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Main article: Uber

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Uber officially launches Uber Express POOL, a new twist on shared rides

14:00 | 21 February

Uber has launched Uber Express POOL officially after a lengthy trial period that kicked off in San Francisco last November, and has until now remained available only in that market. Starting today, it’s coming to DC, LA, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego and Denver, and more cities will be added over the next few weeks and months across the U.S.

The Express POOL launch brings a change to the current Uber POOL model that’s designed to make for more direct routing, with easier pickups for drivers and fewer annoying deviations from the route for riders thanks to two key actions Uber is asking riders to help out with: Walking and waiting. Basically, when riders hail an Uber Express POOL, they’ll be asked to wait a few minutes prior to the trip’s start, and/or walk to a nearby pick up spot, or from a nearby drop off point, in order to help optimize the route in as straight a line as possible along a path that can work for a number of different riders.

The Express POOL option will live right alongside the standard, existing POOL option that’s there right now in the app, at least for the foreseeable future, and riders can have the choice. But ultimately, Uber thinks that many riders will prefer opting to walk a bit and wait a bit, since the goal is to ultimately save everyone involved time and frustration.

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Some of the big challenges around making POOL work as designed to provide the lowest cost option of Uber’s various tiers to the most people possible have been around intelligent routing. The challenge of handling predictions of when and where people will be, along with building routes that not only work from an efficiency perspective, but also from the perspective of serving real humans in a way that doesn’t leave them frustrated or confused, proved to be a massive one.

Uber’s intent with POOL is to help lower the cost of entry to its product to make it the massive base of the ride hailing pyramid that can reach the most people thanks to affordability near on par with public transit. While it accounts for around 20 percent of rides in markets where it’s available, based on a rough average, that’s still not obviously the majority, and so it’s hoping that tweaks to the product that provide a better overall experience will help increase its general appeal.

 


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Uber parks its service in Morocco

13:19 | 20 February

Uber is pulling the brakes on its service in Morocco, which will cease on February 23, as it waits for local regulators to accommodate app-based ride-hailing.

The company announced the move on its country blog yesterday, writing that it has “not had any clarity” on how its service can be integrated into the existing transport model since it launched in the market three years ago.

“[T]he current regulatory uncertainty does not allow us to provide a safe and reliable experience that meets the requirements of our customers, both drivers and passengers. So, as long as there is no real reform and an environment conducive to new mobility solutions, we are forced to suspend our operations this week,” it writes. 

It does not explain why it took three years to decide to stop operating if doing so was unsafe.

Uber says it has 300 drivers using its app in the market and “nearly 19,000 regular users”. It adds that it remains committed to returning to the market “as soon as new rules are in place”.

It’s also going to be providing some financial assistance for drivers — to help them through what it calls “this difficult transition”. On this, an Uber spokesperson told us: “We are providing drivers with an estimate of revenues generated over two weeks of driving with Uber.”

Last year the company announced a similar pause on its service in Finland, but in that case it’s awaiting a specific law to be passed deregulating its taxi industry this year.

It also parked its UberPop p2p ride-hailing service in Norway, leaving only licensed driver services operating there — saying it wanted to engage in a “constructive dialogue with policymakers” to lobby for rule changes that would enable it to restart its engines. But without a firm restart date.

Such moves are in marked contrast to the Travis Kalanick ‘foot to the metal’ Uber era approach to regulatory roadblocks — which the company used to expand rapidly across the globe in its early years, exploiting the disconnect between new technologies and policymakers’ understand of them. Uber says its business now serves more than 15 trillion trips per day, globally.

But both Uber as a company, led now by emollient CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and cities as an unaware playground for VC-fueled tech giants to do as they please have moved on and woken up to tech’s disruptive playbook. Now the game is all about honing a policy strategy.

“Since we launched in Morocco over two years ago, there has been a lack of clarity about new platforms like Uber and how they fit into the existing transport model,” Uber told Reuters in a statement. “Despite consistent dialogue… we have yet to see any constructive progress on the regulations and can safely say we have exhausted all measures.”

Uber’s p2p ride-hailing service remains shut out of multiple cities in several European markets, including Barcelona, Brussels, Frankfurt, Hamberg and Paris. It still operates some professions driver services in some cities where it has paused its p2p service.

In London the company lost its license to operate last year in a shock move by the city regulator, although it is continuing to operate during its appeal.

Last week London’s transport regulator published a safety-first vision for regulating the fast-changing private hire vehicle space. Uber has also recently announced a “safety” cap on driver hours in the UK, and has also been expanding subsidized insurance offerings in the region.

Featured Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

 


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Sony Corp. to launch an AI-based taxi-hailing service in Japan

11:39 | 20 February

Sony Corporation said today that it will build an AI-based ride-hailing system in Japan in partnership with five taxi companies. The service will use artificial intelligence to manage taxi dispatches and forecast demand based on factors like weather, traffic and local events.

Sony’s announcement came just before Uber chief executive officer Dara Khosrowshahi, who is currently visiting Asia, said the company wants to form more partnerships with Japanese taxi companies. According to Bloomberg, Khosrowshahi, who joined Uber last August, said he believes Japan is an “incredibly opportunity,” but that the company’s previous approach “frankly didn’t work.”

Sony’s ride-hailing system will launch this spring in partnership with taxi companies Daiwa Motor Transportation, Hinomaru Kotsu, Kokusai Motorcars, Green Cab and Checker Cab Group. Sony’s services, including apps, will also be offered to other taxi operators in Japan. Due to regulations that require taxi drivers to hold special licenses, companies like Uber can’t offer ride-sharing services in Tokyo and other major Japanese cities (instead, Uber currently operates only in small, rural towns where there weren’t any taxi companies). As a result, ride-hailing apps in Japan match passengers with licensed taxis, instead of non-professional drivers.

Sony’s service will compete against another AI-based ride-hailing service created by app developer JapanTaxi and Toyota, which announced a partnership earlier this month. JapanTaxi says 60,000 taxis, or about one-fourth of taxis in Japan, are registered on its service, which it claims gives it the biggest marketshare among Japanese taxi-dispatch apps. Others rivals are Uber and Didi Chuxing, which are both invested in by Softbank. Each have already formed a partnership with cab company Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo. Khosrowshahi also said Uber will focus this year on expanding its presence in Japan.

Featured Image: Jerry Driendl

 


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Uber, Google and other tech employees form Coalition of Black Excellence

20:56 | 17 February

When black employee resource groups from a variety of tech companies come together, black magic happens. More specifically, black excellence happens.

The Coalition of Black Excellence Week, spearheaded by Uber Litigation Counsel Angela Johnson in collaboration with black ERGs from over 40 tech companies like Facebook, Google, eBay, Lyft and Microsoft, kicks off this Monday in the San Francisco Yay (Bay) Area.

The idea for CBE Week came in part from Johnson’s experiences living in Washington D.C., and being able to attend events put on by the Congressional Black Caucus, she told me at Uber’s headquarters this week.

“When I moved out to the Bay Area, I really wished there were similar types of experiences for tech,” Johnson said. “And I thought if we could bring together different black ERGs, or diversity and inclusion committees, or people who were interested in some of the issues the black community is passionate about, a lot of positive change and impact could come from that.”

CBE Week entails a series of 14 events designed to promote black excellence, establish community among people of color and support non-profit organizations. Some of the events include Wise and Woke: Wellness for the Black Community, organized by Zendesk’s people of color ERG group, a viewing of “Hidden Figures” at Twilio, a moderated conversation with SuperPhone founder Ryan Leslie at Google and the Black Joy Parade in Oakland.

For the events that charge money, companies have committed to donating a portion of the proceeds to non-profit organizations like BUILD, Oakland Digital, Level Playing Field Institute and Yes We Code.

The event Uber’s black employee resource group, Uber Hue, is specifically spearheading is the CodeBlack Tech Gala, which will recognize leaders in the black community, like Blavity co-founder and CEO Morgan DeBaun and 500 Startups Partner Monique Woodard. Once the week wraps up, the plan is to hit the ground running for next year, Johnson said.

 


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Uber is reportedly preparing to sell its Southeast Asian business to Grab

21:50 | 16 February

Uber is preparing to sell its Southeast Asian business to Grab in exchange for a stake in the Singaporean ride-sharing company that has a big presence in that region, according to a new report from CNBC.

This wouldn’t be an unfamiliar story for Uber, which was handily beaten by Didi in China before eventually caving and selling the company to the dominant ride-sharing startup in China. Uber sold its Chinese business to Didi in August 2016, which involved an equity deal. In that sense, Uber may be acknowledging where it’s getting beaten, and instead looking to pick up stakes in those companies as a hedge on its ability to expand globally. Should Didi — or Grab, in the case of this report — end up being bombshell successes, Uber would experience its own significant windfall and have some good news to report to its shareholders.

Uber CEO Dara Kosrowshahi said at the Goldman Sachs Internet and Technology conference this week that, if it wanted to be, Uber could be profitable — though it is heavily investing in emerging markets and new technology like autonomous driving. That means assessing which markets would be loss leaders as it looks for growth versus some of its better-performing markets. Uber is all over the globe, but it faces stiff competition in Southeast Asia from Grab (and, formerly, Didi in China). Kosrowshahi acknowledged that it made more sense to try to pick up stakes in the local ride-sharing companies like Didi and Russia’s Yandex.

“The amount we’re investing in developing markets is a significant negative but that’s an optional investment,” Kosrowshahi said. “We think it should be on and it’s gonna be on for a while. And the big bets, autonomous [driving and other bets], increase the negative. If someone says forget about all this stuff, all I want is the core and sell all the stuff, you’d have a business for a quarter was cash flow break even. I’m pretty darn confident we can turn the knobs to even on a full basis profitable if we wanted to, but you would sacrifice growth.”

Kosrowshahi’s job since joining has been to essentially try to rid Uber of its negative baggage and figure out a way to transform it into a business that will be ready to IPO sometime in 2019. It’s made the somewhat peculiar move of reporting some of its financial performance, which has shown heavy losses, though Kosrowshahi suggests that the company would be able to dial back its investments (like international expansion) to get those financials in order as it looks at an IPO. Uber is one of the largest privately held companies in the world, with its long cap table looking forward to a significant liquidity event — something Uber will have to set itself up for if it’s going to deliver.

We reached out to both Uber and Grab for comment and additional context, and will update the story when we hear back.

Featured Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

 


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Equity podcast: Uber’s losing billions, Amazon lays off hundreds and somehow Instacart gets more money

17:10 | 16 February

Welcome to “Equity,” TechCrunch’s venture capital and tech business podcast.

On this week, we were joined by Mike Ghaffary from Social Capital, who was the perfect guest because he used to run Eat24, when it was Yelp’s food delivery business. Food delivery is highly relevant to this week’s news.

First up, we talked about Uber, which is losing lots of money in Asia and also from Uber Eats. It could be profitable if it wants to, says Uber’s chief, but it doesn’t want to because the company is investing in growth. Okay!

Next, we talked about Instacart and how somehow investors are throwing even more money at the company. The grocery delivery app is now worth over $4 billion, on paper anyway.

And of course there’s Amazon, which often seems like it’s winning at everything, but hundreds of people at the company are still losing their jobs. Ouch.

Check us out on Apple Podcasts and pretty much every podcast platform. We post episodes every Friday at 6am PT.

 


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London sets out safety-first plan for regulating ride-sharing

16:02 | 15 February

After London sent ripple’s of shock through Silicon Valley last year, by denying Uber a renewal of its private hire vehicle license, the city’s transport regulator is doubling down on its scrutiny of the impact of app-based ride operators.

Today it’s published a policy statement setting out its intentions for adapting transport regulations to fit the fast-changing sector. And chief among its stated priorities is the safety and welfare of passengers and drivers.

“Safety will be a particular focus in new or novel areas where there is little existing evidence of what happens in practice,” TfL writes in its policy document. “Maintaining high standards of safety is the top priority and operators should clearly demonstrate this.

“That means setting out clear policies and action for the prevention and reporting of offences and for clear, named accountability at senior management level for safety, reporting and protection of personal data.”

TfL also flags up “broad support” in a recent consultation on private hire vehicle regulations for ensuring clear controls exist to “protect the safety of passengers and drivers”.

“To ensure that these services provide a safe, secure, accessible and sustainable contribution to London’s transport system, we will consider making use of provisions in the Transport Act 1985 and the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 to set regulations,” it writes. “We will consult on proposals to make changes to private hire legislation as appropriate. Views will be sought from stakeholders, other taxi and private hire regulators and the public in 2018.”

TfL says operators “should ensure that drivers are treated fairly, ensure drivers have appropriate and reasonable working hours including appropriate breaks throughout their shift and have clear policies and procedures to keep drivers safe”.

Gig economy working conditions is also an area of focus for the UK government, following growing concern about safety and welfare in the sector — and earlier this month it announced a package of labor market reforms aimed at responding to changes driven by the rise of app platforms which it billed as a major expansion of workers rights.

Concerns over public safety and a lack of corporate responsibility were the key reasons TfL listed for denying Uber’s license renewal in September.

And while Uber is appealing that decision, and is continuing to operate in London during the appeals process, TfL’s policy statement suggests that whatever the eventual outcome in court its intent is to tighten regulation on the sector, with the aim of enforcing a more responsible approach from all service providers.

Though it also notes that any regulation changes will be subject to a full public consultation.

Among recent regulatory tweaks made by TfL is a formal English language requirement for drivers — a move that Uber opposed. But it’s considering lots more changes for regulating the sector, including an advanced driving test; PHV operator fleet insurance; private hire vehicle signage; and even mechanisms to allow passengers to choose who they share vehicles with.

It’s also conducting an impact assessment of removing London’s Congestion Charge exemption for private hire vehicles — which would clearly have a knock-on impact on fares — and says, depending on the outcome of that work, the measure could be put up for a public consultation too.

Expanding accessibility by requiring a minimum percentage of private hire vehicles to be wheelchair accessible is another change it’s looking at.

The policy statement also advocates for operators to share “travel pattern data” with TfL — “so that travel patterns in London and the overall impact of the services can be understood”. Which perhaps offers a route for service providers that have lots of data to build better relations with the regulator — by providing insights that city planners can benefit from. (We’ve asked Uber if it’s currently sharing any data with TfL and will update this article with any response.)

“The private hire market is unrecognisable from when current legislation was introduced,” said Helen Chapman, interim director of licensing, regulation and charging for TfL, in a statement. “The growth of ride-sharing and other advances mean that regulation has to be fit for the next decade and not the last.

“Our vision sets out clearly how we will manage these new developments that improve convenience for customers, while ensuring safety remains our top priority. The document also makes clear that any new developments in the sector have to fit with the objectives of the mayor’s Transport Strategy.”

Among London mayor Sadiq Khan’s wider transport objectives are reducing Londoner’s dependence on private cars generally, including in order to promote healthier mobility options such as cycling and walking, and also to make more efficient use of the city’s street space. Which makes Uber’s emerging interest in bike-sharing look like a prudent diversification of its urban mobility offering.

Another stated priority for Khan is improving London’s air quality — and the strategy document specifically anticipates dedicating more areas in central London to being entirely “traffic free”. (Last year, for example, the mayor announced that the highly congested and polluted Oxford Street shopping district would transition to being traffic free — with a goal to complete this by the end of 2018.)

Asked whether the transport strategy requires a reduction in the overall number of private hire vehicles on London’s roads to deliver its objectives, a TfL spokesman would not provide a direct answer to our question — saying only that the aim is to “make sure that whatever developments happen in the industry they complement the goals in the mayor’s transport strategy”.

But he also noted those goals do include a principle to “support mode shift away from car travel”.

He reiterated, too, that the regulator continues to support the idea of having a cap on the total number of private hire licenses — but said this would require primary legislation, adding that TfL continues to lobby government on that front. “To date they haven’t been minded to do so but that’s still our position,” he added.

For now there’s no firm timeline for TfL reworking London’s private hire vehicle regulatory framework. The spokesman said only that it will be giving more details on specific timelines for consultations cited in the documents “in the coming months”.

Asked whether Uber’s behavior as a company has fed into formulating the policy document, the spokesman said no one ride-sharing company is driving its thinking. “This is us at TfL saying what we think for the industry as a whole is required,” he told TechCrunch. “We want the regulation to be fit for the next decade, not the last decade.

“This is talking about the industry as a whole. We’ve seen it change a lot in the last few years — we’re expecting it to change a lot again in the next few years, so it’s making sure that we’re setting out our store.”

At the time of writing Uber had not responded to a request for its thoughts on TfL’s policy statement.

 


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Uber could be profitable if it wants to, says CEO

04:44 | 15 February

Uber lost $4.5 billion last year, but CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he’s not worried. Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, the newly appointed chief defended the company’s financials, saying that “we can turn the knobs to get this business even on a full basis profitable, but you would sacrifice growth and sacrifice innovation.”

He said that it’s Uber’s commitment to “developing” markets that are dragging things down, but he views that as an “optional investment.” However it’s the “right thing to do,” he said, claiming that the company won’t stop investing in Asia anytime soon.

Revenue last year was $7.5 billion, but Khosrowshahi was keen to tout a “$40 billion run rate,” a measurement of total transactions on the platform. He also spoke of a more than “100% revenue growth rate,” meaning that sales have more than doubled.

Khosrowshahi also addressed the company’s public image which he believes was “appropriately negative,” but insists that he was pleasantly surprised to find that the company has “good people,” who are committed to changing the world of transportation. “We deserve to be and we should be a brand that is beloved as an Amazon or a Google.”

He spoke of the settlement with Waymo, the self-driving car division of Google parent, Alphabet. Uber is “happy to put it behind us,” he said. “It was a very very significant distraction for the teams that were working on our autonomous technology.”

In general, he was very optimistic about self-driving cars and spoke of a day where the average ride will be about $1 per mile, down from roughly $2.50 per mile. It’s “the only way to get the cost down,” he said of driverless transportation.

Khosrowshahi also said the recent SoftBank investment was a major milestone because it provided liquidity for some employees and also “was a catalyst for us to move forward on some governance changes.” In particular, he’s referring to the lawsuit between Benchmark Capital and former CEO Travis Kalanick.  “The acrimony between Bill and Travis didn’t serve the company well.”

Khosrowshahi has grand visions for the future, stating that he hopes Uber will get people to stop buying cars. “Traffic is going to get better.”

Featured Image: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Getty Images

 


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Very famous VC Bill Gurley says startup boardrooms are now just filled with *clapping hand noise*

01:06 | 15 February

Fresh off a public spat between Uber investor Benchmark Capital and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Benchmark general partner Bill Gurley took the stage in front of a large room of bankerfolk at the Goldman Sachs technology conference to talk about how startup boardrooms are now filled with a lot of cheerleaders that aren’t holding founders accountable.

“There’s a systematic problem in Silicon Valley, the venture capitalist board members are finding harder and harder to speak up and hold entrepreneurs responsible for financial performance,” Gurley said. “Our business has gotten super competitive. What the venture capitals is afraid of is losing the next big one. If they get a reputation — years ago [some of the best venture capitalists] were known for storming into board rooms [to demand fiduciary responsibility] — if you get a reputation like that you won’t win the next deal.”

He then went on to say that “Silicon Valley board rooms have mostly become,” and then clapped his hands a few times to imply it was largely people applauding founders and giving them a lot of leeway. This isn’t hugely surprising given a very big tiff between Benchmark and Uber that essentially led to the ouster of Kalanick. Following a wave of cultural problems, as well as a major lawsuit between Uber and Waymo over the acquisition of Otto (which settled last week, shortly after Kalanick gave his testimony), Benchmark sued Kalanick.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick attends the summer World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China, June 26, 2016. REUTERS/Shu Zhang

“What my firm and I went through in 2017 was probably the least enjoyable experience of my life and certainly the hardest work product we’ve ever done,” Gurley said. “It’s not the type of work that inspires us to come in every day. A lot came more from a sense of fiduciary duty and obligation, which carry a super heavy weight because of the size fo the co at the time. It wasn’t just a duty to our investors, but many people in the room had exposure because the list was so long. I take solace in the fact that if I look back from today to May or June, it would be hard pressed to bring forward an argument that the co is not in a much better position today.”

The FOMO — fear of missing out — argument is one that was wildly pervasive in Silicon Valley just a few short years ago. When on-demand was exploding and companies like Shyp and Luxe were fetching sizable valuations with large rounds of funding, there was a flurry of activity from investors that seemed to be jumping quickly to the next company with a lot of leeway for founders with ideas that made sense in theory. Of course, there’s been a big shakeout in the U.S., which has led to more mega-rounds in larger companies but fewer rounds in general.

Benchmark’s lawsuit was dismissed as a condition of Softbank’s mega-investment in Uber, where Benchmark reportedly got some liquidation from its early investment. Kosrowshahi has also said that Uber plans to become a public company in 2019, something Gurley says just makes companies better companies because they have a stronger fiduciary duty to their investors. All this, including appointing new CEO Dara Kosrowshahi, culminated in a final show that Uber was attempting to shed itself of as much baggage as possible related to Kalanick.

Separately, when asked about cryptocurrency, Gurley said everyone in the room is probably sick of talking about crypto and asked to move on to the next subject. The moderator then moved on to the next subject.

 


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Uber launches a new lower-priced service called Chap Chap in Nairobi

17:06 | 13 February

Uber has launched a new, lower-cost service in Nairobi called Uber Chap Chap. Made possible by using a fleet of fuel-efficient budget sedans, Uber Chap Chap (Swahili slang for “hurry, hurry”) is currently available in several areas of the Kenyan capital, including its central business district.

Uber, which began testing the service at the end of January, may launch it throughout the rest of Nairobi and in the capital cities of Uganda and Tanzania if it proves successful, the company’s East Africa general manager Loic Amado told Reuters.

To make Uber Chap Chap possible, Uber worked out a deal with CMC Motors, a car importer based in Nairobi, to import 300 Suzuki Altos. An unglamorous but inexpensive and fuel-efficient hatchback sedan, the Suzuki Altos were offered to highly-rated Uber drivers with financing by Stanbic, a Kenyan bank, that allows them to own the vehicle in three years.

Since the Suzuki Alto can travel further on less fuel, Uber is able to offer Uber Chap Chap’s lower prices. The minimum cost for a ride on the service is 100 Kenyan shillings (about 99 cents), compared to 150 shillings ($1.48) for UberX.

In Kenya, Uber faces competition from ride-hailing services like Little and Taxify. Uber Chap Chap gives it another way to differentiate, though Uber’s Nairobi drivers have complained that launching lower-priced services undercuts their earnings.

Featured Image: Jacek_Sopotnicki/Getty Images

 


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