Uber Hit With New Blow in London as Panel Says Drivers Aren’t Self-Employed [New York Times]
Sum and Substance: LONDON — Uber suffered another setback in its biggest market outside the United States on Friday when an employment tribunal in London rejected the ride-hailing company’s argument that its drivers are self-employed. The decision, which affirmed a ruling issued last year, means that Uber will have to ensure that its drivers in Britain receive a minimum wage and paid time off. That creates problems for a common hiring model in the so-called gig economy that relies on workers who do not have formal contracts.
Companies argue that using such a model increases flexibility on both sides of the hiring equation, but critics counter that the system is exploitative and deprives employees of important safeguards like unemployment insurance. The ruling on Friday was the second blow to Uber’s business here in recent months. In September, London’s transport authority barred the company from operating in the British capital.
My Take: Of all the threats facing Uber and Lyft, this one has to be one of the most serious. Uber/Lyft’s entire business model is predicated on the assumption that drivers are gig workers/independent contractors and thus not eligible for benefits and protections afforded employees. If that fiction doesn’t hold up in courts, the company profitability picture suddenly looks very blurry. I expect that after appeals some kind of third category – call it dependent contractor is going to emerge. But that still begs the question – how much more is it going to cost the companies – and how much of that will go to the drivers.
Waymo’s autonomous cars don’t need humans in the driver’s seat anymore [Mashable]
Sum and Substance: More than eight years after it began, Waymo, the company spun out of Google X’s self-driving car project, believes its technology is ready to take to public roads as a fully self-driving car — without anyone in the driver’s seat. Waymo’s fleet of autonomous vehicles is now prepared to drive on public roads without a safety operator, according to CEO John Krafcik, who announced the development onstage at the Web Summit in Lisbon…
The new, fully autonomous trials will begin in Phoenix, where Waymo’s first public-facing pilot program has been in service since April. A limited number of the Chrysler Pacifica fleet has begun testing without safety drivers within a designated area of the city, and the company will expand the program to include more cars within a 600 square mile region “over time.”
… The California DMV recently proposed a set of rule changes that would allow for companies to test fully autonomous vehicles on public roads, which followed new federal guidelines for self-driving vehicles that passed through the House of Representatives and now await a vote in the Senate. Once these measures have passed — and other self-driving companies have developed more road-ready systems — fully self-driving test programs could rapidly expand. Waymo’s will be the first.
My Take: Well, that was fast. Too fast? I guess we’ll find out sooner rather than later. In fact we already got a hint of how this technology is going to roll out with an accident that dominated the headlines pretty much right in sync with Waymo’s announcement (see below). Just curious, how many of you would be willing to be a guinea pig – and buckle your seat belt in an autonomous vehicle that has no driver?
Self-driving bus gets into accident on its first day in Las Vegas, human driver blamed for collision [New York Daily News]
Sum and Substance: Looks like robots are better drivers than humans. A driverless shuttle bus was in an accident on the first day the electric vehicle was being tested in Las Vegas. But police said another vehicle with a human driver was the one at fault.
The new shuttle bus was cruising down S. Sixth St. — one block east from the Vegas Strip — around noon local time Wednesday when it collided with a delivery truck, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. The bus, which can carry up to 11 people and communicate with traffic signals, stopped itself when its sensor noticed the truck backing up.
“The shuttle just stayed still and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going to hit us, it’s going to hit us,’” passenger Jenny Wong told local NBC affiliate KSNV. “And then it hit us.”
The truck driver was cited for illegal backing in the accident. The massive tires on the truck left a noticeable dent in the small blue vehicle. Wong said the truck driver didn’t even see the self-driving bus, which couldn’t go in reverse. “The shuttle didn’t have the ability to move back, either,” she said. “Like the shuttle just stayed still.”
My Take: Although the human being in the other vehicle was at fault, the optics here are not good for driverless car technology – especially for the first day of the rollout – when all eyes were on the technology. My guess is that the skepticism about truly autonomous vehicles is not going away quickly. This is key, because consumer and regulatory acceptance is critical when lives are at stake.
InnovateLA 2017 Highlights LA’s Innovative & Creative Ecosystem [Globe News Wire]
Sum and Substance: LA CoMotion is coming to downtown Los Angeles November 15-19. The first LA CoMotion is a five-day event bringing together mobility leaders to discuss transformative transportation options for cities large and small. The event will feature cutting-edge discussions, demos, test drives and exhibitions, designed to provide a glimpse into the “urban future.”
Editor’s Note: To read more about this event, visit the LA CoMotion website here. Harry will be attending this event to see what type of future transportation options could be coming to to the US, and how these options could transform, improve or otherwise impact rideshare drivers.
Uber says it will bring its flying taxis to Los Angeles in 2020 [LA Times]
Sum and Substance: Uber says it will bring its flying taxis to Los Angeles in 2020. Aviation manufacturers will supply and pilot the aircraft for UberAir. Uber will operate the software that passengers use to book the trip. In just over two years, Uber says it will let commuters soar over Los Angeles’ snarled traffic in flying taxis. The ride-hailing firm announced Wednesday that L.A. will be one of the first cities served by UberAir, which it says will begin ferrying passengers across the region in electric aircraft in 2020.
UberAir differs from UberChopper, a helicopter service the company has in the past offered during events such as the Coachella music festival, or during summertime for trips between New York City and the Hamptons. Rather than offering the service as a luxury product (trips to Coachella Valley from Los Angeles cost passengers $4,170 each way), Uber envisions UberAir as a commuter option, with fares comparable to taking an UberX car ride.
… Despite the momentum behind the project, Jim Harris, a partner at Bain & Co. who leads the firm’s aerospace and defense practice, said the regulatory timeline tends to be longer than companies expect. Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial aircraft can include two years of rigorous testing. On top of that the company must ensure the safety and stability of the batteries that will power the aircraft. And then the company will need to win over consumers, Harris said.
“When you have a pilot in the aircraft, you’ll see consumer adoption pretty fast,” he said. “But for some autonomous experiments, it’s going to take awhile for consumers to be comfortable being in an air taxi without a pilot.” Harris said he could see a commercial electric aircraft service launch within the next 10 years. But for a larger-scale service that’s economically viable?
“More like 15,” Harris said.
My Take: Sorry, I just can’t see this coming in anywhere near the time frame suggested in this article. Too many unanswered questions. But then again, Uber has never let that stop them in the past.
Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up? Want to hop in a driverless car – or flying Uber taxi?
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-John @ RSG