The “Uber Files” Are Back, But is This Old News to Drivers?

The “Uber Files” are back in the news again, but is it old news? Or is it still significant? Speaking of old news, it looks like the AB5 vs. Prop 22 battle is popping up again in California. All this and more in this week’s roundup with senior RSG contributor Paula Lemar. 

U.S. appeals court could revive Uber’s challenge to California employment law (Reuters

Summary: A U.S. appeals court panel appeared to agree with Uber Technologies Inc and Postmates Inc that California lacked a legitimate reason to make it difficult for certain app-based services to treat workers as independent contractors while exempting many similar businesses.

During oral arguments in San Francisco on Wednesday, a three-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel seemed open to reviving claims by Uber and Postmates that AB5, a 2019 state worker classification law, violates their constitutional right to equal protection.

AB5 imposes a higher bar to show that workers are independent contractors rather than employees, who have greater legal protections and are more costly for businesses. Gig companies rely heavily on services provided by independent contractors, who some studies show cost 30% less than employees….

My Take: As usual, drivers were more than willing to talk about the best option, which the consensus seems to be an independent contractor with benefits model. From the RSG Facebook page, here are some of the responses we saw about this article:

Aaron said, “The drivers wanted Prop 22; but to be truly independent we need control over the rates and routes for which we drive; a punitive class action should be allowed since #ScreBER took away the independent features in the app…. General public who voted for Prop22 not aware of this… I tell all my riders about what they did… so AB5 still applies…”

So, what’s going to happen next? We’ll keep our eye on it.

Don’t really know what’s going on with this debate? Here’s your guide to understanding Prop 22 and AB5.

Uber Pool Is a Zombie (The Atlantic

Summary: In the end, Uber Pool had to go. By mid-March 2020, chunks of America were already in lockdown, AMC had boarded up its movie theaters, and the country’s toilet-paper reserves were getting wiped out. The novel coronavirus was here, and sharing rides with strangers in a different stranger’s car had become yet another part of life upended by the pandemic. “If you must travel” using any of Uber’s other options, the company made sure to note on March 17, the day it officially disabled the pooling feature on its app, “please keep your driver’s well-being in mind by washing your hands before and after entering the vehicle.”

Before the pandemic, shared rides (both from Uber Pool and its biggest competitor, Lyft Line) were an inescapable part of urban life for the professional class. They were the dive bar of ride hailing: always cheap, mostly chaotic. But while just about every other mode of transportation has long since returned—goodbye masks on planes, hello cruise ships—Uber Pool has been nowhere to be found. Yes, people can still order Ubers for themselves, but the drama (and the very occasional joy) of schlepping across town while avoiding eye contact with two other Poolers has vanished.

Until now … kind of. I guess? A couple weeks ago, the ride-hailing juggernaut debuted its new take on pooled rides, “UberX Share,” in nine American cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh. The name is different and worse, and so are the deals. Uber Pool would give you a flat-rate discount before booking, up to 50 percent cheaper than just riding solo. With UberX Share, there’s lots of fine print: Riders get a tiny deal up front and then up to 20 percent off if you match with another rider along the way (and that match can only be with a single rider)….

My Take: As Kenny on RSG’s Facebook page stated, “Drivers and passengers hated pool rides from the beginning.”

I think that pretty well sums it all up. Luckily now, for drivers, these rides can be declined without punishment, at least for now. But it also sounds like it’s getting worse for riders who want to request it and see a discount. Half of the point of Uber Pool was to get a cheaper ride with the slight inconvenience of potentially matching with another rider along a similar path. But now, it sounds like riders won’t get the discount unless they match with someone else.

Doesn’t sound like a good business model to me. Neither the riders nor the drivers like this option and now both are getting the short end of the stick. Will Uber X Share stick around? Only time will tell. I kind of doubt they’ll be regularly utilized.

Thousands of leaked Uber documents show extreme steps company allegedly took to expand aggressively (CNN)

Summary: Hundreds of thousands of leaked Uber documents obtained by The Guardian and shared with a consortium of news outlets show how during its most aggressive period of growth, the ride-hailing company reportedly employed secret technology to thwart police investigations, sought favors from high-ranking government officials and even perceived a silver lining in possible violent clashes between its drivers and taxicab operators.

The reports by members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, of which CNN was not a part, renew global scrutiny of Uber’s most controversial days from 2013 to 2017 — a period the company has attempted to move past in recent years with new leadership. Under then-CEO and cofounder Travis Kalanick, Uber openly tussled with regulators and taxi drivers amid a cutthroat campaign of worldwide expansion.

In 2016, during mass anti-Uber demonstrations by taxi operators in Paris, Kalanick had been discussing holding a rally of Uber riders and drivers in the city, according to The Washington Post. Kalanick is said to have privately suggested that any violent backlash to the potential event would be “worth it” and would “guarantee success” for the company, according to the leaked documents. The leaked documents reportedly show how Uber appeared to capitalize on attacks against its drivers more generally, by citing them “to secure meetings with politicians and push for regulatory changes,” the Post reported….

My Take: We keep hearing about these files in an article every other week or so. But it also seems like the same article repeatedly without bringing anything new to the story, so what gives?

Well, you’re right, it’s the same news. The files were of issue from 2013 to 2017, but they keep getting rehashed. Honestly, bringing them up constantly as if there is new information is confusing and misleading. Unless there’s something new and shocking that hasn’t been revealed before, let’s keep this out of the news and focus on more important things that are relevant to the current situation.

And not to say the news isn’t shocking, in terms of how aggressive Uber was at expanding, but that’s all been pretty much out in the open for a while now. The real question is: what is anyone (Government? Passengers? Drivers?) going to do with this information?

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Also in the news…

Instacart CTO Departs Ahead of Grocery-Delivery Platform’s IPO (Bloomberg)

Thoughts: Is this a good thing to happen right before the IPO? Or is it showing instability? I am not much for following the market or understanding how going public works. I’ll be curious to know if this is actually going to affect the market value in any way, shape or form.

How the Ride-Sharing Revolution Failed Passengers with Disabilities (The Verge

Thoughts: It’s one of those things where companies can always do more and always do better. Do they have advocates within the company pointing out their shortcomings and downfalls? Do they have people in place who can say, there’s a need that should be addressed, and here’s how to do it? If not, they need it. Let’s do better.

Uber, Lyft Abortion Travel Pledges Omit Most of Their Workforces (Bloomberg Law)

Thoughts: Without trying to step into the abortion debate…if a company says they will support the freedoms of their workers, let’s make it equal. If you’re going to offer it to employees, offer the same to your independent contractors. But, we all know they’ve never treated their workers equally.

DoorDash Blocks Para App

Wow, this petition is picking up steam! Looks like Doordash blocked access to the Para app, which provides full payout information to Dashers before they accept the trip.

DoorDash has had a lot of issues with hiding tips over the years, and they don’t always show Dashers the full amount that they will be paid, so it’s a guessing game for Dashers…doesn’t seem fair!

Have you used the Para app? Does it help you the way you want? What do you think of companies hiding this upfront information? Is it valid? 

-Paula @ RSG