Contents:

7 min read

    7 min read

    Is Uber’s focus on the future (driverless cars) just a distraction – or could it really happen? In this roundup, senior RSG contributor John Ince covers Uber’s future plans, plus the rise of political challenger Shannon Liss-Riordan, and a discussion of Uber’s new suite of changes.

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    What Uber’s really selling: a ride to the future [San Francisco Chronicle]

    Sum and Substance: The ride-hailing company has always hawked a narrative about its potential. Whether investors are buying it is another story.

    “There are many versions of our future that are highly profitable and valuable, and there are of course some that are less so.” This is Silicon Valley’s theory of investing in a nutshell. The past doesn’t matter. The present doesn’t matter. All that matters is the future. …

    I’m reminded of what Cnet founder Halsey Minor said in 1997, shortly after his company announced seemingly subpar quarterly results: “We announced that our revenues were lower, our losses were higher, and our stock went up $3. The Internet is its own phenomenon.”

    Uber has been making futuristic investments in self-driving technology and vertical take-off and landing vehicles that might one day fly passengers around. Khosrowshahi is in essence asking the market to return to that dot-com bubble way of thinking: Don’t pay attention to Uber’s staggering losses, just think about a future where Uber controls a huge chunk of transportation, where self-driving cars swarm the street and self-flying ones take to the skies. At this rate, I might as well ask you to buy shares of RTLT on the premise that Ramona the Love Terrier could one day disrupt the global canine reward supply chain.

    My Take:  From its inception, Uber has been a company built on deceptions.  There was the deception about drivers being independent contractors. There was the deception about drivers making $90,000 a year. And now there is the deception about driverless cars being just around the corner.

    This article captures the essence of all of this, at the heart of Uber’s meteoric rise to prominence. A lot of people have gotten very rich on this deception. Unfortunately, none of them are those doing the real work of this company – the drivers.

    Ed Markey will face a Senate challenger: high-profile labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan [Boston Globe]

    Sum and Substance: Shannon Liss-Riordan is pitching herself as an outsider who can break the partisan deadlock in Washington and disrupt the grip of wealthy special interests. Shannon Liss-Riordan, a high-profile labor attorney, announced Monday she is running for the Senate, challenging Senator Edward J. Markey in a Democratic primary next year.

    “My experience for the last 20 years fighting in the trenches on behalf of workers is a new perspective that we need in Washington,” Liss-Riordan said in an interview with the Globe at her Back Bay office. “The needs of working people have not been heard in Washington, and I want to go there to be their voice and champion.” A partner at Lichten & Liss-Riordan in Boston, she has focused her career on representing waiters, fast-food workers, drivers, exotic dancers, cleaners, and other low-paid workers who allege wage theft and misclassification as independent contractors by their employers. She has gained national attention for her legal crusades on behalf of workers against Amazon, Google, FedEx, and Starbucks. …

    Just how vulnerable Markey is remains to be seen. The senator has recently cultivated key liberal alliances, teaming up, for instance, with US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has reached rock-star status on the left, on the Green New Deal. And Markey has been building his campaign war chest. The latest federal filings show he has raised close to $940,000 this year for his campaign and has about $3.5 million in cash on hand.

    Asked about policy differences with Markey, Liss-Riordan, 49, declined to detail any and avoided criticizing or even mentioning the Malden Democrat in the interview. She made no reference to the incumbent in her announcement video or e-mail to supporters on Monday. But she cast herself as an “outsider” with a “fresh voice,” implicitly contrasting herself with Markey, who is 72 and has served in Congress since 1976.

    My Take: Shannon Liss-Riordan has achieved near legendary status through her relentless pursuit of economic justice on behalf of drivers and other gig workers… while pocketing huge legal fees in the process. That’s not a black mark against her, but it does somewhat undercut her claim to be a champion of the worker and the little guy.

    To her credit, she has filed and settled lawsuits against both Uber and Lyft challenging their characterization of drivers as independent contractors, with the Uber settlement still pending final judge approval. So at least from the drivers’ perspective, she is a champion.  But Ed Markey is also a fighter for arms control, net neutrality and the Green New Deal.

    Here’s hoping Liss-Riordan’s campaign starts to gain some traction, so even if she doesn’t upset incumbent Ed Markey, she will at least have increased her public profile.  Drivers can use all the champions we can get, and if they have credibility and clout, so much the better.

    Backseat passengers in Uber, Lyft, ride-hailing vehicles face germs, safety risks [USA Today]

    Sum and Substance: It’s second nature: When your Uber or Lyft pulls up, you hop in the back seat.

    Sure, you check that the license plate and driver photo match what’s on the app. But should you also pull out hand sanitizer and sit up front to be safer? Maybe you should, research shows.

    Concerns about cleanliness and the dangers of sitting in the back could give you pause the next time your ride rolls up to the curb.

    Experts say that riding in the back seat of a ride-hailing vehicle is germier than a toilet seat and potentially more dangerous than sitting in front.

    My Take: In the larger scheme of things, somehow germs in the back seat of rideshare vehicles does not strike me as an earth shaking issue.  But it makes for good story, and some passengers might even find this disturbing. What do you think?

    Shut Up And Drive: Riders And Drivers React To New Uber Feature That Lets You Pay For A Silent Ride [Air Talk]

    Sum and Substance: Ride hailing company Uber has rolled out a suite of new features for its popular mobile app and among them is a new option that users have been requesting for some time: an option to ask that your driver not talk during the ride.

    The feature will be available to riders who choose to ride Uber Black or Uber Black SUV, the company’s luxury service tier, and yes, you will have to shell out if you want to ask your driver to be silent during your ride. Now, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t simply order a regular Uber and ask the driver yourself. But for those who might feel awkward asking the question directly of the driver, the app’s new feature will allow you to choose whether you’d like a silent ride when you are booking the car. You’ll also have options to tell your driver what your optimal car temperature is, whether you have luggage and would like your driver to help load it, and even request an extended pick up window if you think you might be delayed.

    Today on AirTalk, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of this new feature and hear reactions from Uber drivers and frequent users.

    My Take: An interesting in depth discussion of Uber’s new silent mode… featuring RSG’s very own Jay Cradeur.  For those drivers who have an especially weird sense of humor, I’d recommend playing this podcast for any passenger who requests a ride with silent mode.

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

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    -John @ RSG

    John Ince

    John Ince

    John Ince is a former Fortune reporter and Wall Street banker. He has about 1,000 rides under his belt driving part time for Uber and Lyft.  He’s writing a book about his experiences entitled:  Travels With Vanessa:  A Rideshare Driver Tries To Make Sense of It all - For a sneak peak visit the link above.

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