Uber Faces Challenges Across the World

In this week’s roundup, senior RSG contributor John Ince covers the gig worker fight in California, challenges to Uber in London and India, and how Lyft is getting into the delivery business – somewhat.

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Uber, Lyft Influencers Find Democratic Allies Toughest to Sway [BloombergLaw]

Sum and Substance:  … Influence campaigns in Washington don’t normally target the party that spends most of an administration in the political wilderness. But the onslaught of people and money reflects that Uber and Lyft’s obstacles aren’t from President Donald Trump’s Republican administration, but from Democrats, particularly if there is a power shift ahead in the White House.

The companies’ goals go against Democrats’ traditional labor allies, even pitting vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on the opposite side of her brother-in-law, Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer. The strategy has been more about containing damage than claiming victories.

My Take:  It’s almost as if Uber and Lyft are the preferred exit for Washington insiders.  Why is that?  Well, it’s pretty simple:  This industry is all about revising the rules that govern the environment around ridesharing.  Doesn’t matter so much who is Republican or Democrat.  The important thing is that you subscribe to the way Uber and Lyft see the world.

Gig workers deserve the dignity of fair compensation [NYTimes]

Sum and Substance:  Are gig workers employees or freelance contractors? It’s been a question for companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash for nearly as long as “gig work” itself — or at least the Silicon Valley version — has existed. California voters next month may finally help settle the matter.

California lawmakers last year passed legislation that reclassified gig workers as employees. The backlash from gig economy companies was immediate, and Uber and similar app-based businesses have committed nearly $200 million to support a state ballot measure — making it the costliest in state history — that would exempt them from the law.

Voters should reject the measure, known as Prop 22.

My Take:  It’s good to see the New York Times publish an opinion piece like this.  The article lays out the main arguments against Prop 22.  Let’s hope people read articles like this.  More likely, they vote on the basis of the ads they see on TV or the internet.  Only a few weeks now…

Want to learn more about Proposition 22 and how it could affect California drivers? Check out Proposition 22 coverage.

Why Uber’s supreme court battle won’t solve its drivers’ biggest problem [TheNextWeb]

Sum and Substance: The UK supreme court has just heard an appeal from Uber that has far-reaching implications for UK drivers and the wider gig economy. Uber wants to overturn an employment tribunal ruling from 2016, which improved the lot of its drivers by classifying them as “workers” instead of “self-employed contractors.”

If upheld, many Uber drivers can look forward to an hourly minimum wage, paid breaks, sick pay and holiday pay, and an average £12,000 in compensation for their past work – all provided they lodge a claim. …

My Take:  Interesting article, and it’s like the issue in California.  Uber has essentially ignored the lower court ruling from a few years ago.  But if this ruling is upheld, it’s going to cost Uber a lot. We’ll keep an eye on it to see what Uber does.

Lyft Deal With Grubhub Challenges Uber in Food Delivery  [MotleyFool]

Sum and Substance: Earlier this year, Uber Technologies (NYSE:UBER) pursued the acquisition of food delivery service Grubhub (NYSE:GRUB) to expand its Uber Eats business. When an agreement couldn’t be reached on that deal, Grubhub announced it was being acquired by European food delivery company Just Eat Takeaway.com (LSE:JET) for $7.3 billion.

Now Uber rival Lyft (NASDAQ:LYFT) has announced that it will be partnering with Grubhub, providing its Lyft Pink subscription members access to Grubhub+ for free food delivery and other perks.

My Take:  Interesting move here.  Lyft gets into the food delivery business without the big upfront investment.  They don’t get the potential for profits, but at this stage, there aren’t any – so all in all – not a bad deal.

Uber Is Losing the Driverless Car Race, by the Numbers [Marker.Medium]

Sum and Substance: $2.5 billion: That’s how much Uber has spent on its self-driving car technology over the last five years, according to The Information. Despite this investment, a manager working on the project reportedly described the car as still “struggl[ing] with simple routes and simple maneuvers” in an email to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi…

It appears that some of Uber’s competitors have made better progress. Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car project (co-founded by Levandowski), announced last week that it now allows the public to hail its driverless cars (in what it calls “rider only” mode, without a driver present) within a 50-square-mile area in Phoenix, Arizona. While that might seem like a small territory, it represents a significant step forward for the commercialization of self-driving technology.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk is touting a rewrite of Tesla’s Autopilot technology, tweeting on Monday that a beta of its full self-driving feature, in which a human driver is present but never needs to intervene, will be rolled out next Tuesday to a small number of drivers….

My Take:  This is a short article, but it makes a good point.  Uber has lost a ton of money on self-driving cars and doesn’t have much to show for it.  Waymo and Tesla, on the other hand, have made great progress – witness Waymo’s announcement last week in Arizona.

Uber is hiring hundreds of engineers in India to cut costs  [TechCrunch]

Sum and Substance:  Uber said on Thursday it is working to hire 225 engineers in India, strengthening its tech team in the key overseas market months after it eliminated thousands of jobs globally…

The move comes as several high-profile engineers have left Uber India in recent months to join Google and Amazon, among other tech giants. A senior engineer who recently left Uber told TechCrunch that many of his peers had lost confidence in Uber’s future prospects in the country.

Editor’s Note:  This is an interesting development in India, especially when Uber considers itself the largest ridesharing company in India (Softbank says Ola has Uber beat by a small margin).

Uber is looking to cut costs here in the US by outsourcing to India, but some India engineers are leaving Uber for Google and Amazon because they’ve lost confidence in Uber. What does this say about the magnitude of Uber’s problems?

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

-John @ RSG