it wait outside while he did the robbery, and then took the same car to O’Hare airport.

Ride-hail and scooter companies want America using personal cars less, and you know the idea has gone mainstream when even the urban bank robber is choosing shared transit over a private vehicle. You can see how it might appeal to the inexperienced criminal: you do the deed and then ride off into anonymity on an electric scooter, a Butch Cassidy for our modern era of micro-mobility. Except it doesn’t really work that way:

Turning a rental scooter on, as regular users know, requires a rider to use an app that contains their phone number, email address and credit card information. You’ll probably be unsurprised to learn that these are the kinds of personal details that make it easy for police to track down criminals.

Police arrested Luca Mangiarano, 19, and charged him with robbery by threat about a month after his alleged crime in Austin. Detectives, after seeing a Jump scooter used as a getaway vehicle in surveillance footage, sent Uber a search warrant requesting geolocation data and user information. The company provided Mangiarano’s phone number, email address, and credit card number. “This was a learning experience for me and the robbery unit,” Austin police detective Jason Chiappardi told the Washington Post. “We had never had a scooter involved in a robbery.”

It took police less than five hours to find and arrest Jonathan Decorah, 43, after he allegedly robbed a bank in a Chicago suburb of nearly $6,000. Decorah took a Lyft to the Ben Franklin Bank of Illinois around 9:30am on Feb. 9. The Lyft, a white car with a ride-sharing sticker, waited outside while Decorah robbed the bank—it’s unclear if the driver knew what was going on—and then took him to the airport after he hopped back in and updated his trip destination to the United Airlines terminal at O’Hare. On the way, Decorah reportedly asked if there were any Chase banks they could stop at. The driver said no.

Oh and then there is this guy:

ROCHELLE PARK, NJ (Gray News) - A man attempting to burgle a New Jersey home fled when he woke the victims, but he didn't make it far before accidentally getting into a police car instead of the Lyft he had ordered.

These stories border on the absurd, and yet they really happened! Did Mangiarano think Jump wasn’t using the same software he rented the scooter with to track his location? Did Decorah imagine Lyft could be his very own Baby Driver? Shared rides and scooters create an illusion of stealth and anonymity—you may never see the same driver or scooter again—but never forget that they are tracking you. (Related: company-issued Fitbits.) If all our bank robbers traded private vehicles for ride-hail and shared electric scooters, we might never have trouble catching a thief again.

Bounty-less bug hunters.

In 2017, the concept of “emotional labor” went mildly viral alongside #MeToo. Emotional labor is routine unpaid and unrecognized work, often invisible, and often borne by women. It could be reminding a family member to send a birthday card, nudging a coworker for the third time to schedule a meeting, or being relentlessly optimistic. Writing in Harper Bazaar, Gemma Hartley recalled a time she asked her husband to find a house-cleaning service as a Mother’s Day present:

The gift, for me, was not so much in the cleaning itself but the fact that for once I would not be in charge of the household office work. I would not have to make the calls, get multiple quotes, research and vet each service, arrange payment and schedule the appointment. The real gift I wanted was to be relieved of the emotional labor of a single task that had been nagging at the back of my mind. The clean house would simply be a bonus.

Her husband didn’t do it. He washed the bathroom floors himself, and became hurt and annoyed when Hartley didn’t sufficiently praise his handiwork.

I mention this because emotional labor is a problem in the gig economy too:

Unlike the freelance hackers who sometimes earn real money from reporting security vulnerabilities to tech companies, gig workers who spend hours on the phone with customer service to report glitches on platforms aren’t compensated for their time. The customer support teams that are supposed to facilitate internal communication and quality assurance are often call center workers following scripts, with heavy workloads and little ability to actually resolve the daily issues that gig workers encounter.

“We do troubleshooting for these platforms, and we don’t get compensated for it at all,” Vanessa Bain, an Instacart worker in San Francisco, told BuzzFeed.

One of the realities of platform-mediated work is that companies and their algorithms have almost all of the power, and individual workers have very little. Traditionally workers might address this skewed dynamic through collective bargaining, but because gig companies tend to hire workers as independent contractors, they don’t share the right to form a union afforded to traditional employees. The Independent Drivers Guild in New York City, a group that represents ride-hail drivers but is not a formal union, is a rare example that shows how coordinated campaigns by gig workers can prompt real policy change. One early concession Uber made to the drivers guild was to grant its representatives a regular meeting with local Uber managers. The guild was also instrumental in getting the local city council to pass first-of-its-kind legislation creating minimum wage protection for ride-hail drivers.

But this sort of pseudo-union is rare, leaving most Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, DoorDash couriers, and the rest of them with relatively few options to address the sort of problems that a company might see as a “glitch” but to a worker can be the difference in making rent. These problems often remain invisible, buried in worker discussion forums, until they surface in the press enough that companies feel obligated to address them. Calling these problems “glitches” or “bugs” also serves to augment the power dynamic; these words downplay the scale of the problem and imply that somehow the technology, and not the company, has erred.

Giving back.

Lyft donated $700,000 for transit in low-income neighborhoods in Oakland, California, a move Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf praised for “undoing the wrongs of the past.” What wrongs? Why, lobbying Oakland officials, along with Uber, to kill a proposed municipal tax of $0.50 per ride that could have generated up to $2.5 million a year:

According to the company and the mayor’s office, Lyft’s grant will pay for a participatory design process for the creation of new parklets and bike share stations, and a bike lending library. It will also provide subsidized local transit passes and Lyft rides in cars and on scooters for qualifying low-income residents in areas of Oakland where transportation infrastructure is chronically underfunded.

But last year, Lyft and Uber lobbied Oakland officials to kill a proposed municipal tax of $0.50 per ride. According to city staff, the tax could have generated up to $2.5m per year when applied to the city’s estimated 13,699 daily Uber and Lyft trips – substantially more than Lyft’s recent donation.

Poor Lyft, can’t it just be seen as kind and generous like it wants? I am reminded of last summer in New York City, when Lyft offered to create a $100 million “hardship fund” to support individual taxi medallion owners in exchange for the city dropping plans to set a wage floor for drivers and cap the number of ride-hail vehicles. The proposal was “summarily rejected” by city council and mayor Bill de Blasio, in a move Lyft VP for public policy Joe Okpaku described to The Verge as “a little bit astonishing.” Of course if you actually ran the rough math, the city’s proposals would have led Lyft to pay something like $45 million a year in additional earnings to its drivers, making the $100 million fund—which Lyft wanted to allocate out over five years and have other ride-hail companies help finance—a serious lowball. Case in point: when the city passed the legislation and implemented it as planned, Lyft sued instead.

This time last year.

Waymo gets ride-hailing permit, WeWork's beer taps dry up, H-E-B buys Favor

Other stuff.

Vietnamese authorities deepen probe of Grab-Uber merger. China’s “gray economy” nearing saturation point. Uber agrees to pay VAT in Egypt. Amazon leads $700 million investment in electric carmaker Rivian. Nissan Leaf is most popular electric car of all time. Connecticut considers minimum pay for Uber and Lyft drivers. Uber sues New York City over ride-hail cap. Bay Area meal-delivery services not dead yet. Handy partners with Crate and Barrel on furniture assembly. Amazon aims for greener deliveries. Walmart farms out grocery delivery to gig companies. Uber Freight asks truckers to rate shipping facilities. Jump scooters land in Nashville. New York subpoenas Airbnb for details on 20,000 apartments. Wayless disengagements. The New Microsoft. Key investors unhappy with SoftBank. Toronto Chair Hurler Turns Herself in After Internet Uproar. Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same. This Airbnb Does Not Exist. “We are pivoting to be a more revenue-focused business.”


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 tales of criminal incompetence to @alisongriswold on Twitter, or oversharingstuff@gmail.com.

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