Uber Plays Nice, the Food Delivery Market is Growing and More

Lots to cover this week, including two articles on food! Senior RSG contributor John Ince covers a scary altercation with a passenger, highlighting a major problem with rideshare, plus how Uber is playing nice with cities and how the food delivery market continues to grow.

Uber driver punched in the face for refusing ride to teens [TheIndyChannel]

Sum and Substance: An Uber driver says she was punched in the face by a teen for not going against company policy and allowing them to order a ride under a parent’s account. Marsha Boone is a grandmother on disability who has been driving for Uber for more than a year to supplement her income…

Boone reported the incident to police and then contacted Uber. The company shut down the account the girl was trying to use and immediately gave Boone restitution for the damage the teens caused to her car. Uber says in order to create an account a person must be 18 years old and if someone is caught violating those terms their account will be removed. They’ve also instructed drivers to be on the lookout for teens who may be sneaking out and make sure to report those rides to the proper authorities.

Also under Uber policy, a driver can end a ride at any time if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe….

My Take:  This story caught my eye because the incident resonated with me. I get a lot of teen ride requests in Marin County and they alway pose a dilemma. Should I give the teens a ride or refuse and basically write off my time getting there as a waste? I usually play it by ear. If the passenger seems nice enough, I’ll give them a ride.

Sometimes I’ll give them a one star rating and a few times I’ve worked my way through Uber’s maze on the help screen to send them a message reporting the underage riders to Uber.  Nothing ever comes of it.  And who wants to do that when you’ve already got another ride request waiting?

It would be so simple for Uber (and Lyft) to fix this problem. Just include a tab – underage passenger – on the cancel screen. Then the company can follow up to investigate. If proved guilty, a fine is imposed and their account will be de-activated.

But neither company will do this.  I wonder why?  Could it be because they really want the passenger’s business – even if it puts the driver in an awkward position and potential legal jeopardy?

Watch: What Should Rideshare Drivers Do When They Get a Request for a Minor?

Uber is Sharing Curbside Data With Cities [Engadget]

Sum and Substance: As part of Uber’s image redemption, the company has joined groups like, say, the International Association of Public Transport to improve relations with the public and civic administrations. And while the ride-hailing company has had poor relationships with some cities, now it will share some of its vast street-and-curbside data with civic governments, whose own road records can be split up or out-of-date…

There are promising applications of SharedStreets’ data — not least of which is establishing standards for curbs, traffic speeds, transit data and formats making it easier to share information between individuals and agencies, wrote Wired. Better still, it’s all in SharedStreets’ hands, a supposedly non-partisan third party that won’t favor either private companies or city agencies.

That may comfort the former to share their information with an intermediary, which can process and provide it to civic bodies, but SharedStreets isn’t the only curb data game in town. Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs introduced its own platform Coord, which offered a free sample of its services to help individuals and businesses.

My Take:  Amidst all the doubts that have been expressed about Uber, most have overlooked Uber’s astounding ability to collect data on passengers. This data is a form of power and here, Uber chooses to use this power for the public good by sharing it with nonprofits to help urban transit run more smoothly.

Uber could just as easily use that data for nefarious purposes, as they did on several occasions under TK (i.e. Hell and Greyball). If Facebook faces public scrutiny over the use of its data, how long will it be before there’s public pressure for Uber to submit to review or regulation on the use of its data?  Perhaps Uber’s knows this and that’s why they’re playing nice here.

Uber Eats is the fastest-growing meal delivery service in the U.S. [Recode]

Sum and Substance: Uber Eats is the fastest-growing meal delivery service in the U.S., bringing in nearly as much new customer revenue as GrubHub…

Six months ago, Uber Eats dominated in just three Texas cities: Houston, Austin and Dallas. In the time since, it’s beaten out GrubHub in El Paso, DoorDash in Fort Worth and Postmates in Phoenix, and even Amazon Restaurants in Amazon’s home city of Seattle.

However, this isn’t necessarily an example of Uber Eats eating GrubHub’s lunch (or that of other services). Rather, the market for food delivery is growing fast enough that the competitors have plenty of business to gain — and not just from each other. Overall food delivery sales grew 51 percent from August to March, according to Second Measure.

Recently, Postmates and DoorDash discussed a merger as a way to fight back against GrubHub (which includes Seamless and Eat24) and Uber Eats, which dwarf them in market share. Combined, they’d have a 24 percent market share — bigger than Uber Eats.

My Take:  Notice that the headline focuses here on Uber’s growth rate and almost no mention is made of profitability.  Recode, being anchored in the tech world, is prone to see growth as the bellwether of success. But I spent time working on Wall Street, where profits matter.

Uber has gotten pretty far and achieved a valuation well in excess of $60 billion essentially by proving that if you offer something at well below market cost, people will bite. I ain’t biting here.  The margins are razor thin in food delivery. Where exactly are they going to cut costs to make food delivery profitable? Are they going to take it out of the driver’s pay? Good luck with that strategy.

As it stands now, Uber’s growth in meal delivery just translates into bigger losses.  Now if they could find a way to grow and make money on each meal delivery, I’d be impressed.

You can now buy drinks, snacks and even hangover cures in the back of your Uber [CNBC.com]

Sum and Substance: Passengers using Uber or Lyft are now able to buy drinks, snacks and even phone chargers while they are on their way from A to B. The initiative comes from tech company Cargo, which has installed boxes of products including protein bar RXBAR, Sour Patch Kids sweets and hangover cure tablets into cars in U.S. cities including New York, Chicago and Baltimore.

Passengers can use their smartphone to choose from a menu on the Cargo mobile site while in transit, tap in their driver’s code and choose and pay for their products. Drivers then unlock the display box when the car comes to a stop…

Drivers will earn $1 for each product sold, plus 25 percent commission per sale. They can also earn a weekly $10 bonus when at least 10 items are sold, and Cargo claims that drivers can earn up to $500 a month. Some products, including Smartwater, are free to passengers and therefore won’t provide the 25 percent commission (although drivers will still earn the $1 fee).

… Cargo plans to expand to West Coast cities during 2018 and hopes that international expansion will follow. It said it will reach more than 25 million passengers in 20,000 vehicles this year.

My Take:  I suppose this was inevitable. As drivers, we have passengers captive in our cars and it was just a matter of time until some enterprising team started to smell sales potential.

Read: Cargo Pays Rideshare Drivers to Hand Out Snacks to Passengers

I’ll interested to see whether this catches on as it expands nationwide. Personally, as a passenger, I wouldn’t pay money to buy these products, but clearly there are many people who would (and are). What do you think? If you’re using Cargo, what’s been your experience?

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

-John @ RSG