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In today’s round up, senior RSG contributor John Ince covers Uber’s ‘no minors’ rule, its investing troubles with foreign governments, and the roll out of Uber Pro.
Uber driver charged after teen dies following car surfing fall [6ABC.com]
Sum and Substance: An Uber driver is facing manslaughter charges in the death of a New York City teenager who fell to the pavement after prosecutors say he was allowed to ride on the roof of the vehicle.
Officials say 15-year-old Ryan Mullen, of Long Island, suffered a traumatic brain injury and died hours after he arrived at a friend’s house following the ride. The driver, 24-year-old Danyal Cheema, is charged with second-degree manslaughter and was arraigned in Suffolk County Criminal Court Monday morning…
“This was an incredibly bad decision by the defendant, a bad decision by the boys involved, obviously,” Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini said. “But at the end of the day, that defendant is an adult contracted to safely bring those boys home, and he failed to do that.”…
My Take: It’s easy to say that the driver deserves what he gets after making such a stupid decision. But things are seldom black and white. What about the kids who requested an Uber illegally in the first place and enticed the driver with the offer of $40? What about the parents who presumably paid for an Uber for the kids even though it’s against Uber’s Terms Of Service?
Nobody looks good in this picture. Not even Uber. Why don’t they do something to get teens off the platform, rather than just tucking it away in the back pages of the TOS?
Uber driver gets arrested, leaving rider stranded [NBC12.com]
Sum and Substance: RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – A Hanover County man got a weekend Uber ride unlike any he’s ever seen before.
Christopher Pollard requested an Uber ride Sunday from Richmond to his home in Hanover County. The ride showed up, he hopped in and they were on their way. Everything seemed alright until the driver ran a stop sign and the police pulled the car over. “They came, got his ID. Once they found out who he was, they pulled him out the car and kind of tussled with him, arrested him, said he had two warrants,” Pollard recalled.
Richmond Police confirm the driver was taken into custody on the spot, but did not say what those warrants were for.
Unsure of what was happening, Pollard realized he had to do something. “I rolled down the window and said ‘officer, what do I do?’ He said, ‘you’re free to go’. I was like alright,” he continued.
But he still needed to get home. “I contact Uber, they said ‘alright, get another ride from there’. So I get another ride, I go home and I see that they had charged me for a ride…I got charged twice for going home once,” Pollard said…
After NBC12 got involved, Uber says it will now fully refund Pollard…
“All drivers must undergo a screening process before they can use the Uber app, which includes a driving and criminal history background check reviewing local, state and national records. This review process is completed by a third-party background check service that is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners,” Uber said in a statement.
My Take: I’m not sure whether this is comical or tragic. The comical part is the way Uber tried to nickel and dime the passenger until it became a news story on NBC – at which point they rolled out the red carpet for the passenger.
The tragic side is that it’s just one more episode in the mini-drama surrounding Uber’s background checks and how porous they seem to be.
How Uber got into bed with the Saudis — and why it’s not getting out anytime soon [LA Times]
Sum and Substance: Even as Uber’s lawyers finalized the details of the deal, they still couldn’t quite believe it would really happen. The Saudi Arabia government was set to give the San Francisco start-up $3.5 billion, an astronomical amount. The company’s legal team had to double-check that it was even possible to send that much money in a single wire transfer. But on June 1, 2016, the Saudi Public Investment Fund sent Uber Technologies Inc. the cash in one lump sum — still the largest single investment from a foreign government in a venture-backed start-up.
The sprawling consequences of that mega-deal have yet to fully unfold. Two years ago, the money helped Uber settle its war with Didi Chuxing in China, fortified its position against rival Lyft Inc. and empowered then-Chief Executive Travis Kalanick ahead of a long, pitched battle with investors who ultimately pushed him out. Now, the deal is drawing Uber into a global reckoning over the business world’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Bloomberg has learned that through direct and indirect holdings, the Saudi government owns more than 10% of the ride-hailing company… As the fallout from the slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents roils Silicon Valley, there is arguably no company more deeply intertwined with Saudi Arabia than Uber.
That’s complicating efforts by Uber’s current CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, to put a new face on the company as it moves toward an initial public offering targeted for early next year. Khosrowshahi, an Iranian immigrant, was one of the first to pull out of a Saudi-led investing conference in October. But he’ll have a harder time severing his company’s broader relationship with a government that’s now been implicated in the grisly killing of a journalist.
What follows is the strange story of the massive deal that has already shaped one of the world’s most valuable start-ups, and whose effects will ripple well into the future. It spans Uber’s operation to spy on a Chinese rival, an international bribery investigation, and the starkly different positions of Khosrowshahi and Kalanick in the face of a simmering geopolitical crisis…
My Take: This is a fascinating account of how Uber found itself in bed with the government of Saudi Arabia, which is now on the front pages for killing a journalist. It leaves Uber in a very uncomfortable position, a position that somehow they often seem to find themselves in.
Uber ups its driver perks with ‘Pro’ program, including free college education [USAToday]
Sum and Substance: Uber is upping its perks for drivers, introducing a new Pro rewards program for its top drivers. First being piloted in eight cities in the U.S., the rewards program will give eligible drivers up to 25 percent off “standard car maintenance at 20,000 shops nationwide” and up to 5 percent cash back on gas purchases made with the company’s Uber Visa debit card.
Uber is also partnering with Arizona State University to offer free college tuition for the school’s undergraduate ASU Online program. The ride-sharing company says it will completely cover tuition costs, and the perk can be transferred to cover the cost of tuition for a “spouse, domestic partner, child, sibling, parent, legal guardian or dependent.”
… The new program follows Uber’s “180 days of change” initiative that the company started last year to improve its relationship with its drivers and prevent them from fleeing to other apps such as Lyft or Via. This program added tipping to the app, phone support and notifications for drivers on whether a trip would be long…
The ride-sharing company will begin rolling out the program in beta to drivers in Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, Orlando and Tampa in Florida, Denver and New Jersey, with more people getting access to the program “in the months ahead.”
My Take: This is a sensible and long overdue program. Until this, driver ratings didn’t really have any practical consequences, unless you fell below the cutoff. But this incentivizes drivers to be the best they can… which is always a good thing for everybody concerned.
Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up?
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-John @ RSG