Uber forgot to tell Pittsburgh it wanted to get back together

CIV

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 is issue 104, published May 24, 2018.

Asking permission.

Can I just say that I am so glad scooters came along to liven up this newsletter? San Francisco is positively swimming in scooters after the launches of Scoot, Spin, Bird, Lime, and now Skip. Apparently a mandatory part of being a scooter company is having a one-syllable name. That basically eliminates OO-BER but per The Information, Lyft, which has an appropriately short name, is looking to get in on the scooter action:

Lyft plans to seek permits to run an electric scooter service in San Francisco, The Information has learned. It is the clearest sign yet that the No. 2 ride-hailing firm plans to compete against its bigger rival Uber and a host of startups in the fast-growing market of electric scooters and bikes.

A local consulting firm representing Lyft approached San Francisco transportation officials in recent weeks about applying for permits, according to emails obtained under public records requests. Lyft has been developing prototypes of potential scooter designs, a person familiar with the matter said, although the effort is in its early stages. A Lyft spokesman declined to comment.

San Francisco is expected to release permit applications for scooter services this week and plans to issue permits to five companies beginning this summer. The permit process has been the subject of much debate in San Francisco, where scooters have been rounded up by the dozen and impounded after they proliferated on city streets and sidewalks. Because, of course, most of the companies didn't really ask permission before deploying their scooters—like Nike, they just did it.

But the new scooter permit process may break with tradition. It suggests that, for perhaps the first time, the city will reward companies that attempt to play by the rules, and punish those that don't.

"I myself am concerned that companies here have asked for forgiveness instead of permission," Malcolm Heinicke, vice chairman of the board for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), said at a meeting on May 1. "And while I'm willing, personally, to give some forgiveness, I'm also not necessarily willing to reward past behavior."

Good for him! There is standing in the way of progress and then there is expecting progress to at least not run over people on public sidewalks. Heinicke proposed amending the permit process so that "past experience, including compliance with applicable laws" could be considered in granting future permits. That's good news for companies like Scoot that have consistently kept cities in the loop, and perhaps less good for ones like Bird that announced their arrival via LinkedIn.

Elsewhere in asking permission, Uber said Wednesday (May 23) that it would shut down driverless car tests in Arizona, two months after one of its self-driving vehicles killed a pedestrian. About 300 safety drivers for Uber's driverless cars in Arizona are losing their jobs, and it is more than a little ironic that what put them out of work was not the driverless technology getting good enough, but sort of the opposite. Uber exec Eric Meyhofer said in an internal email that Uber aims to get back on the road this summer in Pittsburgh, as well as in San Francisco and Sacramento. "When we get back on the road, we intend to drive in a much more limited way," he wrote.

Ah but apparently Uber forgot to tell Pittsburgh! "I made it clear to Uber officials after the Arizona crash that a full federal investigation had to be completed, with strong rules for keeping streets safe, before I would agree with the company to begin testing on Pittsburgh streets again," said Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, in what can aptly be described as a strongly worded statement. "Uber did not tell me of today's announcement, and I was forced to learn about it through social media reports. This is not the way to rebuild a constructive working relationship with local government, especially when facing a public safety matter."

Faring poorly.

On Sunday I had an awful time trying to get a Lyft. I requested one, a Lyft Line, around 10:20pm and was matched with Vikram, who was in the unenviable position of having to travel nine minutes from Manhattan to pick me up in downtown Brooklyn, after which he would drive another 10 or 15 minutes in Brooklyn to drop me off. For this, Lyft was charging me $4.53, and I can't imagine it was paying Vikram much more. Suffice it to say I wasn't surprised when, seven minutes later, Lyft informed me it had found "a different driver who's already on the way." This new, hypothetically improved match was another nine minutes away.

I spent the next 13 minutes watching that driver wind around the Brooklyn grid, experiencing the specific form of anxiety that comes from watching your driver's avatar meander slowly and perhaps purposefully in the opposite direction. (My Quartz colleague Kira suggests this feeling should have its own German word, something like ubergeduldig.) I gave up, cancelled that ride (we noticed there was a problem with your ride, Lyft helpfully supplied) and was matched with a third driver, Aliaskar, who mercifully did arrive, 30 minutes after I first requested the trip, to take me home.

On the way back, I asked Aliaskar if he knew why two other drivers had failed to pick me up. He said everyone was headed toward Greenpoint where rates were much higher, and that drivers probably weren't interested in my cheap Lyft Line fare. It wasn't a problem for him, he added, kindly.

Stories like this are a dime a dozen, but I mention it because it gets at a bigger problem: In its effort to undercut Uber, Lyft is becoming less reliable. We talked before about Darryl, the airline pilot who was abandoned in a parking lot by his Lyft driver halfway to LAX, a roughly 30-minute trip for which the driver was going to make about $6. The internet blamed the driver but, as I said at the time, the real fault seemed to lie with Lyft for dispatching a fare to a driver that wasn't worth his while. The same seemed true of my Sunday trip through downtown Brooklyn. It's great for me, as a consumer, that Lyft will sell me a ride for $4.53, but it's less great if the pay for that ride is so low that no driver wants to accept the fare.

Elsewhere in Lyft, a Lyft comms guy wrote me last week regarding the Economic Policy Institute study on Uber driver earnings to state that the EPI study had "several fundamental methodology problems, and we don't believe their findings accurately represent the driver experience." What exactly these methodological problems were was never clarified, because, like, why be specific? Instead, Lyft pointed to an analysis of driver pay it published in April, which claimed that Lyft drivers earned median wages of $29.47 an hour across the US and $31.18 in the top 25 markets if you only looked at the times when the driver had a fare, surely the soundest of methodologies, and without a single fundamental problem of its own.

Branding.

Here is a photo of a man on the subway who appears to have an… Uber tattoo? "It was definitely a tattoo, but I didn't see the whole thing," says my coworker, who spotted it one morning earlier this week. If not Uber, then what? UBED? BFD with some miscellaneous lines preceding it? The possibilities are not exactly limitless. Send your #ubertattooguesses to oversharingstuff@gmail.com.

Rebranding.

After Amazon bought Whole Foods last summer, a lot of us wondered what would happen to Instacart. In actual Whole Foods stores, the answer appears to be that it's quietly disappearing:

[Marianne] Daugherty, an Instacart shopper stationed at the Whole Foods store in Southwest Austin at MoPac and William Cannon Drive, said she found out that Instacart was told to remove a large logo that had been hanging near its station at the front of the store.

That was just the start. In the months since, Instacart, a pioneer in on-demand grocery delivery, has had its signage further reduced within the store. Near the beginning of the year, Daugherty said, Whole Foods removed Instacart branding on a freezer-refrigerator the delivery company uses.

Within the past month, Whole Foods ordered Instacart employees to remove Instacart logos that were on numbered signs placed on grocery racks, Daugherty said.

There was a time when Whole Foods was Instacart's most notable partner. Instacart had dedicated checkout lanes in some stores and large Instacart-labeled coolers where it kept refrigerated orders that had yet to be delivered. The two companies theoretically signed a five-year delivery deal in 2016, but all that has gone somewhat out the window since Whole Foods came under new ownership. Meanwhile, Instacart no longer needs Whole Foods as its biggest partner and best in-store branding. Grocers flocked to Instacart after Amazon's Whole Foods deal, and its affiliates these days include Kroger, Publix, H-E-B, and Costco. It can afford to lose a couple cash registers and logos in Whole Foods stores.

Robocalls.

"New York City Poised to Join Airbnb Crackdown" is the headline of this Politico article and I am only confused because when was New York City not on board with an Airbnb crack down?

The Council is crafting a bill that would require online home-sharing companies to provide the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement with the addresses of their listings — a potential blow to Airbnb if its users are revealed to be turning rent-regulated apartments into business enterprises in a city starved for more housing. The move is coming two years after New York's state Legislature first took aim at Airbnb with a bill that banned the advertising of illegal short-term rentals — but ultimately did little to hurt the company.

The city's bill is expected to be introduced some time in the next month, which is Airbnb's cue to start running attack ads against city comptroller Scott Stringer, and for Stringer to rebut them in a… robocall:

The call was funded by the Share Better Education Fund, an anti-Airbnb group bankrolled largely by the hotel industry.

One person who got the call said she was shocked by Stringer’s involvement.

“It’s an outrage. Scott Stringer is spamming me to promote his own personal, political agenda,” the recipient said.

I mean look, people have strong feelings about Airbnb and there are pros and cons to both sides in a city like New York, where rents are high, housing is constrained, people live in sardine-like quarters, and the rapid decay of the subway has everyone's tempers running short. But everyone—everyone!—hates robocalls, and I can hardly think of a better way to play into the notion that you are an out-of-touch, luddite city official than by pushing out an anti-Airbnb robocall to thousands of New Yorkers.

Other stuff.

Uber extends sickness and maternity benefits to UK drivers. Former Uber software engineer sues company for sexual harassment. Eric Alexander threatens to sue Uber. Lawmakers want answers from ride-hailing companies on sexual assault. WeWork acquires MissionU to build out WeGrow. 20% of Uber Southeast Asia employees didn't get jobs at Grab. Uber gets approved for taxi-hailing program in Japan. The Verge talks to Dara Khosrowshahi. DC mayor sides with Uber on budget. Didi Chuxing may record rides to increase passenger safety. Former Tesla Autopilot manager heads to Lyft. US call centers train workers to be super agents. Eat Club buys lunch box delivery service Farm Hill. Good Eggs raises $50 million for grocery delivery. Paris Gets Serious About Free Transit. Cyclist killed while delivering food for Caviar. Female founders struggle to raise series B rounds. Lyft inks partnership in Miami. Instacart makes David Hahn chief product officer. How to get free McNuggets from Postmates.


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