A lot to cover in this week’s round up, including zen rides for passengers (and drivers!), autonomous vehicles on the rise, plus Caviar’s new instant pay for couriers. Senior RSG contributor John Ince covers all of these stories, plus potential new tax revenue for cities, in this week’s round up.
Lyft Contemplates Offering Rides Where Your Driver Says Nothing [Fortune]
Sum and Substance: Ride-sharing services can save you a fortune when getting from the airport to the hotel or around town, but if you’re looking for a quiet ride, they’re often not the best option.
Lyft, though, is considering a mode for people looking to get from point A to point B without the chitchat. Taggart Matthiesen, Lyft‘s head of product for autonomous driving, said the company has considered the idea when he was a guest on the The Verge’s Converge podcast.
Dubbed “zen mode,” it’s meant to signal to drivers that passengers who don’t make small talk aren’t trying to be rude; they just want a little peace and quiet.
Still, judging by social media, the idea of a driver who focuses on the road and not the passenger’s life story is a pretty appealing one.
My Take: This strikes me as an eminently sensible idea. One of the most difficult lessons for drivers is knowing when to shut up. Some drivers feel it’s rude not to say anything during a ride, but that’s exactly what some passengers want. Sometimes I just don’t feel like talking either. A Zen Mode ride request would relieve all the tension and the uncertainty. I say, give it a go.
Driver for Uber and Lyft live-streamed hundreds of riders on Twitch without their consent [The Verge]
Sum and Substance: An Uber and Lyft driver in St. Louis, Missouri has given around 700 rides since March 2018, and nearly all of them have been live-streamed on Twitch, without passenger consent.
In a lengthy report, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailed the actions of Jason Gargac, a 32-year ride-hailing driver who took advantage of Missouri’s one-party consent laws to build up a Twitch following by live-streaming passengers — including children. At times, Gargac has inadvertently revealed the full names of his riders and what their homes and neighborhoods looked like on his channel, under the online handle “JustSmurf.”
Gargac isn’t the first driver to live stream his or her passengers on Twitch; the man says he stumbled onto the trend while surfing Twitch and decided to try it himself. He is, however, one of the few, if not the only one in Missouri, to do so without asking for permission first. (Other “IRL” ride-hailing live streamers often lose passengers the minute they disclose they’re streaming, the report notes.)
Gargac has a $3,000 camera setup, including rear-facing and front-facing cameras that show the interior of the car and the environment he’s driving in. He has about 4,350 Twitch followers, and around 100 of them pay a minimum of $5 a month to subscribe to his channel and support it financially.
According to Missouri state law, Uber, and Lyft, Gargac is in the clear. Because he is not breaking one-party consent laws, the state can’t do anything about his recording of passengers without their permission. Neither Uber or Lyft told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Gargac was breaking any of their terms, with both companies noting that drivers are responsible for following local laws. “Recording passengers without their consent is illegal in some states, but not Missouri,” Uber told the paper in a statement.
My Take: I’ve got to give this driver credit for his moxie. I’ve recorded audio with many of my passengers, but I’ve always asked consent first. California requires two-way consent, which is also true in many states.
But Missouri only requires one way consent, so what the driver has been doing the is legal. But Uber and Lyft didn’t seem too wild about the idea. I can understand why. Would you like to have your conversation in an Uber broadcast live to an online audience?
Waymo’s Self-Driving Cars Are Near: Meet the Teen Who Rides One Every Day [Bloomberg]
Sum and Substance: Alphabet is experimenting with prices and finalizing its business model before unleashing its autonomous fleet in Phoenix this year. …
For the past year, Kyla Jackson has been one of the only teenagers in the world who gets a ride to high school from a robot. When she’s ready to start her day, Kyla summons a self-driving car using the Waymo app on her phone. Five minutes later a Chrysler Pacifica run by the autonomous vehicle arm of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., stops at her home in Chandler, Arizona.
She slides open the door, fastens her seat belt, and hits a blue button above her head to set the car in motion. It’s a minivan covered in goofy-looking sensors, but it’s the coolest ride at her school. The Jackson family, along with some 400 neighbors in their Phoenix suburb, are volunteers in an ongoing test of Waymo’s autonomous ride-hailing business, which is expected to launch for paying passengers in the area by the end of the year.
The Jacksons, who Waymo made available for this story, have largely ditched their own cars and now use self-driving vehicles to go almost everywhere within the 100 square-mile operating area: track practice, grocery shopping, movies, the train station.
Kyla acts like a diva with a private chauffeur, laughs her mom, Samantha Jackson, in an interview in Chandler last week. Access to robotaxis has even managed to convince this 17-year-old to put off an American rite of passage: getting her driver’s license. As Kyla puts it, “What’s the point?”
There are still times when the car gets flustered—Kyla says that the rush of students in the parking lot of her high school can trigger Waymo paralysis—but for the most part it’s a reliable, if boring, chauffeur. “Kids walk and it halts,” she says. “It’s so polite. It’s like, ‘Oh sorry.’ It’s not rude enough.” …
My Take: This time a few years ago, Uber made a big splash by buying Otto, the self driving truck company founded by ex-Waymo exec. Fast forward, the same day Uber announces they will shutter their self driving truck unit, Waymo is still moving ahead – deliberately – toward the commercialization of its driverless car program in Phoenix, even testing consumers’ reactions to taxi-type fares.
While Uber charged right in, Waymo’s progress has been slow and calculated. It’s fascinating to see the lengths Waymo (Google) goes to to try to understand how people react to driverless cars. For better or for worse, the future is coming sooner than many of us are willing to admit.
In compromise with SF Supervisor Peskin, Uber and Lyft agree to new ride tax [SF Chronicle]
Sum and Substance: San Francisco lawmakers want to tax Uber and Lyft rides, and both companies say that’s OK with them. The proposed tax eliminates a ballot initiative that Supervisor Aaron Peskin had planned for November that would have asked voters to tax ride-hailing companies’ gross receipts at rates up to 0.975 percent. Peskin withdrew that measure after weeks of negotiations with Uber and Lyft produced an agreement to tax only net fares, excluding additional charges such as tolls, airport fees and tips to drivers.
That change was much more palatable to Uber and Lyft, because they wouldn’t have to pay taxes on money they don’t receive. … “This is a win-win for everyone,” Peskin said in a statement. “I’m optimistic that this concession on the part of the (ride-hailing companies) signals a shift in their corporate culture and a willingness to work with — not fight with — local governments.” The proposed tax, which applies only to trips that originate in San Francisco, would levy a 3.25 percent tax on net rider fares for single-party trips and 1.5 percent on shared rides. Still up for discussion: the tax rate for para-transit rides, hybrid and electric vehicles, trips originating in low-income areas and trips that start after midnight. …
My Take: It appears that under the new leadership of Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is now willing to work with municipal governments to fashion some form of taxation for the right to use city streets. If this proposal works in San Francisco, expect to see some facsimile of it adopted in other cities around the country and the world.
The days of Uber’s confrontational strategy are passing and the new accommodating Uber is materializing. Now, if drivers could only get Uber to listen to their pleas, we might have something to celebrate.
Caviar drivers can now get paid instantly through Square’s Cash App [The Verge]
Sum and Substance: It’s standard practice to receive your paycheck every couple of weeks. But now Caviar, the food delivery service from Square, is launching an option for delivery drivers that’ll make the process of getting paid instant.
From today forward, all of Caviar’s couriers will have the option to receive payment immediately after completing a delivery, so long as they receive the money inside Square’s Cash App. From there, they can choose to transfer the money to a bank account, or spend the money right away using the app or one of the app’s physical cards.
Editor’s Note: Caviar is now offering truly instant pay, using Square’s Cash App. Payments to couriers will appear in their Cash app as soon as deliveries are completed, and the transaction is 100% free. Couriers can use the Cash Card to spend their money immediately, or withdraw it as cash from an ATM.
Here’s How New Ride-Hailing Aggregator Bellhop Can Save You Money and Time [The Points Guy]
Sum and Substance: As ride-sharing, ride-hailing and taxi services become more prevalent, our phones are getting more and more cluttered with apps. And the ever-present question is “What’s the cheapest and fastest option for me to get where I’m going?” The answer usually involves opening a few apps, plugging in your destination and comparing prices and services (a shared vs. private ride) to see what makes the most sense for your journey.
While ride-hailing aggregators aren’t new, with the likes of RideGuru operating since the early days of ordering a car through your smartphone, a new entrant, Bellhop, aims to be top dog. Bellhop is an aggregator that compares 17 different services across seven apps including Arro, Curb, Lyft, Juno and Uber.
Editor’s Note: We always encourage drivers to sign up with both Uber and Lyft to stay consistently busy – and an app like Bellhop can help drivers remain consistently busy by opening them up to a whole new group of customers.
Bellhop is designed to give passengers all rideshare options in their city, from Uber to Lyft, taxis, Juno – any rideshare service operating in their city, Bellhop provides an estimate of how much a ride will cost across all services. Riders will have more options, at different price points, to choose from – which means drivers should try to be on as many platforms as they can.
Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up?
-John @ RSG