Uber goes autonomous in Vegas

In gig news this week, Amazon looks to divert your attention with a “cute” marketing scheme, autonomous vehicles plan to expand to Los Angeles, and are driver pay hikes good or bad for us? Plus some good news about DoorDash-driver-turned-NBA-pro Matt Ryan and more. Keep reading for more news in this week’s roundup with senior RSG contributor Paula Lemar.

Amazon will give your overworked delivery driver $5 if you ask Alexa to say thank you (TechCrunch)

Summary: Last year, an Amazon delivery driver said that the high volume of orders during holiday season “makes life hell.” This year, these contracted workers can get a $5 tip if their customer says, “Alexa, thank my driver.”

Meanwhile, news also broke today that Amazon is being sued by the DC Attorney General, seeking penalties for allegedly misleading consumers by using tips to cover couriers’ base pay.

“Nothing is more important to us than customer trust,” Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti said in a statement, per Bloomberg. “This lawsuit involves a practice we changed three years ago and is without merit. All of the customer tips at issue were already paid to drivers as part of a settlement last year with the FTC.”

The new thank you feature is part of a promotion that Amazon says it’s running to celebrate its impending milestone of 15 billion packages delivered. If a driver is one of the first one million to receive a thank you, they get $5. The five drivers who receive the most thank yous will get a $10,000 bonus plus $10,000 donated to a charity of their choice…..

My Take: This is a neat idea, and I’m glad it’s hit the news, so hopefully it will spread. Unfortunately, not everyone who uses Amazon has a home device, so I guess we’re out of luck there. What if I wanted to participate? (The answer is ‘buy Amazon products’, so good marketing there, too!)

All that said, this is an attempt by Amazon to take the news off of “Amazon stole tips from drivers” and “hey, look at this nice thing you can do for drivers!” It’s “funny” that even when companies have been called out for tip-skimming in the past, other huge companies (like Amazon) still try to do it. It’s almost like they won’t learn… or think you won’t notice.

It’s one big reason why Harry (aka The Rideshare Guy) reads every single email he receives – companies do try to get away with bad behavior and it needs to be called out. If you see anything shady happen this holiday season, make sure to let us know either on social media or via email (harry at therideshareguy.com)

Your next Uber ride in Las Vegas could be in an autonomous vehicle (USA Today)

Summary: Your next Las Vegas Uber ride may not have a driver behind the wheel.

Uber is partnering with driverless technology company Motional to offer autonomous vehicle rides in Las Vegas, with plans to expand to other major cities like Los Angeles.

Starting Wednesday, Uber customers in Las Vegas can hail an autonomous IONIQ 5 mid-sized crossover, a vehicle Motional designed with Hyundai.

While there will initially be two vehicle operators present in the front seats, Uber and Motional aim to launch a fully driverless commercial service in 2023.

Riders should “get the normal seamlessness and reliability of Uber that they’ve come to expect, with an added touch of a taste of the future,” Noah Zych, Uber’s global head of autonomous mobility and delivery, told USA TODAY….

My Take: This isn’t exactly new news….it’s just new for Uber. Lyft has provided autonomous pickups and drop-offs in Vegas for a while, but now Uber has jumped in, thanks to Motional.

I do still wonder how they account for accidents within the vehicle. People get sloppy drunk, and Vegas is no exception. If I ordered one of these rides and there was vomit all over the inside, you bet I’d cancel and want a refund immediately. How can an autonomous vehicle keep clean unless it goes back ‘home’ after each ride for a cleanliness check?

I’m especially curious to see how this will go when it launches in Los Angeles. Not to say that Las Vegas doesn’t present its share of challenges (oh, it does!), but Los Angeles is an even bigger market for more opportunities for… unique… things to happen.

If you’ve taken an autonomous vehicle, let us know in the comments section! Did you like it? What was the experience like?

Uber rises as it sues New York City Taxi Commission over ‘unprecedented’ pay hikes (Seeking Alpha)

Summary: Uber Technologies (NYSE:UBER) shares rose more than 1% on Friday as the mobility company sued the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission to try to block a pay increase for its drivers that it called “dramatic, unprecedented and unsupported.”

My Take: In mid-November, a fare increase of 7% per minute and 24% per mile was approved by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, with Bloomberg noting a 30-minute trip of 7.5 miles would require “a minimum driver payment of $27.15.”

I’m torn by this: on one hand, great news for drivers, who deserve to get paid more! I think we can all agree on that. But if drivers are paid $27, how much does Uber need to make? Then how much will the passengers pay – $40? $50?

After a while, we’re right back to where we started – people who can afford it will take $50 7.5 mile rides, and everyone else is shuttled to notoriously awful NYC public transit. I guess that’s fine if you don’t visit (or live in!) NYC, but I don’t think the options of “extremely expensive”, “take terrible public transit”, or “walk” are solutions for everyone.

There’s no easy solution, and I’m not taking rideshare companies’ sides on this, since I do think drivers deserve more. What do you think? Leave us a comment below!

Also in the news…

Matt Ryan, ex-Lakers shooter and DoorDash Driver, signs two-way deal with Timberwolves, per report (CBS Sports)

Thoughts: Remember our story a few weeks ago on Matt Ryan, ‘From DoorDash driver to Lakers’ sharpshooter’? Well, it looks like Matt has been picked up by the Timberwolves! Sometimes good things happen to good people.

Instacart delivers the scent of the season — fresh-cut trees — for the first time this holiday season (SuperMarket News)

Thoughts: Personally, I think part of the fun of having a real Christmas tree is getting to pick it out, but maybe I have more free time than most people? Anyway, if you get a request to go to a Christmas tree lot, just be aware you might be picking up an actual tree.

Not entirely sure how that’s going to work if you’ve got a Prius… good luck, I guess? If anyone ends up picking up a tree via Instacart, let us know how it went in the comments!

Australia fines Uber $14 mln for misleading on fares and cancellation fees (Reuters)

Thoughts: Sounds like Uber made a pretty costly mistake in Australia. Never a good idea to break consumer law. Glad they’ll be paying a fine to help right these wrongs.

RSG’s Sergio featured on a podcast (Newstalk 1010)

Thoughts: Sergio went on “There’s a Podcast for That” and talked about The Rideshare Guy blog, podcast and more. Check it out!

Uber’s new Driver and Courier Learning Center playlist (YouTube)

Thoughts: There are many features within the Uber app that drivers may not know about. Check out this video all about how an Uber trip works here.

What do you think about cities and others mandating pay hikes for drivers? Do you think it will be successful or lead to a drop in passengers? Does it not matter?

-Paula @ RSG