Uber Closes Down LA Customer Support Office, Announces Layoffs

In this week’s roundup, senior RSG contributor John Ince details a new feature Uber is unveiling to keep passengers safe – but what about drivers? That, plus Uber layoffs, sexism and more.

Uber introduces new feature to let riders ‘discreetly’ snitch on their drivers  [TheVerge]

Sum and Substance: Uber updated its app to let riders “discreetly” report instances that may not rise to the level of an emergency but still made them feel unsafe while on a trip. The examples that Uber gives include “harsh braking,” “inappropriate remarks,” or a driver who isn’t paying attention to the road. But I’m sure many people who use Uber can come up with a litany of ways to use this new reporting feature.

Lately, Uber has been trying to strike a balance between improving safety for riders and recognizing that drivers can be victims, too. The company recently released its first safety report, in which it disclosed that 3,045 sexual assaults occurred during Uber trips in 2018. Additionally, nine people were murdered during Uber rides, and 58 people died in auto-related crashes. Interestingly, Uber said that drivers reported being victims of assaults at roughly the same rate as riders.

Uber introduced an in-app panic button in 2018 that lets riders contact 911 at the touch of a button. But obviously, not all safety instances require calling the cops. Now, riders can subtly snitch on their drivers from right in the app. Uber says the feature is intended to give riders the opportunity to report inappropriate behavior during a trip, when it’s on the top of their mind, rather than at the end of the trip. The feature is available starting today in the US and Canada…

My Take:  Not sure how to take this development.  I suppose it depends on how the company uses the data. We’ll have an article coming out shortly about how this new feature has already impacted one of our drivers – stay tuned!

Uber shuts downtown L.A. office, laying off about 80  [LA Times]

Sum and Substance:  Uber has closed a customer support office in downtown Los Angeles, laying off about 80 employees, The Times has learned. Without advance notice, staffers were informed Thursday their jobs would be shifted to a large customer support office the company maintains in Manila, according to sources who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing severance.

In a recording The Times obtained, Uber manager Ruffin Chevaleau acknowledged that the meeting was called on short notice before delivering the news. “We have decided to close the downtown L.A. office and we will be moving the outreach and innovation work to our Manila C.O.E., where we can continue to support the business as it grows,” she said, using an abbreviation that means Center of Excellence, the in-house term for customer support hubs. “I know that this is a shock. This meeting is to inform you all that today is the last day in this office.”

The employees were mostly customer support staffers who were paid hourly and focused on driver outreach, with tasks such as processing documents, resolving account issues and explaining incentives and promotions. (Uber considers both drivers and riders its “customers” and supports them out of the same department.) Chevaleau told the workers they would receive severance packages and could apply for jobs within Uber and meet with a recruiter. She said the company would also cover relocation for those who found jobs in other Uber offices…

The Santa Monica office where Uber houses operations employees was not affected by these layoffs.

My Take:  The axe falls on 80 staffers. They get to go to Manila if they want, but how many of them would want that?  I view this as all part of Uber’s path to profitability – whatever it takes.


Sum and Substance:  Susan Fowler wrote her last real line of code at Uber. It’s not that she hasn’t tried since she left the company in 2016; there was a Coursera course she’d tried to take, just to learn something new. It’s just that she got so anxious she couldn’t even finish a simple program.

Do you miss it? Coding?

“I don’t miss it because I associate it with so many of my negative experiences,” Fowler says. She read Gretchen Carlson’s book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, and one thing stuck out to her: women who speak up about harassment in a profession never work in that profession again.

In her case, it’s also true. Fowler is no longer a software engineer.


We are sitting at an amusingly named diner-type location in the Bay Area. I will not be more specific, as Fowler has been stalked by private detectives and others in the aftermath of her extremely viral blog post about sexual harassment at Uber. In fact, she would only meet me if I promised not to reveal where.

“I do live my life a lot differently now,” she says. “I’m always looking over my shoulder.”

It is two weeks before her memoir, Whistleblower, will go on sale. In addition to her regular jitters, Fowler now has pre-publication jitters. Though you wouldn’t know it to look at her…

You know who this ordinary woman is because she did something extraordinary. In February 2017, Fowler wrote a 2,900-word blog post about the sexism she encountered while working at Uber. When she published it to her personal site, she wasn’t expecting the headlines it generated half an hour later. She never expected that it would lead to Travis Kalanick, the company’s brash CEO and founder, being forced out of his job. …

If you’re one of the 6 million people who read Fowler’s blog post in the weeks after it was published, you already know how this goes: Fowler was told her boss was a “high performer.” And besides, this was his first offense. It wasn’t until later, when Fowler befriended other female engineers, that she discovered she’d been lied to. Several other women had run-ins with the same man, and all had been told by HR that it was his first offense. “It’s the Uber playbook,” she says. “I always thought, There’s got to be a script, somewhere, right?”..

My Take:  This is just a heads up on this book – I’ll be reviewing it shortly. This article gives Susan Fowler’s first person account and is well worth the read.

Uber and Lyft now command 70% of SLC airport commercial rides. The new airport will reflect their dominance.  [The Salt Lake Tribune]

Sum and Substance:  Lyft and Uber now have captured 70% of the commercial ground transportation business at Salt Lake City International Airport, its advisory board was told Wednesday.

That is up from 0% five years ago when Lyft became the first ride-share company to earn official permission to operate there.

Because of that, plans unveiled Wednesday will give those ride-share companies the lion’s share of the allocated pickup and drop-off curb space at the new terminal scheduled to open in September as part of a $4.1 billion rebuild of the airport…

Hotel shuttles will receive 150 feet of space, and charter buses get 200 feet.

My Take:  It’s astounding to think of how quickly Uber and Lyft have taken over airports.  These figures can be trusted. And what might happen if just as quickly they were no longer dominant?

Readers, what do you think of this week’s roundup?

-John @ RSG