Gig workers in California to receive millions for unpaid vehicle expenses

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other app-based ride-hail and delivery companies will have to reimburse California gig workers potentially millions of dollars for unpaid vehicle expenses between 2022 and 2023.

The back payments come from a provision in Proposition 22, the controversial law that classifies gig workers as independent contractors rather than employees and promises them halfhearted protections and benefits. For example, gig workers get a minimum earnings guarantee, rather than a guaranteed minimum wage, for the time they spend “engaged” in a gig, and not the time spent between rides.

Part of Prop 22 stipulates that drivers making the bare minimum get a reimbursement for vehicle expenses. Starting in 2021, when Prop 22 went into effect in California, drivers began receiving $0.30 per mile driven while “actively engaged.” The law also states that the rate should be raised to keep up with the pace of inflation. So, 2022’s 6.8% inflation raise should have bumped those payments to $0.32 per mile; and in 2023 it should have gone up another $0.02 to $0.34 per mile.

A couple of cents may not seem like a big deal, but drivers clock thousands of miles every year, so it can really add up. Especially when you consider that there are roughly 1.3 million gig drivers in California, according to industry reports.

(By the way, in line with the lackluster benefits afforded to gig workers under Prop 22, their vehicle mileage deduction rate is half the standard rate for business owners and employees, which in 2023 is $0.655 per mile.)

Pablo Gomez, a full-time Uber driver since 2019, noticed that his payments never went up past $0.30, according to The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the discrepancy. Now we know that no drivers received the increased payments, because none of the app-based companies implemented the adjustment.

Uber, DoorDash, Lyft and Grubhub all told TechCrunch that they didn’t adjust driver reimbursement fees because they were waiting for the California treasurer’s office to publish adjusted rates. According to Prop 22, the treasury is indeed tasked with calculating and publishing the adjusted rate each year and failed to do so in a timely manner.

After studying the language of Prop 22, Gomez tried reaching out to the state treasurer’s office on April 13 and was brushed off. He then tweeted directly at Fiona Ma, the California treasurer, asking why the rate hadn’t been changed yet. Sergio Avedian, a gig worker and senior contributor at The Rideshare Guy, boosted the tweet. On May 10, Ma replied saying the rate adjustment had finally been published. Uber and DoorDash immediately started sending backpay to drivers, lest they face a class-action lawsuit.

For his part, Avedian said he was ready to file suit if the companies didn’t agree to retroactively pay. “I had the law firm ready, and I was gonna be the lead plaintiff,” he told TechCrunch.

Lyft told TechCrunch it has now begun issuing backpay. Grubhub said it will start retroactively paying drivers, and Instacart didn’t reply in time to comment.

The state’s treasury did not respond in time to explain why it took so long — 18 months for 2022’s rates — to provide adjusted vehicle reimbursement rates. According to Avedian, the treasury had been holding off due to the uncertain status of Prop 22. The ballot measure had been ruled unconstitutional in August 2021, but in March, a California appeals court overturned that decision. Industry experts say that despite the lower court ruling saying Prop 22 unconstitutional, it was still the law of the land, and the treasury should have treated it as such.

I asked the app-based companies if they had reached out to the department in the past year and a half to push for an updated rate. Uber said it reached out once in January 2022, and DoorDash said it had made repeated requests for updated mileage rates “dating back to January 2022.” Lyft also said it reached out to the treasury for information, but didn’t specify when or how many times. I also asked the companies if they had alerted gig workers to the treasury’s delay to reassure them that they’d be reimbursed eventually. None of them had.

And that’s not surprising. App-based gig companies have yet to achieve true measures of profitability, even as they find new and exciting ways to extract as much work for as little pay as possible from workers. (See: algorithmic wage discrimination, tip hiding and tip stealing.) When I asked an Uber spokesperson why the company didn’t just make its own calculations for workers, he responded that “it’s up to the treasurer’s office to mandate that rate.”

It’s not quite a “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” argument, but it’s along the same lines. Better to hope that no one notices you’re not paying workers properly, than to proactively pay them properly.

Not every driver will end up receiving backpay. Many ride-hail drivers exceed the minimum rate, so they aren’t eligible for vehicle reimbursement fees. However, those who mainly drive for Uber Eats, DoorDash and other food delivery platforms tend to rely more on tips for income, so they should begin to see payments show up in their accounts.

Avedian, who drives part-time and cherry picks his gigs, said he got around $85 from Uber. His wife, who also works part-time, got more than $200 from DoorDash.

But what about the workers who drive full-time?

“If you’re a full-time DoorDash, Uber Eats, GrubHub driver, you’re driving a solid 5,000 miles a month. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “They’re gonna end up owing a few hundred million. It’s gonna be a lot of money.”

None of the companies I spoke to shared how much money they expect to doll out to drivers, but some back of the envelope math suggests that, collectively, companies could end up paying in the millions.

Aside from Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Grubhub and Instacart, other relevant companies that employ gig workers include Amazon Flex, Target’s Shipt and Walmart’s Spark.

Lack of transparency

Avedian has gathered screenshots of his own, his wife’s, and his podcast listeners’ backpay reimbursements. One of his major gripes is the complete lack of transparency from the companies regarding the calculation of these amounts. None of the companies provide drivers with a mileage breakdown.

Uber is the only company to even stipulate that the payment is a result of California Prop 22 benefits. DoorDash drivers just see a random payment appear.

“Everybody’s getting money, and these drivers are like, ‘Oh, I got 400 bucks. I got 800 bucks,’ but they don’t all know what it’s for.”

Avedian actually keeps a spreadsheet where he logs all his net earnings, miles driven, number of trips and Prop 22 adjustments. Per his calculations, Uber’s back payment to him was actually off by $3.

“I call this nickel and diming of the gig economy,” said Avedian. “$3 times a million people is 3 million more dollars. I mean, I’m not bitching and moaning that people are getting money, but all I’m saying is, why not be transparent?”

In May, a bill in Colorado that aimed to make gig worker platforms more transparent for workers was shut down.

“Millions of people are driving for these companies, and while they’re doing it, they’re getting ripped off because of a lack of transparency,” said Avedian. “You must have something to hide, otherwise you wouldn’t be afraid of transparency.”

Gig workers in California to receive millions for unpaid vehicle expenses by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Ford pilot program offers Uber drivers in California flexible Mach-E leases

Ford has launched a pilot that will give Uber drivers access to flexible leases on Mustang Mach-E models in three California cities.

The pilot program, called Ford Drive, launched Thursday in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s an initiative of Ford Next, a division within Ford that incubates and launches new business that align with Ford’s goals.

The partnership is in line with Uber’s $800 million commitment to helping drivers on its platform switch to zero-emissions vehicles in North America and Europe by 2030. Uber has already partnered with car rental companies like Hertz, Zevvy and Hive to offer affordable and flexible EV leases to its ride-hail drivers, but this is the first time the company is working directly with an automaker.

The upshot? With this pilot, Ford and Uber are effectively trialing cutting out the middle man.

The pilot is launching in California, the state that represents Uber’s biggest market. It’s also the only state to pass legislation mandating that ride-hail trips must be performed in zero-emissions vehicles by 2030. Uber appears to be making some headway in that vein, at least in California. By the end of 2022, close to 10% of on-trip miles in California were completed in fully electric vehicles, according to Uber. In the U.S. and Canada, that number is around 4.1%, according to Uber’s sustainability report.

Uber and Ford first trialed a similar lease program in San Diego last year. Uber drivers ended up leasing over 150 Mach-Es, and today over 80% are rolling over into Ford Drive. Ford didn’t share how many vehicles it will make available to Uber drivers as part of the extended pilot.

Participating drivers will be able to choose between one and four-month leases, depending on the location. Rates will vary by city, but they’ll look something like $199 per week for 500 miles or $249 per week for 1,000 miles, according to a Ford spokesperson. If drivers end up using more miles, they’ll pay $0.20 per mile. Uber drivers can also qualify for the company’s zero emission incentive, which pays them $1 per trip performed in an EV, up to $4,000 annually.

The Ford Drive team will work with local dealers to purchase a fleet of Mach-Es specifically for leasing to Uber ride-hail drivers. Upon placing an order, drivers can expect delivery of the vehicle within two weeks. They’ll use the Ford Drive app to handle payments and servicing, while local dealers handle service and maintenance of the cars.

There is no set end date or public expansion plans to other cities or customers. Although the program is exclusively accessible through the Uber Marketplace, it doesn’t restrict Uber drivers from using the Mach-Es for Lyft rides. Since many ride-hail drivers operate on multiple platforms, they often switch between Uber and Lyft.

Ford pilot program offers Uber drivers in California flexible Mach-E leases by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Uber drops ride discounts for subscribers, switches to cash back

Uber is dropping the 5% discounts on eligible rides that it previously offered members of its Uber One subscription service, according to an email sent out to customers. Starting on their next billing cycle, subscribers will now earn 6% so-called “Uber Cash” on eligible rides that can be spent on Uber and Uber Eats.

It’s a risky move for Uber as the ride-hailing and delivery giant aims to boost bookings among subscribers. Since Uber launched Uber One in 2021 for $9.99 per month and $99.99 per year, discounts on rides have been a huge adoption driver. According to Uber’s full-year earnings report, Uber One memberships grew 100% in 2022 to roughly 12 million members. While Uber can increase its profit margins by switching to a cash back offer, it also faces the possibility of losing customers who are in it for the discounts.

Uber drops ride discounts for subscribers, switches to cash back by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Serve Robotics to deploy up to 2,000 sidewalk delivery bots on Uber Eats

Serve Robotics, the Uber spinout that builds autonomous sidewalk delivery robots, is expanding its partnership with Uber Eats. The Nvidia-backed startup will now deploy up to 2,000 of its cute little bots via Uber’s platform in multiple markets across the U.S.

The partnership is slated to last through the beginning of 2026.

This expansion not only validates Serve’s goal to mass commercialize robotics for autonomous delivery, but it also signals that Uber is furthering its commitment to autonomy. Last week, Uber announced Waymo’s autonomous vehicles would be available for ride-hail and delivery on Uber’s platform starting in Phoenix later this year. Uber is also working with Motional to deliver food in Santa Monica via the company’s self-driving Hyundai Ioniq 5s.

Serve and Uber’s partnership began a year ago as a pilot in West Hollywood. Since then, Serve’s robotic deliveries with Uber have grown more than 30% month-over-month, with over 200 restaurants in West Hollywood, Hollywood and Fairfax now participating. The bots now operate seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to Ali Kashani, co-founder and CEO of Serve.

“We expect our rapid growth on Uber Eats to continue,” Kashani told TechCrunch. “We currently have a fleet of 100 robots in Los Angeles, and we expect to operate an increasing number of them on Uber Eats as our coverage and delivery volume on Uber increases.”

That fleet is also shared with Serve’s other partners, like 7-Eleven, which recently launched robotic sidewalk delivery with Serve in LA.

Serve didn’t say which markets would be next for its partnership with Uber, but the company is eyeing San Jose, Dallas and Vancouver. The startup has also recently completed pilots in Arkansas with Walmart and Pizza Hut in Vancouver.

The companies also didn’t disclose the value of the deal, but Kashani said that Serve’s business model is delivery-as-a-service, meaning Serve gets paid after completing each delivery.

Serve describes its sidewalk bots as capable of Level 4 autonomy. Level 4 is a designation by the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) that means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention. However, when robots come across edge cases, such as police tape or construction, they stop and ask for remote supervisors to intervene. Kashani says the robots can reroute if they face obstacles or obstruction.

Supervisors also help with street crossings, but Serve’s robots can predict driver inattention and avoid collision on their own.

“This is something remote supervisors can do little to help with given how quickly cars appear, versus the delays caused by network latency and human reaction time,” said Kashani.

Serve Robotics to deploy up to 2,000 sidewalk delivery bots on Uber Eats by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Waymo’s self-driving cars will be available on Uber’s app, starting in Phoenix

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving unit, has agreed to a multi-year strategic partnership with Uber that will see some of Waymo’s autonomous vehicle technology join Uber’s platform.

The collaboration comes a few weeks after Waymo’s chief product officer Saswat Panigrahi said the company aims to increase ridership tenfold by next summer. By partnering with an existing ride-hail and delivery platform, Waymo could expand its reach and secure new customers beyond those who have already downloaded the company’s branded Waymo One app.

The deal with Uber also strengthens the long-term strategic partnership between Waymo Via, Waymo’s autonomous trucking arm, and Uber Freight, Uber’s logistics spinout.

“Uber has long been a leader in human-operated ride-sharing, and the pairing of our pioneering technology and all-electric fleet with their customer network provides Waymo with an opportunity to reach even more people,” said Tekendra Mawakana, co-CEO of Waymo, in a statement.

The first phase of the partnership will start later this year in the Metro Phoenix area. Earlier this month, Waymo doubled its service area in the region to 180 square miles, including downtown, the airport, Arizona State Universities and other East Valley suburbs.

A “set number” of Waymo vehicles will be integrated into both the Uber and Uber Eats apps to facilitate ride-hail and delivery services, according to a Waymo blog post. However, it’s not clear what portion of Waymo’s overall fleet will be made available to Uber. Waymo currently operates “a couple hundred” self-driving cars in each of its Waymo One service areas, limited to Phoenix and San Francisco, with testing taking place in Austin and Los Angeles  Waymo has clarified that it will not exclusively allocate vehicles to Uber. Instead, when a Waymo vehicle is accessible for a qualifying ride, Uber users will have the option to request a car through the Uber app.

The collaboration with Uber gives Waymo’s self-driving technology a second path to commercialization. As Katherine Barna, head of PR at Waymo, told TechCrunch, Waymo is “building a Driver, not a vehicle.” That “driver-as-a-service” model is similarly how Waymo intends to commercialize autonomous trucks, and it means that the company can lease out its AV technology, rather than being the owner-operator of that technology.

Cruise, one of Waymo’s biggest competitors, also operates its own app and service, in addition to creating, testing and deploying self-driving technology. The company hasn’t yet announced any plans to partner with ride-hail services, but it wouldn’t be surprising, given how expensive an endeavor building robotaxis is.

One company that’s already been following a similar playbook since the get-go is Motional, the Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture. Motional’s route to market is based entirely on forming partnerships with existing ride-hail platforms, like Lyft, Via and Uber. Last October, Motional and Uber announced a 10-year operating agreement that will place Motional’s autonomous Hyundai Ioniq-5s on Uber’s platform in cities across North America. The two companies launched their first city, Las Vegas, in December and plan to launch in Los Angeles next.

Uber, too, has seen the apparent wisdom in partnering with companies that are dedicated to developing autonomous vehicle technology, rather than building the tech itself. The company had previously started its own AV unit in 2015 called Uber ATG, but found it to be not only a loss-generating endeavor, but also a brand hazard after one of Uber’s test AVs (with a human operator behind the wheel) hit and killed a pedestrian.

Uber’s in-house AV pursuits were further complicated by a lawsuit from Waymo (more on that below), and the company ended up selling off its self-driving unit to Aurora in 2020.

Drama aside, integrating AVs into the platform has always been a goal of Uber’s, so it makes sense the company is shopping around for good fits.

“Fully autonomous driving is quickly becoming part of everyday life, and we’re excited to bring Waymo’s incredible technology to the Uber platform,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, in a statement.

Waymo and Uber have not shared how much a ride in one of Waymo’s AVs would cost. Barna only said that pricing “is determined based on various factors on the Uber platform.” She also noted that Waymo’s Jaguars will be made available across Uber tiers like Uber X, Uber Comfort, Uber Green and Uber Comfort Electric.

Uber and Waymo putting water under the bridge

Uber and Waymo’s ongoing partnerships suggest that the two companies have come a long way since their high profile trade secrets lawsuit a few years ago. In February 2017, Waymo filed suit against Uber, claiming that a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, stole over 14,000 confidential files with Waymo’s trade secrets related to lidar sensors. The lawsuit alleged that Levandowski then used those files to start his own self-driving company called Otto, which was later acquired by Uber.

Uber initially denied any wrongdoing, saying that its own lidar technology was different from Waymo’s and was developed by Uber’s ATG team. The case went to trial in 2018, and the two companies reached a settlement. Uber agreed to provide Waymo with 0.34% of its stock, which was about $244 million at the time, and to ensure that its self-driving technology wouldn’t infringe on Waymo’s intellectual property.

While Uber and Waymo both declared intentions to put the ugliness behind them and move on, Levandowski wasn’t so lucky. The former Google engineer was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2020 on one count of stealing trade secrets — former President Donald Trump ended up pardoning him, so he avoided prison time. He was also ordered to pay $179 million to Google. Upon declaring personal bankruptcy, Levandowski then filed suit against Uber, claiming that the ride-hail company had agreed to indemnify him against legal action when it bought Otto.

Last year, the engineer reached a settlement with Uber, wherein Uber agreed to pay “a substantial portion” of that $179 million to Google, as well as give Levandowski $2 million.

Waymo’s self-driving cars will be available on Uber’s app, starting in Phoenix by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

How Uber is trying to create ‘stickiness’ for its app

Ride-hailing is back. But Uber’s looking to become more than a one-stop shop for booking rides.

Growth — through products and expanded consumer groups — was the connecting thread at Uber’s Go-Get event this Wednesday in New York City, where the company announced a slew of new additions to its platform that, in many cases, don’t have anything to do with hailing a car, really. Uber launched a private chartered boat service in Mykonos, Greece, for instance. Uber also rolled out group ordering for Uber Eats and opened its app to teens, a bet on hooking a whole new generation of users.

The motivators behind those moves aren’t necessarily the same. But they do both point to the perennial pressure on Uber to find ways to acquire new — and retain old — users.

“We want to be able to be a platform for all mobility needs,” Camiel Irving, the head of rides at Uber, told TechCrunch in an interview.

She made the point that features geared toward families — whether foreign boat tours or group ordering — are a logical step for a company focused on organic growth. Families, after all, control quite a lot of spending across the world, and so it’s sensible to cater to their needs. 

“Our aspiration is for people to be able to go anywhere and get anything,” Irving said.

That appears to be a winning strategy. In the first quarter, Uber beat analyst expectations as both gross bookings and revenues rose.

However, as TechCrunch reporter Rebecca Bellan noted recently, it’s not clear from Uber’s balance sheet how much the company invests in the myriad products that come out of its Go-Get launches — nor how successful they are at driving revenue. The updates and new app features probably cost the company a lot less than the many moonshots it’s since abandoned.

On a boat

So why boats, I asked Jen You, the head of product for rides at Uber? Uber’s not new to the boat-hailing business — it operates a fleet of ferries in London on the Thames in partnership with a third party. But the London service is geared mostly toward commuters; Uber’s new Mykonos venture is purely for private bookings.

Post-pandemic travel trends played a role, You said.

“Our thought was, since so many travelers are going to Greece this year, why not stand up a product?” she said. “It’s one of the hottest vacation destinations.”

She’s not wrong. Greece expects more than a million travelers this year, due in large part to more direct flights from the United States.

It’s a low-risk pilot for Uber, since it’s partnering with local boat operators rather than spearheading its own operation. You characterized it as a way to funnel demand to local businesses — while making money, of course.

“We want to make sure that we’re innovating in the mobility space,” You said, “and being able to switch rides is something that we’re uniquely able to do — being able to help manage travel experiences across different modalities.”

Grouping groceries

What about group ordering for groceries? Where does that fit into Uber’s broader growth strategy? In prepared remarks at Wednesday’s event, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi characterized the feature as a more “elegant,” simpler way to handle one of life’s more predictable chores: restocking the fridge.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

Image Credits: Kyle Wiggers / TechCrunch

“[With group ordering, you] don’t have to go through the whole awkward phase of figuring out who owes what or whether you’re gonna get paid back on that,” he said. “We make it incredibly easy.”

Ease of use and “stickiness” is important in a business like grocery delivery, which is costly to run and rife with competition. Uber has spent billions of dollars on acquisitions, like that of Careem, Cornershop, Postmates and Drizly, but rival Instacart maintain’s the lion’s share of the market. According to Insider Intelligence, it’ll capture 73% of U.S. digital grocery sales in 2023.

That being said, things are beginning to look up for Uber’s various forays into delivery. Uber’s delivery unit turned profitable for the first time in February 2022, and Insider Intelligence estimates that Uber’s share of digital grocery sales will grow 0.7% next year from 7.2% to 7.9%.

In addition to (optionally recurring) group ordering, Uber’s introducing nice-to-haves like custom ordering options and suggested replacements — allowing customers to specify off-menu items and recommend substitutes for out-of-stock products. Competitors like Instacart have offered options along those lines for some time. But Uber’s playing for loyalty — not expedience.

“It’s really important to us for consumers to feel like they can find whatever they want to find,” Irving said. “At the end of the day, this is just something that that we hope is useful, and helpful, to people who have to use it.”

Looking to teens

Uber is also looking to grow its consumer base by turning to a younger generation.

At the event, the company launched teen accounts, allowing users aged 13 to 17 to create accounts for ride-hailing and delivery in more than a dozen cities across the U.S. and Canada. Teen users are matched only with “highly rated, experienced” drivers and parents can live track trip progress, Uber says, or contact Uber’s support team on behalf of their teen.

Back in 2017, Uber tried some early pilots for creating teen accounts. But they weren’t a priority — perhaps because the company was under less pressure to find new avenues for growth.

Will teens prove to be a profitable new pool of customers? Time will tell. According to one source, though, transportation captures 4.6% of all teen spending — making it a meaningful, but not outsize, line item.

How Uber is trying to create ‘stickiness’ for its app by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Uber puts family (even teens) at the center of its new products and features

Family is at the center of Uber’s latest product offensive.

Uber revealed Wednesday at its annual “Go-Get” event  a slew of new products and features aimed at attracting a new set of customers from teens as young as 13 and families who want to link account and even those who might feel more comfortable calling for a ride instead of using the app at all.

The company hosted two similar events last year, during which Uber launched products across ride-hail and delivery, from booking party buses and voice ordering for Uber Eats to booking restaurants and events through OpenTable and Viator.

Most of Uber’s Go-Get launches are designed not only to create new revenue streams and attract new users, but also to create a closed business loop with each product feeding customers back into other Uber channels. It’s a tentacular strategy, one that sees Uber with a broad reach across the transportation landscape. And it might be working for the company.

Uber’s first-quarter earnings report showed a company with stronger financial footing than expected. Uber beat analyst forecasts across the board and demonstrated that its food delivery business continues to grow while propping up the company’s core ride-hailing platform. Year-over-year, Uber’s gross bookings rose 19% to $31.4 billion in the first quarter, and revenue rose another 29%.

It’s not clear from Uber’s balance sheet how much Uber invests in the myriad of products that come out of its Go-Get launches, nor how successful they are at driving revenue. However, the updates and new app features probably cost the company a lot less than the many moonshots Uber has since abandoned, like the autonomous driving unit Uber ATG or the bikeshare scheme Jump Bikes.

Here’s a roundup of what the company announced Wednesday:

Linked family profiles and teen accounts

Families can now set up profiles that link multiple Uber accounts together so that customers can pay for rides and deliveries from a centralized account. That centralized account will also be home to real-time location and order updates.

Uber also plans to launch the ability to create teen accounts for users aged 13 to 17 on Monday, May 22 in more than a dozen cities in the U.S. and Canada, including Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and New York City.

Back in 2017, the company tried some early pilots for creating teen accounts, but it never got off the ground. This offering basically combines a range of safety features that Uber has launched over the last five years.

For example, while all drivers undergo a background check, and continuous checks, teen accounts have another layer of screening — only highly rated, experienced drivers can receive trip requests from teens, according to an Uber spokesperson. Also, parents will be able to live track their kid’s trip progress and get information about who is driving them. Parents can contact the driver directly during the trip, contact Uber’s support team and report an issue on behalf of their teen, according to Uber.

Families will be able to create teen accounts next week in U.S. cities of Tucson, Phoenix, Atlanta, Bloomington, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Kansas City, New York City, New York suburbs, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Nashville, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. In Canada, the feature will be available in Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Trois-Rivieres, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Saskatoon, Regina, Gatineau and Laurentides.

Teen accounts will also soon be available on Uber Eats, too, so parents can ensure that their kids aren’t ordering booze to be delivered, only chasers and munchies.

For the very young and the very old

Uber announced that it’s teaming up with Nuna, a car seat company, to offer rides with a safe seat for little ones. Parents and caregivers will be able to request and reserve a ride with Nuna’s RAVA car seat, suitable for children from birth up to 65 pounds. Uber wasn’t clear about this would work or how many drivers would have access to the Nunas, but it’s starting in New York City and Los Angeles before launching in additional cities.

Nuna is offering the car seats at a special rate for drivers on the Uber platform. The rider will pay an additional $10 surcharge to reserve a ride with a car seat, and most of that will go to the driver, according to Uber.

The company is also launching a feature geared towards the elderly, although Uber didn’t say so explicitly.

Family members who “want to use Uber but aren’t as familiar with navigating a smartphone” will now be able to book an Uber without using the app. U.S. customers can call 1-833-USE-UBER (1-833-873-8237) toll-free to speak to an agent in English or Spanish and request a ride or book one in advance.

Once customers book, they’ll receive a text message that confirms the ride, provides information about the car and driver, estimated pickup time and a link to track their ride.

Uber initially launched a similar pilot in December 2020, but Uber paused it due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gang gang

Uber is launching some group-focused products. For example, Uber Eats will now let you invite family members, roommates or anyone you wish to add their own items to a shared cart.

Users can even set deadlines for when they want people to add their must-haves, otherwise no Twizzlers, Cody! Most stores will let users automatically split the bill, so there’s no need to leave the Uber app and open up Venmo.

The feature also lets customers place recurring grocery orders and remind family and friends to add their items each week.

Uber is launching a similar product for rides. In certain cities, app users can invite others to add their addresses on a group trip. A customer might want to add addresses after looking up the route on a map if they’re one of the first to use this function.

Uber says it is still working out the kinks for getting the app to automatically update the stops to pick each person up according to the most efficient route.

Also in the works is the ability to charge each person for the time they spend on the trip.

Not only does this give customers no reason to leave the Uber app to sort out finances, but it might also help them pressure friends into joining the app because “it’s just easier.”

Gifting and traveling

During the last Get-Go event, Uber unveiled Uber gift cards that can be scheduled to arrive on a certain day. Now when you send a gift card or anything else on Eats, like a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers, users can add a video gift message.

On Wednesday, Uber also revealed a couple of new travel features. The first is called Uber Central, and it’s geared towards hospitality concierges, the last vestiges of calling you a good-old-fashioned cab.

Now, concierges can use Uber Central on Uber for Business to arrange rides for guests. You, the guest, will be notified via your own app of the trip information and can track the ride’s progress along the way.

The second feature is a limited one. This summer, travelers or just people who are in Mykonos, Greece will be able to book a boat directly through the Uber app.

The company has launched a similar boat product in London in the past, which is geared towards commuters.

Uber puts family (even teens) at the center of its new products and features by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

You can now hail an Uber by calling a number

Uber’s making it easier to hail a ride — no app required.

The company announced Wednesday at its annual Go-GET event in New York City that it’s launching a new ride-hailing option for people who aren’t as familiar navigating a smartphone. By dialing the toll-free number 1-833-USE-UBER (1-833-873-8237) in the U.S., customers can speak with an agent in English or Spanish to request a ride on-demand or reserve one for a future trip.

Uber has piloted ride-hailing via phone before. It launched the program in select regions around December 2020, specifically Arizona and Florida. But the company temporarily paused the service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the feature is back and more widely available. 

When calling, people who have an existing Uber account can tell the agent and use an existing payment method on file. If they don’t have an account, they can pay with a credit card by phone and the agent can create an account for them.

Here’s how it works:

  • Customers call Uber from a phone to talk to a team member.

  • Once the ride has been confirmed, Uber sends information via text message about the ride, including the driver’s name and picture, license plate number and their estimated time of arrival.

  • Finally, the customer receives another text message when the driver arrives at their pickup location.

  • What about tips? Booking an Uber via phone doesn’t provide a way to do that — surely to the chagrin of drivers. But Uber points out that riders can give cash tips if they choose to do so.

“Providing customers with more ways to use Uber remains top priority and we’re excited to nationally expand this updated offering,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch via email.

You can now hail an Uber by calling a number by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Uber launches private chartered boats in Mykonos

Uber’s getting into boats. Well, more into boats than it was previously.

At Uber’s third annual Go-GET product event Wednesday in New York City, the ride-hailing company announced that it’ll soon launch boat travel in Greece, giving vacationers — and boat lovers — the opportunity to book a boat directly via the Uber app.

Uber Boat product selector

Image credit: Uber

The boating option will allow up to eight people to cruise to destinations around the island of Mykonos. That’ll be the first supported location in Greece, with potentially more to come in the future.

Uber has offered other boat products before, including the brief “Boat to Work” program in San Francisco way back in 2013 and more recently, Uber Boat in London, which is primarily for commuters. The London route is technically a partnership between Thames Clippers, London’s commuter ferry service, and Uber; tickets to Uber-branded ferries can be booked through the Uber app. 

But Uber says that Uber Boat in Mykonos is unique because it’s a private charter for the customer and their guests. And unlike Uber Boat in London, it’s not owned by a third party. Sport and live entertainment company AEG originally owned Uber Boat in London and sold the majority interest to Northleaf Capital Partners last year. 

Uber is perhaps feeling the pressure to expand into new markets even as ride-sharing rebounds post-pandemic. In Q1, the ride-hailing company’s first-quarter earnings came in above estimates, driving shares of the company to rise 7%. Uber expects to post operating income profitability this year and keep its workforce flat after headcount fell in the first quarter.

Uber launches private chartered boats in Mykonos by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Tepid investor reaction clouds Lyft’s new strategy

Shares of Lyft are off sharply this morning, falling nearly 20% in early trading. The company’s equity is selling off in the wake of the U.S. ride-hailing giant’s first quarter results and its comments regarding the current quarter, and how its new strategic posture will affect its growth and economics in the coming quarters.

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In the wake of Lyft’s decision to remove its founders from day-to-day control, dramatically cut staffing, and bring in an external CEO, the company is now a leaner organization under new management. However, while Lyft saw its valuation slashed after it reported its results and updated strategic posture, shares of Uber have risen sharply in the wake of its own earnings update.

You could argue that Lyft waited too long to shake up its operations, given the tough comparison to Uber after both company’s Q1 earnings reports. But Lyft is taking a new tack now, which we need to understand.

While Uber and Lyft are among the best-known on-demand companies in the U.S. market, countless startups have tried to use similar models to build businesses of their own in the last half-decade. So, as Uber and Lyft do, so perhaps do the surviving startups that tried to mimic their meteoric rise.

This Friday morning we’re parsing Lyft’s Q1 results and Q2 guidance, the latter of which we’ll place in context of its strategic choices moving forward. Notably there’s quite a lot of what Lyft is doing that nests neatly into other corporate choices that we’ve seen recently. Many other tech and tech-enabled companies are looking to reduce their headcount, remove layers of management and hone their product focus. From that perspective, Lyft is part of a larger trend. Let’s see how those choices fit into its future product and pricing choices.

Tepid investor reaction clouds Lyft’s new strategy by Anna Heim originally published on TechCrunch