Is Microtransit Coming of Age?

These startups want to do for buses what Uber did for taxi rides

Sum and Substance: There are two broad categories of microtransit: One is services like Chariot and Bridj, which operate commuting shuttles in certain areas based on user demand. Then there are several services that let you split a ride with people nearby who need to get to a similar destination — including CabCorner, Via, UberPool, and Lyft Line. So far, these microtransit companies only operate in a handful of cities. But their backers hope they could one day do for public transit what Uber has done for cab rides.

My Take:  This is part of the ongoing evolution of urban transit – further iterations towards greater efficiency.  The idea of Microtransit has been around for awhile with shuttle busses and more recently, UberPool and Lyftline.  But now other startup apps with variations on this theme are much more technologically sophisticated. The main question is whether the startups can get ridership up high enough so they can compete with Uber and Lyft on price.  It’s the network effect question that’s so paramount in this industry.

Let’s face it: Uber IS the sharing economy

Sum and Substance:  We need to stop talking about “the sharing economy.” Yes it was a remarkably powerful, captivating idea. The end of ownership and the beginning of atomization of all of the world’s things — your free time, your house when no one is in it, your car when it’s parked idly in your garage, that ladder you bought and only used once. The hope was very millennial: … But here’s the thing, when most people talk about “the sharing economy” and “companies like Uber” they really don’t mean that. What they mean is just Uber and Airbnb. And really just Uber…

My Take:  Sarah Lacy, the author of this article, has emerged as one of the most astute commentators on the tech scene so this article is worth paying attention to.  But unfortunately to read the whole thing you’ve got to become a Pando member, which costs $10/month.  So much for sharing – just like neither Uber nor Lyft are all about sharing.  When someone gets into my car, I’m not sharing, I charging for the ride.  Time to put this misnomer to bed?

Google’s Waze to start carpooling pilot program in Israel

Sum and Substance: Google-owned online mapping company Waze is launching a carpooling pilot program in Israel where commuters pay fellow drivers a small fee for a ride to and from work. The new application, called RideWith, will use Waze’s navigation system to learn the routes drivers most frequently take to work and match them up with people looking for a ride in the same direction. Google bought Israel-based Waze, which uses satellite signals from members’ smartphones to offer real-time traffic information, for about $1 billion two years ago. “We’re conducting a small, private beta test in the greater Tel Aviv area for a carpool concept, but we have nothing further to announce at this time.” 

My Take:  This is a significant move.  Coming from Google owned Waze means we have to take it very seriously.  It basically establishes the framework for a true carpooling network – to be distinguished from the ride-hailing networks established by Uber, Lyft, Side-car etc.  The key difference is that RideWith isn’t designed for professional drivers.  It’s designed for people who just want to ride with others and save a few bucks on gas and tolls.  Since it’s backed with Waze technology one can only expect this to grow – and I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing it in major urban centers in the United States in the near future.

A look inside the insanely successful life of billionaire Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Sum and Substance:  Here are a few choice tidbits from this very thin article:
• In summer 2010, Uber raised money from investors: a $1.25 million seed round from First Round Capital, Kalanick’s friend Chris Sacca, and Napster cofounder Shawn Fanning.
• Kalanick’s personality — described by those who know him as reckless and arrogant, at times — has been the reason Uber has found so much success.
• Uber announced recently that the company had delivered 30 million rides in New York City since 2011. To put that number in perspective, that’s more than 82,000 Uber rides per day.

My Take:  This is a quick pictorial romp through the life of Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick.  The headline is a stretch.  Nothing particularly new here.  They just arranged some tidbits nicely around some pictures of TK.  And this is what passes as business journalism today?

Labor cases filed against Shyp, Washio, Postmates

Sum and Substance:  The lawyer suing Uber and Lyft, seeking to force the on-demand app companies to classify their drivers as full-time employees, has filed similar complaints against Shyp, Washio and Postmates this week in San Francisco. .. Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston lawyer with suits pending against Uber and Lyft in the Northern District Court of California, had also filed an earlier complaint against food-delivery startup Caviar. San Francisco is ground zero for these labor cases against on-demand companies because many are headquartered in the city and there have been favorable rulings against companies classifying some of their workforce as independent contractors.

My Take:  Hey, if you’ve got a good thing going why stop with Uber and Lyft?  In theory at least, Postmates et all are using the same business model, hoping to get “independent contractors” to shoulder the load of expenses rather than paying them at the corporate level.  One can expect all these legal challenges to fall like dominoes once the first ruling is made and legal precedent has been established.

Uber Should Tell You Where To Get Picked Up

Sum and Substance:  One-way streets. Roads with nowhere to pull over. Forbidden U-turns. Sometimes your current location isn’t the most convenient place for Uber to pick you up. Walking 15 seconds around the corner or across the street to a better spot could cut five minutes off waiting to get picked up on or the journey. That’s why Uber, Lyft, and other car services should tell us where to get picked up. A “Suggested Pickup Location” feature could save time and money for drivers and passengers. Lyft has already taken a step towards this idea with its Lyft Line HotSpots — locations in popular parts of cities like San Francisco that if you’re willing to walk to, you can get a cheaper ride. These spots are typically in places with room for the driver to pull over that are facing the direction most passengers want to go, and aren’t trapped in a maze of one-ways. You just drag your map pin to one of the HotSpots to select it. Suggested Pickup Location would essentially create an optimal pickup hotspot close to whatever happen to be current coordinates.

My Take:  This is an excellent idea and the fact that it’s being pushed on an influential tech site like TechCrunch means that it will likely be bumped up a few notches at Uber’s headquarters.  In fact, Uber just announced something along these lines in San Francisco.  It’s “Suggested Pickup Points” are now  mimicking Lyfts “hot spots” feature. The app is getting better all the time.

What do you guys think about the week’s top stories?

-John @ RSG