Hello and welcome to the many new readers who joined this week, thanks to a very kind plug from Andrew Chen at Andreessen Horowitz! I am excited to have you, and I hope you are excited to be here.Please note that I have enabled Substack’s “community features,” so that you can like, tweet, Facebook, and otherwise share Oversharing more easily. Also, you can now reply directly to this email with thoughts, tips, comments, and photos of tech bros on scooters (though sending them to email@example.com still works, too).
Uber is facing yet another federal probe, this time from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for potential gender discrimination. The investigation started quietly in August 2017 but only came to light yesterday, when it was reported by the Wall Street Journal. From that story:
EEOC investigators have been interviewing former and current Uber employees, as well as seeking documents from Uber officials, the people said. They are seeking information related to Uber’s hiring practices, pay disparity and other matters as they relate to gender, one person said.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Uber timeline, former engineer Susan Fowler published her viral account of sexual harassment at the company in February 2017. By August, Uber’s board had forced out co-founder Travis Kalanick but not yet named Dara Khosrowshahi the new CEO.
In early June 2017, Uber fired 20 employees after reviewing specific allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct. The Holder report, former US attorney general Eric Holder’s recommendations on how Uber could improve its management and workplace culture, came out in mid-June 2017. That report recommended, among other things, that Uber adopt a version of the “Rooney Rule,” which stipulates that the candidate pool for any job opening include at least one woman and one member of an underrepresented minority group.
The EEOC probe is at least the sixth federal investigation into Uber, which is also being scrutinized for overseas bribery, pricing practices, and alleged use of software to evade law enforcement.
News of this latest investigation came just a week after Uber pushed out its head of human resources, Liane Hornsey, following an internal investigation into how her department handled racial discrimination claims. Employees alleged that Hornsey had ignored complaints of racial discrimination, despite stating publicly that she was focused on hiring women and minorities.
Hornsey joined Uber from SoftBank and previously Google in late 2016, meaning she had about three months at Uber before everything imploded. At the time, the job had been open since former HR head Renee Atwood left to join Twitter in July 2016, a bad sign in retrospect, and based on everything we know about Uber, also not terribly surprising.
Elsewhere in Uber, the Federal Trade Commission said Monday that it was mailing checks totaling $19.8 million to 88,799 Uber drivers to settle allegations that the ride-hailing company mislead drivers about how much they could earn driving for Uber, and about the terms of vehicle financing options. The average refund, so you don’t have to do the math, is $222.96, though personally I would rather know the median.
The FTC settlement addressed Uber’s 2014 claim that the median wage earned by a driver in New York was $90,766 (it was not), and that Uber had advertised hourly fares on Craigslist weren’t actually earned by most drivers, e.g.:
The settlement also covered Uber’s various efforts to sign drivers into leases that weren’t nearly as affordable as the company claimed. (For more on Uber’s leasing programs, see my story on its subprime arrangements for drivers in New York City.)
Scooters (and bikes)!
The other day I dreamt I had a scooter, and no, it did not cost $0.15 a minute to ride, the scooter of my dreams was free.
Meanwhile, Lyft co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer also have a dream for scooters, which they outlined vaguely in one of those treatises on Medium of which they are so fond. The four “key tenets” of Lyft’s bikes and scooters are:
I love the corporate propensity to Capitalize Nouns. Anyway, Lyft says it will invest $1 million with local nonprofits to help bring transit options to underserved neighborhoods and develop income-eligible programs. Beyond that there are relatively few details on what Lyft bikes and scooters will look like or, importantly, whether they will get a better name than “Lyft bikes and scooters.”
One question for Lyft will be whether buying bike-share provider Motivate, and by extension the relationships that Motivate has with many US cities, will help it negotiate favorable fee structures for scooters in those same cities. We talked last week about how scooter profitability will ultimately depend on the fee schemes imposed by local regulators, which are currently being figured out.
Just yesterday, for example, Indianapolis city council voted to let scooter companies operate for an upfront fee of $15,000 plus $1 per device per day. That’s slightly better for the companies than the $0.25-per-ride surcharge proposed by Portland, Oregon, in the sense that it doesn’t scale with utilization, but still not cheap, especially when combined with $15,000 in permitting costs. “The fee structure… is precedent-setting and makes it hard to have a sustainable business,” Jason Wilde, a regional manager for scooter company Lime, told the Indianapolis Star.
WeWon’t buy meat.
Meat is off the menu at WeWork. Co-founder Miguel McKelvey last week informed the company’s roughly 6,000 global employees that they could no longer expense meals including meat, and that WeWork wouldn’t pay for any red meat, poultry, or pork at company events, Bloomberg reported. The change was presented as an ethical push to save the environment. “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” McKelvey wrote in a memo, “even more than switching to a hybrid car.”It’s nice when professed ethics and cost-cutting measures align, isn’t it? Eliminating meat from the budget will surely help WeWork save on travel and meal expenses, always a good thing when your company loses $933 million a year, as WeWork did in 2017. Going meatless may also appeal to WeWork’s liberal-techie-millennial user base, though it’s a little extreme even for that crowd. Per Bloomberg, another startup that had implemented a similar ban was Juicero, which wouldn’t reimburse employee expenses at non-vegan restaurants.
Does WeWork actually believe banning meat from corporate functions, like its weekly family-style dinner or annual Summer Camp retreat, will do much to save the environment? Maybe, but it would require some extreme mental acrobatics. Here is Felix Salmon at Slate:
WeWork, of course, has a substantial environmental impact of its own, almost none of which is food-related. It manages 10 million square feet of office space in 76 cities around the world, including Warsaw and Chengdu; across its 406 locations, some have much higher carbon footprints than others. As a tenant in those buildings, WeWork has very little control over how much energy they waste, but if it wanted to, it could confine itself to LEED-certified buildings. That way, landlords would have a strong economic incentive to make their buildings energy-efficient and therefore attractive to WeWork and other environmentally conscious tenants.
It’s arrogant paternalism of the highest order for a billionaire American co-founder, one whose own personal carbon footprint is surely in the top 0.1 percent of global citizens, to impose his own preferred environmental solution on thousands of employees who were probably doing much better than he was, on that front, all along. (McKelvey is building a multimillion-dollar mountaintop house in Utah.)
It also seems worth noting that WeWork didn’t mention environmental concerns, or any sort of environmental mission, in the lengthy bond prospectus it released in April, other than remarks about the competitive environment for its services.
“In famously hectic, crowded Times Square,” begins a press release I received today from driverless vehicle company Coast Autonomous, “a self-driving P-1 shuttle from COAST Autonomous is being demonstrated today along an approximately 150-yard course for journalists and other interested parties.”
“It’s historic!” Coast founder and chief technology officer Pierre Lefèvre is quoted as saying. “The very first driverless vehicle to operate in New York’s Times Square.”
Let me tell you, I swung by this demo earlier today, and would describe it as neither “hectic” nor “crowded.” Coast, it turned out, wasn’t testing its shuttle on New York City roads—something that would require a permit from the state DMV, which Coast didn’t apply for, the DMV told me—but instead having it traverse a fenced-off pedestrian plaza on Broadway between 47th and 48th streets at maybe 5 miles per hour. It was perhaps the calmest, least busy place in Times Square I have ever seen.
“It’s very boring, that’s the objective,” Lefèvre said, as we crawled back and forth on the pedestrian plaza. It was very hot and stuffy inside, presumably because the shuttle lasts longer without the air conditioning running.
If you, like me, had never heard of Coast Autonomous before, a little background. Coast is a self-described “self-driving mobility company” that says it outfits various types of vehicles—shuttles, flat beds, golf carts—with autonomous technology for “low-speed environments.” It was founded by Lefèvre after his first driverless startup, Paris-based Induct Technology, went bankrupt in 2014. Lefèvre sold the intellectual property for Induct to competitor Navya, Coast managing director Adrian Sussmann said, but retained the key Induct people and, with their help, started Coast.
Coast is headquartered in Pasadena, California, and claims to have completed 63 “successful trials” with 120,000 passengers to date. Per Sussmann, it is “close” on having a contract to deploy a “fleet of golf carts” in an undisclosed location in 2019.
Interestingly for a company focused on “low-speed environments,” Lefèvre has been called a “racing enthusiast,” and his son Max is a former professional race car driver. In March, Coast Autonomous added three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti to its board. “I met Pierre because his son was a race car driver,” Sussmann told me.
Booking invests $500 million in Didi Chuxing. Airbnb pressured by EU regulators to be more transparent on price. Instacart teams up with Postmates. Pasadena ends Metro Bike Share after first year. Ofo shuts down bike share operations in Australia. Ofo pulls bikes from Chicago. New York rolls out dockless bike share pilot in the Rockaways. Motivate’s Nice Ride gets cheaper, goes dockless in Minneapolis. Bird launches without a permit in St. Paul. West Hollywood city council moves forward with ban on scooters. San Diego Council Votes to Limit Airbnb Rental to Primary Residences Only. Singapore’s oBike shuts down, may face police report if it doesn’t refund customer deposits. WaPo supports higher taxes on Uber and Lyft. Uber taps DOJ official Scott Schools as first chief compliance officer. Uber presents Spike Lee.