Uber Is Testing A Commuter Service Between San Francisco And Silicon Valley

Harry here.  Safety has been a big topic for drivers this week, but today’s round-up focuses on some of the other stories that happened during the past few days.  

RSG contributor John Ince takes a look at Uber’s foray into carpooling, riders who still haven’t mastered surge pricing, a new taxi invention and more.

Uber is testing a commuter service between San Francisco and Silicon Valley
Uber is testing a commuter service between San Francisco and Silicon Valley

Uber is testing a commuter service between San Francisco and Silicon Valley

Sum and Substance: Uber will offer fixed-rate rides to San Francisco from the South Bay, in a sign the company is serious about the carpooling business. On weekdays, between the hours of 6AM and 10 AM, riders can commute to San Francisco for as little as $20 — if they’re coming from Palo Alto. (Rides from Mountain View are $22; from San Jose, $26). Commuters interested in the special rate need to be in a designated pickup zone. Bringing along a friend only costs $10 extra. Uber has said repeatedly that one of its missions is to make hailing a ride so seamless and convenient that personal car ownership becomes a thing of the past. UberPool, which was introduced in the US last year and in China last month, is also seen by some as a push to create a private alternative to public transit. UberPool just launched in New York City, the startup’s largest market globally, with $10 flat rates being offered anywhere in Manhattan below 96th Street. Uber is focused on exclusively marketing its new carpooling service to riders, but drivers may present the biggest threat.

UberPool is reportedly unpopular with some drivers, who worry about receiving poor ratings from riders annoyed at having to wait for other customers. Some drivers avoid picking up customers with bad ratings (drivers can rate riders too) who request the carpool service. But this behavior puts drivers in risk of deactivation, as drivers who skip too many rides can get cut off by Uber. 

My Take: This certainly seems to be a right turn in the right direction for Uber.  UberPool, while popular with riders who are looking for cheaper fares, it’s seen as unpopular by many drivers.  This initiative seems to address the causes of driver dissatisfaction and just might appeal to part time drivers who want to make a few extra bucks on their commute.

In that sense it’s similar to the program now offered by Google’s subsidiary Waze in Tel Aviv.  Uber’s still evolving and this suggests that they’re not completely tone deaf to the the complaints of drivers.  Right now the program is opt-in for drivers, but that may change as the program expands.

Halloween Uber ride costs woman $500

Sum and Substance: A Rio Rancho woman’s Halloween night out ended with a nightmare when she got her Uber bill. Suzi Siglock’s 45-minute ride home from downtown Albuquerque cost $500.17. Saturday was her first time using the popular ride-sharing service. “I’d heard it was a very economical way of getting to and from places. A very safe way of getting back and forth,” Siglock said. “I wanted to be really safe on Halloween, me and my friends were going out, and we wanted to make sure we got to and from but in a good way … and at the same time, save some money.” A $20 coupon code made the trip into town quite affordable at $20.48. Split between herself, her brother, and her best friend, it cost about $6.82 per person to arrive in Albuquerque at 8 p.m. Siglock requested a ride home around 1 a.m. The Uber app sent her a message about surge pricing. The Uber app showed a driver could arrive in 7 or 8 minutes, so she and her friends decided it would be simpler and faster than calling a taxi company. It was only after she got home and got an email from Uber with her bill that she realized a cab ride would have been a bargain.

My Take:  This unfortunate lady got a trick rather than a treat on Halloween.  She makes a good point – why doesn’t Uber offer up an estimated fare at surge rates instead of simply showing a 9.9 surge multiple?

I had a first time passenger who was charged $119 for a fare that normally would have been about $30 bucks. I was thrilled with the fare until I got my ratings the next day – one star.  I know this because it was my only fare of the night.  Any of you ever get dinged by a passenger who went into surge shock?

How Uber Drivers Could Trip Up CEO Travis Kalanick

Sum and Substance: The behemoth ride-sharing service Uber has jolted city after city like a mighty earthquake. It has gained a momentum that seems almost unstoppable. Some say it portends the future of the U.S. economy. At the very least, taxi companies and their antiquated medallion system are being crushed. Yet Uber may not be as invincible as it seems. As CEO Travis Kalanick fully knows, Uber’s success or failure will hinge on one major “input” into its business: its drivers (at least until driverless cars come online, which, depending on who you talk to, is either just around the corner or will never be perfected enough to clear the regulatory and liability hurdles for everyday use. I lean toward the latter view.) Without sufficient numbers of drivers, Uber’s $51 billion valuation will head south. Any smart investor should be asking, “How does Mr. Kalanick treat his drivers?”

My Take: A good article that captures what lot of drivers are thinking and feeling, but he never really comes up with a good answer to the question posed in the title.  I’ll let you decide whether what he proposes makes sense.  I don’t think so.

Flywheel just opened up a new front in the taxi wars

Sum and Substance: Flywheel, the e-hail app that’s not Uber or Lyft, is stepping up their game in the global war for taxi domination. On Thursday, the Redwood City-based company unveiled its new “TaxiOS” designed to replace the antiquated jumble of meters, navigation devices, and credit card machines currently found in many cabs with a single, cloud-enabled smartphone. Currently, around 50 taxis in San Francisco are operating with Flywheel’s new operating system under a pilot with the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency. It also aims to launch in New York City, where it’s working on an application to the Taxi and Limousine Commission to become the first virtual meters in that city as well.

Flywheel’s intention to make a move on the in-taxi technology is significant. Currently, a hodgepodge of companies run the meters, credit card systems, and televisions found inside yellow taxis across the country. In New York, two companies each control about half of the systems in the entire 13,000-plus vehicle fleet: Creative Mobile Technologies, based in Long Island City, Queens; and Verifone Systems, based in San Jose. Each company takes a cut of every credit card payment that’s made and earns revenue off advertising shown on taxi television screens — although that may be a thing of the past after the TLC recently approved a pilot to junk the screens. That proposal cleared the way for Flywheel to make its move. The company, which is primarily an e-hail service, currently operates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, Sacramento, and Portland. New York City, which is the country’s largest taxi market, is the logical next step.

My Take:  One of the most surprising revelations of this article is that taxis still dominate the New York City market by 4:1.  This dominance is rapidly eroding, but perhaps Flywheel or another tech company will reverse this trend.  One thing is for sure – the ridehail wars are far from over and Uber’s ascendance is anything but a foregone conclusion – especially to the folks at Flywheel.

In new push, Uber tries to position itself as the cure for America’s economic ills

Sum and Substance: Uber has been relatively quiet for the past few months, keeping its head down as questions over “Uber-type jobs” have risen to the level of presidential campaign stump speeches. Now, it’s going back on the offensive, laying out the case for why the ride-hailing app is not just good for consumers and drivers — but also for the economy as a whole. The argument comes from former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who 14 months ago became Uber’s chief spokesman and has since transitioned into the role of a public policy strategist. The message he’s trying to get across: at a time when wages have stagnated in the rest of the economy, Uber is an income boost for people whose jobs haven’t been providing enough to live on. 

My Take:   Uber’s PR staff wisely recognizes that they need to make a stronger case with regulators, and David Plouffe seems to be taking a page out of his Obama campaign playbook here.  This is an Uber-type argument that at least seems to have caught the attention of the editors at the Washington Post.

Sometimes it pays to have friends in high places – and Plouffe has friends in the highest echelons of the power world.  Good hire – but the arguments he puts forth strike me as a mostly self-serving boilerplate.

Uber Driver in India Sentenced to Life in Prison for Raping Passenger

Sum and Substance: A former Uber taxi driver convicted of raping a female passenger in New Delhi has been sentenced to life in prison. Driver Shiv Kumar Yadav, 32, was convicted of rape, criminal intimidation, endangering a woman’s life and kidnapping last month after the 2014 attack on a 25-year-old passenger. The woman said she was driven to an isolated area by Yadav after a booking a trip home with Uber from work in December and woke up to find him next to her. Yadav pleaded not guilty to the charges. Judge Kaveri Baweja told a Delhi court on Tuesday that Yadav “will serve regressive imprisonment, which shall mean imprisonment until natural death,” Al Jazeera reports. Life in prison is the longest possible prison sentence for rape in India, according to the AFP news agency. In addition to his jail term, the court also imposed a fine of 21,000 rupees, according to The Times of India. Atul Shrivastava, prosecuting, told the courtroom that Yadav’s sentencing should send “a message” to the country and make it so “a person cannot even think of committing such an offense.”

My Take:  Pretty clear message here: drivers – don’t rape your passengers. Don’t even think about any illegal stuff or your life will be changed in an instant – in India or anyplace else.

Fired Taco Bell Exec Benjamin Golden Faces New Charges in Uber Fracas

Sum and Substance: A Taco Bell executive who lost his job after allegedly beating an Uber driver — an incident caught on video — was slapped Tuesday with further criminal charges that put him at risk of spending up to a year behind bars and paying a $10,000 fine. Benjamin Golden, 32, who lives in Newport Beach, California, was charged with four misdemeanor counts by the Orange County District Attorney’s office on Tuesday, a day after a YouTube video of the Uber car incident went viral. The DA accused Golden of assault on public transportation property, battery on a public transit employee with injury, assault and battery. Golden originally was charged with misdemeanor assault and public intoxication by Costa Mesa police. “Based on the evidence, we filed the charges we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Roxi Fyad, spokeswoman for the Orange County DA’s office, told CNBC. Fyad said the video of the attack factored into the decision to charge Golden with the additional criminal counts. The DA’s office said in a statement that it would seek a $20,000 bail for Golden, who currently is out on $500 bail following his arrest on Friday for allegedly attacking Uber driver Edward Caban. Golden is scheduled to be arraigned in court on Nov. 17.

My Take:  This is welcome news to drivers who felt the Taco Bell terror was getting off easy. The driver is also suing for $25,000. It sends a pretty clear message to any drunk who isn’t thinking clearly.  Does this make us safer as drivers?  Perhaps marginally so, but remember drunks don’t think rationally.  That’s why they’re drunk.

What do you guys think about the week’s top stories?

-John @ RSG