By on December 4, 2020

On Thursday, Uber Technologies made a request with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that its drivers be deemed essential and up first for the COVID-19 vaccination. While slightly presumptuous, it’s hardly the only business to make such a plea. Delivery services, the trucking industry, food producers, and more have asked the CDC to make sure their employees have first whack at being inoculated.

With lockdowns still occurring, nobody wants to be made subject to new restrictions — especially if it hampers their ability to make money. Unfortunately, estimates leave widespread vaccinations a logistical impossibility until the middle of 2021.

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By on November 24, 2020

The General Services Administration (GSA), responsible for managing services for federal agencies, issued a five-year federal contract to Uber and Lyft. Confirmed by Veronica Juarez, Lyft’s vice president of social enterprise and government, on Monday, the deal estimated to be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $810 million and allows the ride-hailing firms to offer public agencies a direct line to their transportation services.

While federal employees have always been able to utilize the services, the new arrangement makes them semi-compulsory for some of the millions of government employees involved. Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft can now work directly with officials to promote their services. With the recent passing of California’s Prop 22, which issued special legal protections to ride-hailing companies, the duo seemed to be experiencing a run of good fortune late in the year. That doesn’t guarantee that they’ll suddenly become profitable entities. But they could be with sufficient government support — which seems increasingly likely for reasons we’re about to dive into.

(Read More…)

By on November 10, 2020

Uber is launching a new feature that allows riders book trips up to 30 days in advance. While supposedly innovative, it smacks of desperation following years of multi-billion-dollar losses and an inability to account for pandemic-related lockdowns. The company reported a $1 billion loss in the third quarter of 2020, noting that gross bookings declined by 10 percent year-over-year. While the assumption is that business will improve as more cities reopen, only its business-baked bookings and its increasingly popular delivery services seem to be making any headway.

Reserve, which is what Uber is calling its new booking program, seeks to be another round in its corporate magazine by allowing customers to schedule rides far in advance. But having it serve as a new revenue stream seems wishful thinking because it doesn’t appear to offer much beyond the typical Uber experience since one could already pre-book rides. What Reserve changes is how this is done. The new service adds a flat fee to booked trips that’s dependent upon location and demand.

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By on September 16, 2020

The Uber test vehicle that struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, has been under public scrutiny since March of 2018. But we never heard a lot about the safety driver behind the wheel. So much attention was given to addressing whether or not the autonomous systems on the SUV should or could have seen Elaine Herzberg  and stopped the car before the tragedy occurred  that it became the overriding narrative.

But it really shouldn’t have, as some of the earliest video footage appeared to show that Uber’s safety operator had entirely tuned out of the driving experience in the moments leading up to the incident. Fortunately, Maricopa County Superior Court and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were keeping tabs while the rest of us were not. In fact, the former decided to charge Rafael Vasquez (who also goes by Rafaela) with negligent homicide late last month.

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By on September 9, 2020

Uber Technologies has promised to make sure that 100 percent of the vehicles used to convey customers in Europe, Canada, and the United States will be powered entirely by electricity — allotting itself just under a decade for the transition. By 2030, Uber said all cars used on the platform will be required to be of the plug-in variety. At the same time, General Motors announced it would be helping drivers get there by offering juicy discounts on items they’ll be required to buy in preparation for the coming change. That seems incredibly convenient, especially for the purveyors of these soon-to-be-mandatory products.

On Tuesday, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi noted he wanted Uber to help lead a “green recovery” in the wake of the coronavirus lockdowns that resulted in an American unemployment rate not seen since the Great Depression. He acknowledged how nice the air had gotten in urban environments (Manhattan still smells like expired milk, FYI) and suggested going back to the before times would be a mistake. We were practically cave people prior to 2020 and have metamorphosed into a higher state of being.

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By on August 28, 2020

Uber Technologies promised to make the safety information related to its self-driving program more widely available following some fairly harsh criticism from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The agency had faulted Uber with some amount of responsibility after conducting its investigation into the fatal testing accident that took place in March of 2018. The incident, which took place in Tempe, AZ, involved an inattentive Uber safety operator who struck and killed a pedestrian who was attempting to cross a poorly lit roadway — creating a national backlash against self-driving vehicles and a push toward ensuring higher levels of safety.

Police say the vehicle was operating autonomously for testing purposes at the time of the collision. Following months of investigation, the NTSB decided in 2019 that driver failed to act in a safe manner due to being distracted by their cellphone. Uber was also faulted for possessing inadequate safety risk assessment procedures, ineffective oversight of vehicle operators, and a general absence of mechanisms to address complacency by operators as the cars drove themselves. (Read More…)

By on July 20, 2020

Uber Technologies Inc. has kicked off a new service that provides public health officials immediate access to data on drivers and riders who may have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19. Weirdly, the company decided against announcing the sharing of your whereabouts with the government with any fanfare. Perhaps they thought average people wouldn’t be interested, or maybe that broadcasting their own participatory role in crafting a nightmare dystopia could be bad for business.

Then again, maybe this is exactly the kind of mass surveillance we need to flatten the curve, stop the spread, or whatever slogan is currently the trendiest. Worried? Don’t be. Uber said this service will be offered free of charge, meaning you don’t even have to spend any additional money to have your information shared.

What a sweet deal!  (Read More…)

By on July 16, 2020

On Thursday, Uber Technologies Inc. announced the acquisition of transit software company Routematch — suggesting the ride-hailing giant may soon take up busing as a hobby.

Don’t expect it to supplant your local transit authority overnight, however. Routematch clients tend to be dial-a-ride shuttle services (see: paratransit) seeking to outsource the management of daily operations. The company offers analytics, computer-aided dispatching, route scheduling/planning, real-time vehicle tracking, automated fare collection and applications for customers intended to make finding transport easier. Much like Uber, it operates as the go-between between customers and the services they want.

It doesn’t actually own any of the businesses it effectively oversees, making this a match made in heaven.  (Read More…)

By on May 29, 2020

Amid widespread suspicion of other human beings and the general sense that public transit is a terrible way to travel when COVID-19 lurks everywhere, Uber has rolled out a feature offered overseas to some of its U.S. customers.

Instead of hailing a ride to the grocery store (or what have you), then dialing up another for the ride back, what if you could just keep your driver for the entire trip — like some sort of big shot? (Read More…)

By on May 19, 2020

Uber Technologies eliminated an additional 3,000 jobs on Monday, closing offices around the world as certain regions revealed less growth than the outfit had hoped for. We covered the ride-hailing firm’s financial situation last week, as reports circulated that it wanted to drop a few billion to acquire Grubhub and enhance its own food-delivery service in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time, the firm had already cut 3,700 jobs pertaining to customer support and human resources. Even in the absence of people shunning shared transportation and local governments forcing citizens to stay indoors, Uber’s preexisting inability to turn a profit would probably have forced the company to restructure eventually. The pandemic pinned the accelerator to the floor mat, however, likely forcing additional cuts by the company’s own admission. Considering Uber has already axed about a quarter of its global workforce, it’s probably time to place it on death watch.  (Read More…)

By on May 12, 2020

Uber Technologies has reportedly made an offer to buy Grubhub — a food delivery service that links local restaurants directly to customers via a convenient app. Considering Uber Eats is as unprofitable as the company’s core ride-haling business, dropping a bunch of money to acquire a similar business seems silly… until you realize Grubhub is pretty much the only food-delivery outlet to occasionally turn a profit.

Buying up the only legitimate threat to your side business could be wise, even if it’s also somewhat monopolistic, but large, unprofitable tech entities with slick-sounding business plans and massive stock valuation seem bulletproof right now. They can buy up whatever outfits they want and nobody bats an eyelash until an isolated incident pops up that the media can temporarily harp on.

Even with the coronavirus rattling Uber’s share price in March, with ride frequencies more than halved in major metropolitan areas around the globe, its value crept back up in subsequent months. The company also enacted cost-cutting measures, eliminating 3,700 jobs and shuttering 180 driver service centers, with more cuts presumed to follow later this year. While dropping a few billion on Grubhub seems at odds with corporate thriftiness, it may prove beneficial in the long term — especially with investors heaping pressure on Uber to provide evidence it can someday become routinely profitable.  (Read More…)

By on January 6, 2020

Uber released its first safety report on Saturday, primarily to address concerns surrounding rider welfare. The media has become increasingly critical of Uber as a brand after its corporate culture was dubbed toxic — allegedly loaded with sexism and financial progress by any means necessary. Following a fatal accident involving one of the company’s autonomous test vehicles, many grew fearful that the company hadn’t fallen into the habit of promoting (or appreciating) public safety. Hoping to assuage some of those concerns, Uber put together its own safety report.

Earlier in the month, the ride-hailing service said it had received reports of 3,045 sexual assaults in the United States in 2018, with 9 people murdered (nearly half of them drivers… fortunately?) and 58 crash-related deaths. Uber said these issues only affected 0.0002 percent of the 1.3 billion rides the company orchestrated in the United States that year.

The new study attempts to frame data, accumulated over 21 months, against national averages to show that Uber is simply suffering from issues inherent to our society. While noting that an estimated 44 percent of women in the U.S. have been a victim of sexual violence seems like an odd way to absolve oneself from wrongdoing, Uber’s just a fancy cab service trying to distance itself from systemic fears that may have not have been entirely fair.  (Read More…)

By on December 26, 2019

Uber Technologies co-founder Travis Kalanick is leaving the company’s board to focus on his new business endeavors in other industries. The company made an announcement on Tuesday, with Kalanick expressing a need to move on.

“Uber has been a part of my life for the past 10 years. At the close of the decade, and with the company now public, it seems like the right moment for me to focus on my current business and philanthropic pursuits. I’m proud of all that Uber has achieved, and I will continue to cheer for its future from the sidelines. I want to thank the board, Dara [Khosrowshahi] and the entire Uber team for everything they have done to further the Uber mission,” Kalanick said in a statement.

Stepping down as CEO in 2017 after a series of wholly unnecessary scandals (sometimes with Travis at the center), Kalanick stopped managing the company’s daily business. Uber then embarked on an effort to improve its corporate governance, with its better-known founder (apologies to Garrett Camp) being pushed into the shadows. Pressure from investors became overwhelming after he was caught on video arguing with a driver over the company’s pay structure in a period where Uber’s corporate culture was already broadly presumed to be toxic. He was replaced with Khosrowshahi about a month later.  (Read More…)

By on November 25, 2019

Transportation for London (TfL) announced it has informed Uber that it will not be reissued a license to operate in the UK capitol, citing concerns over customer safety. TfL had previously declined to renew the ride-hailing business’ private hire operator license, which expired on September 30th, saying it was unsatisfied with the number of drivers it found “fit and proper to hold a licence.” Then it changed its mind, offering a two-month extension.

Now it’s claiming that at least 14,000 Uber trips taken within the city included drivers linked, via their app profiles, to cars they were not legally registered to drive. Having done an impromptu survey of his own (done as unscientifically as possible by just asking drivers if they owned the vehicle), your author found the number of “rogue” Uber drivers in New York City to be about one in five.

While easily framed as a gotcha moment, that ratio isn’t really any different from what I’ve experienced with NYC’s sanctioned yellow (or green) cabs. But that doesn’t exactly make it a non-issue either — just more of the same.  (Read More…)

By on November 5, 2018

uber volvo

Are two safety drivers better than one when it comes to the testing of self-driving cars? Uber Technologies feels it is, declaring as much to Pennsylvania’s road regulator. The company has filed an application with the state’s department of transportation to resume testing of autonomous Volvos, eight months after a fatal collision with a pedestrian on a darkened Arizona highway.

Uber stopped all autonomous testing in the wake of the March 18th collision, with the Arizona program dismantled for good. In Pittsburgh, the company hopes to show it learned from the safety lapses revealed in the accident investigation. These Volvos now have two fail-safes on board. Is it enough to restore the public’s trust? (Read More…)

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