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Main article: Ride-sharing

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Chariot co-founder and CEO Ali Vahabzadeh left Ford at the beginning of February

17:24 | 20 February

As automakers continue to work on their strategies for the next generation of transportation, one of the biggies is making a change to its leadership structure. Ali Vahabzadeh, the CEO and co-founder of ride-sharing startup Chariot, which Ford acquired Chariot in September 2016, has left the company.

“We thank Ali for his passion and dedication to building Chariot into the growing mobility business it is today,” the company told TechCrunch in a statement. “We are glad he will continue to serve Chariot as a director on the Chariot board, and all wish him well in his next adventure.”

He has been replaced in the interim by Dan Grossman, who leads Microtransit for Ford Smart Mobility, while the company looks for a permanent person to lead Chariot.

It seems that Ali himself had quietly announced his departure two weeks ago, to no one’s notice — writing that he wanted to step away to pursue his next entrepreneurial venture.

But this may not be the full story. The person who originally provided the tip to TechCrunch alleges that Vahabzadeh was actually fired in early February after employees co-signed a letter to Ford’s CEO James Hackett complaining about toxic work culture and poor employee retention. Ford declined to comment on this. (We are also following up on this allegation. If you know something, you can send it anonymously to us via our tips page.)

Ford acquired Chariot in September 2016 as part of its efforts to build alternative transport services for people moving away from fully owning and driving their own vehicles.

It bases its service around a fleet of transit vans whose routes are aimed at commuters, and where what routes are offered is based on a “crowdsourced” vote.

The startup was launched at Y Combinator and had only raised around $3 million before Ford acquired it, reportedly for $65 million plus earn-outs.

Chariot started in San Francisco but has had its eye on growing. In January 2017 it announced plans to expand to another eight cities (it’s currently active in five in the US, including New York, Columbus, Austin-San Antonio and Seattle). As of this month it is now also in London with plans to expand elsewhere in Europe.

“We’re going to be super aggressive in expanding to multiple markets over the next year,” said Vahabzadeh in an interview with TechCrunch at the time of the acquisition. “It became very clear very early on that Chariot would be able to leverage Ford’s expertise in logistics and vehicle and operations to take Chariot and make this a global service, beyond just the Bay area.”

But growth has not been without hiccups. In October, Chariot had to halt service for a period in San Francisco after failing to pass a series of California Highway Patrol inspections.

In terms of competition, there are a number of other services looking to fill in the gap between private cars; taxis and other single-destination ride-hailing services; buses; trains; and your own legs. They include services like Uber Pool, startups like Via, and new services that appear to be emerging by the week, such as this new Smart Bus effort from Citymapper in London.

 


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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 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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Heetch raises another $20 million to compete head-to-head with Uber in Europe

11:01 | 26 January

French startup Heetch has an ambitious goal. The company wants to become the second ride-sharing service in France and in the other European countries where it operates. The startup just raised $20 million from Félix Capital, Via ID, Alven Capital, Idinvest Partners and InnovAllianz. This is the same funding round as last year’s $12 million round, but new investors joined the round.

In order to stay competitive with Uber, Heetch is a bit cheaper than a normal UberX ride. But drivers still get paid more or less as much on Heetch and on Uber as the startup’s cut is only 15 percent.

This round shows that Heetch’s pivot might be working. The startup first operated as a purely peer-to-peer ride-sharing service. Anybody could become a driver, and there was no restriction on cars.

But a court in Paris forced Heetch to shut down the service back in March 2017. Heetch had already attracted a ton of users (and quite a bit of cash based on multiple sources).

That’s why Heetch started over with a more traditional offering. Now, Heetch only works with professional drivers and accepts rides 24/7. The company will be doubling the engineering team and launching in London with today’s funding round.

Heetch is currently available in 10 cities in 5 different countries — France, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Morocco. In Casablanca, the company has chosen to partner with 19 taxi syndicates and give them access to Heetch to accept rides from a phone.

“We’re just about to add ‘boosts’ when demand is too high,” co-founder and CEO Teddy Pellerin told me. “But it’s different from Uber’s surge pricing. If the passenger doesn’t want to pay, they’ll have to wait or get a bit lucky. Also, the 15 percent driver commission only applies to base price. Drivers get 100 percent of each boost.”

Heetch isn’t the only Uber challenger in France. Chauffeur-Privé, Le Cab and Taxify are also all trying to take on Uber. But Pellerin told me that it looks like Heetch is currently getting more downloads in the App Store compared to all those challengers based on recent App Annie data. Heetch doesn’t pay for any download ad.

So it’s clear that Heetch wants to fight back and prove that it’s more than a peer-to-peer ride-sharing app that had to shut down. Now let’s see if the company can transform short-term growth into long-term users as the French market seems more crowded than ever.

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Former employees say Lyft staffers spied on passengers

00:36 | 26 January

Similar to Uber’s “God View” scandal, Lyft staffers have been abusing customer insight software to view the personal contact info and ride history of the startup’s passengers. One source that formerly worked with Lyft tells TechCrunch that widespread access to the company’s backend let staffers “see pretty much everything including feedback, and yes, pick up and drop off coordinates”.

When asked if staffers ranging from core team members to customer service reps abused this privilege, the source said “Hell yes. I definitely looked at my friends’ rider history and looked at what drivers said about them. I never got in trouble.” Another supposed employee anonymously reported on workplace app Blind that staffers had access to this private information and that the access was abused.

Our source says that the data insights tool log all usage, so staffers were warned by their peers to be careful when accessing it surreptitiously. For example, some thought that repeatedly searching for the same person might get noticed. But despite Lyft logging the access, enforcement was weak so team members still abused it.

Lyft tells TechCrunch that staffers in several departments that might need access to this data for their job have the ability to look up this information. That includes data analytics, engineering (particularly those working on fraud or investigations), customer support, insurance, and the trust and safety team. A Lyft spokesperson confirmed it’s investigating the issue and that there have been instances of enforcement in the past. They provided this statement:

“Maintaining the trust of passengers and drivers is fundamental to Lyft. The specific allegations in this post would be a violation of Lyft’s policies and a cause for termination, and have not been raised with our Legal or Executive teams. We are conducting an investigation into the matter.

Access to data is restricted to certain teams that need it to do their jobs. For those teams, each query is logged and attributed to a specific individual. We require employees to be trained in our data privacy practices and responsible use policy, which categorically prohibit accessing and using customer data for reasons other than those required by their specific role at the company.  Employees are required to sign confidentiality and responsible use agreements that bar them from accessing, using, or disclosing customer data outside the confines of their job responsibilities.”

The news raises serious questions about proper data privacy at Lyft. While occasional access to rider data can be essential to some roles at the company, like if someone loses an item, widespread and improperly restricted access could be seen as a violation of riders’ trust. Lyft has tried to position itself as the friendlier, more ethical alternative to Uber, but staffers may have engaged in the same shady behavior.

An image of Uber’s former God View program

Back in 2014, BuzzFeed broke news that Uber used a system called “God View” that let staffers see details about riders and their trips. That led to an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office. It struck a settlement with Uber where the startup agreed to limit access to designated employees using multi-factor authentication, establish someone to supervise privacy of the system, and audit usage of it. Yet reports surfaced in 2016 that Uber employees were still abusing the system renamed “Heaven View”.

In early 2015, Lyft’s CEO Logan Green and President John Zimmer responded to questioning about data privacy at Lyft and Uber from Senator Al Franken, writing that “As recent events in our industry have made clear, customers may be justifiability concerned about a company making improper use of their trip data. We’ve taken this opportunity to reevaluate our own restrictions and protections to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep our customers’ trip data safe.”

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Today, though, TechCrunch received a tip about a supposed Lyft staffer with either a Lyft email address or public Lyft job listing who was using anonymous workplace app Blind to blow the whistle about data privacy abuse at the company.

They claimed that staffers could use Lyft’s backend software to view unmasked personally identifiable information. This was said to be used to look up ex-lovers, check where their significant others were riding, and to stalk people they found attractive who shared a Lyft Line with them. Staffers could also see who had bad ratings from drivers, or even look up the phone numbers of celebrities. One staffer apparently bragged about attaining Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s phone number.

 Lyft employees are active on Blind, and wrong information is typically quickly challenged. But no one came out contradicting the original report beyond saying that that access was limited, logged, and audited, though it’s not clear to what degree.

Our source confirmed some of these practices to TechCrunch, saying they would check to see where their significant other was Lyfting to. “It was addictive. People were definitely doing what I was” they noted. New staffers were particularly keen to try it despite warnings to be careful.

The situation highlights how having policies against bad behavior inside fast-moving startups doesn’t necessarily prevent abuse. Diligent enforcement must also be undertaken despite the costs or time required.

 


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Lyft Concierge, its ride-booking service for businesses, opens to all

22:14 | 16 January

Lyft today announced it’s expanding its Concierge program – the service that allows organizations to schedule rides for other people – to more business customers. First announced in 2016, the service was originally designed to help patients get to medical appointments, particularly in areas where they may not have a car of their own, like New York, where more than half of households are car-free.

The 2016 partnership between Lyft and the National MedTrans Network aimed to change that by offering seniors in NYC a way to get rides to their non-emergency medical appointments by way of the then new third-party web application, Concierge. Lyft’s partners use Concierge to request rides on behalf of those who don’t have smartphones or, otherwise, aren’t able to book rides for themselves for other reasons.

Since then, Lyft has partnered with other organizations, including JetBlue, CareMore, and GoGoGrandparent for similar objectives, including not only medical appointments, but also getting customers to meetings or making sure employees have a safe ride home.

Today, Lyft says this Concierge program is opening up to more organizations, instead of just a limited subset of partners.

This move will expand the reach of Concierge to more businesses, including smaller organizations.

To use the service, the business or organization in question has to first set up a Lyft Business account, and attach a payment card to be used for the rides they book.

They can then schedule rides as needed or book them in up to a week in advance. Concierge offers a variety of Lyft ride types, and the businesses can also access real-time ride tracking and 24-hour customer support, the company says.

The full launch of Concierge will greatly expand the types of businesses that book rides on behalf of others – going far beyond the original focus on medical appointments, which Lyft said impacted the 3.6 million Americans who struggle with getting rides to doctors.

For example, one of Concierge’s newer customers is the San Diego-based helicopter tour operator, Rotor Zen,  which now uses Lyft to get guests from hotels or their vacation rentals to the helicopter departure point, then drop them off when their tour is over.

Denver Health Hospital also began to use Concierge to get patients to appointments. Others like Senior Living and Comfort Keepers have been using the service to help the elderly stay active and get out and about in general.

A number of car dealerships, including City Toyota, and rental and insurance companies are Concierge users as well, to help distressed passengers get rides in emergency situations.

Beyond the variety of use cases Concierge offers, the expanded service represents another means for Lyft to compete its battle with other ride-sharing services, like Uber. In Uber’s case, it operates both Uber for Business and UberCENTRAL, the latter which is more of a direct rival to Concierge.

While Uber for Business is more focused on helping businesses find rides for employees, UberCENTRAL lets businesses of any size request, pay for and manage rides for their customers from a centralized dashboard.

For both companies, these business-initiated bookings represent another area of potential growth for their respective ride-sharing services and a source of increased revenue. So though Uber may have been first out of the gate with support for businesses of any size, it’s now not the only option in town.

The news follows another announcement from Lyft this morning, which claimed the company saw 375.5 million rides in 2017, or 130 percent growth year-over-year.

 


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Passport, the technology business for city transit systems, raises $43 million

21:06 | 20 December

Passport, company that’s managing much of the technical aspects of how people pay to use public transportation resources in cities like London, Miami and Los Angeles, has just raised $43 million.

The money, from Bain Capital Ventures, will go to help the company expand its payment and transaction services nationally and internationally as cities and states wrestle with how new mobility technologies will transform vast portions of urban infrastructure and government income.

Passport’s back-end software manages everything from parking to ticketing to tolling in some of the most populous cities around the world.

The company has already landed big partnerships with car makers like Jaguar Land Rover, Porsche, Ford and GM to embed their software in the new display systems that are mandated for most cars by 2018, according to Bob Youakim, Passport’s chief executive officer.

As public transit moves to the management of autonomous fleets, private companies will need ways to link in to the management systems that city governments are using. And as autonomous vehicles eat into revenues from parking tickets and moving violations, governments will need access to vehicle systems to create new kinds of tolls to pay for the upkeep of transit infrastructure, Youakim said.

“You have to have that infrastructure built so that vehicles know,” Youakim said.

Autonomy also matters for state governments. Soon, an integrated billing system will allow for automatic payment on toll roads across the U.S. Passport is already working with the Pennsylvania Toll Pike on billing. “The toll road is very disconnected,” said Youakim. “The only thing that can bring that together is some sort of mobile-based system,” like the kind Passport provides.

Youakim said the money from the latest investment (which was all Bain Capital Ventures), will be used to develop new products and for strategic acquisitions.

As the company expands, expect to see more integrations with ride-hailing companies like Lyft, with whom Passport is already working on a project in Charlotte, NC.

“We’re working with all of the rideshare folks,” says Youakim. “It’s very new… all of this coming into transit.”

Cities are trying to find ways to hook into the information and entertainment displays cars are going to be required by law to include as part of the demand for rear view cameras and displays in vehicles.

These sensors and integrations are critical for cities as revenues from taxes and tickets decline. “Infrastructure [revenues] will come from tolling,” said Youakim. Cities will monitor drivers’ routes and tax based on usage of roads. It’s akin to what the city of London does with entry fees for vehicles there, Youakim said.

“To come into the city limits you get taxed,” he said. “All the different types of tolling are going to become more prevalent in the U.S.”

All of this becomes more vital as federal infrastructure spending is likely to decline, given the new tax bill that looks like it will be voted into law today. With federal coffers depleted from tax cuts, local governments will be left to fend for themselves to pay for roads, bridges and other means of transportation.

But all of this is in the future. For now, Passport has its hands full with metro-rail, tolling, ticketing, parking and projects that cities are trying to maintain as legacies from the 20th century urban infrastructure. The company and Youakim are just thinking ahead and laying the groundwork for the 21st century’s problems.

Already, Passport’s services have been embraced to the tune of $250 million in transit transactions on its current annual run rate. The company has customers in 450 municipalities.

Passport already has 100 employees on staff and plans to add 50 more within the next year.

“Having reviewed the industry Passport has emerged as the clear leader in the space and its culture speaks to our way of progressive thinking, which is a very powerful driver,” Bain Capital Ventures managing director Matt Harris said. “We believe Bob and his team have the industry experience and vision necessary to lead the revolution in this space.”

 


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Lyft’s chief operating officer will leave by the end of this year

07:15 | 7 November

Lyft’s chief operating officer Rex Tibbens plans to step down by the end of the year. The news was first reported by Axios and confirmed by Lyft to TechCrunch.

The ride-sharing company has been busy raising funding, including a recent $1 billion round led by CapitalG that put its post-money valuation at $11 billion, as it reportedly prepares to go public next year.

Tibbens’ planned departure means that Lyft now needs to fill a key leadership role on top of planning an IPO. This news comes almost exactly one year after a report that then-president elect Donald Trump’s transition team was looking at Tibbens as a potential candidate for U.S. Transportation Secretary, which Lyft denied.

According to an internal email sent to Lyft employees by co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer (copied below), Tibbens, who joined the company in 2015 from Amazon, plans to advise companies and spend time with his family next year.

Team,

We wanted to share a note of thanks to Rex and provide a leadership team update. After 2+ years with Lyft, helping grow the business over 10x, Rex has decided that at the end of the year he will move on from his role as COO. In the new year, he’ll spend time advising companies, reacquainting himself with his family, and figuring out what’s next for TRex. He’s been an incredible partner helping bring Lyft to every state, and launching strategic initiatives like Express Drive and our Nashville support center.

To lead the charge for Lyft’s next phase of growth, we’re underway with the search for our next COO. We’re extremely thankful for the impact Rex has had on all of us, and excited by the opportunity to bring in new leadership to drive forward our next chapter.

Thanks,
Logan & John

Featured Image: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

 


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Uber will now let you add multiple stops to your route

17:41 | 26 October

Uber today is adding a new feature that will solve a challenge almost every rider, at some point, has faced: the difficulty with picking up friends along the route to your destination. That’s because, until now, Uber has only allowed you to request a ride from point A to point B. That now changes with the introduction of an “add-a-stop” feature that allows you to add up to three total stops to your route.

Before, if you wanted to do something similar, you’d have to change your destination mid-trip to include the additional stop or stops, get everyone to meet in one place to catch the Uber, or even order another ride after getting dropped off at your first stop.

With the multi-stop feature, you can instead input your extra stops in advance of requesting your Uber.

To use the new option, you tap “where to?” and then the plus sign “+”. You’ll then enter in the addresses of all your stops, and request your ride. The app will remind you to keep stops to 3 minutes or less, as a courtesy to your driver. That’s a bit longer than the typical wait time, though. Uber typically charges a per-minute wait fee 2 minutes after a driver reaches your location.

Uber tells us the wait time fee will still apply to the first pick up. But if the rider spends more than 3 minutes at the other stops, the price could change from the upfront fare they were quoted before requesting their ride.

You will still be able to make changes to your stops mid-route, Uber also notes. You’ll be able to both add or remove stops in real-time while on the way, and the driver will get the directions updates automatically.

Drivers will also be able to see the full route with all the stops upon picking up the rider. At each stop, the driver will swipe in his or her app to acknowledge that they’ve arrived at the stop before the directions to the next stop are given.

This isn’t the first time Uber has made it easier to ride with friends on its service.

The company has long offered a way to split your Uber fare with other riders, but this assumed you were both jumping in the Uber at the same time. It’s also worth pointing out that Uber rival Lyft introduced adding extra stops in its app last year, which then gave it an advantage for group rides.

Uber’s new multi-stop feature is now live on both iOS and Android to users worldwide, if they have the most recent version of the Uber app. But the update hit international users first, then arrived in the U.S. and Canada. So if you don’t see the new feature yet, you should soon.

Featured Image: Photo by studioEAST/Getty Images/Getty Images

 


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Daimler acquires German P2P carpooling startup Flinc

15:05 | 28 September

Daimler — the German car giant that owns Mercedes Benz among other brands — has made one more acquisition to further its reach in ridesharing and what it sees as the next generation of how cars are owned and used. It has acquired Flinc, a startup also out of Germany that has built a platform and app for peer-to-peer-style carpooling.

People who are driving in one direction find people who are looking to go in the same direction and offer them rides, with the subsequent deal either negotiated in cash or simple done for free.

I’m not sure that Daimler’s deal for Flinc was done for free, but the financial terms are not being disclosed.

Flinc — which exists as a standalone app and is also integrated into other services, such as larger enterprise’s company apps for work colleagues to carpool together — will continue to operate independently, Daimler said, led by the startup’s founders, Dr. Klaus Dibbern, Michael Hübl and Benjamin Kirschner.

Founded in 2010, flinc had raised an undisclosed amount of money from a group of investors that include Deutsche Bahn (the German train and transport company); General Motors Ventures and Ecomobility Ventures. GM’s investment was partly strategic: European subsidiary Opel integrated Flinc into its own employee backend to enable ridesharing amongst its own employees.

Indeed, I wonder if the fact that Flinc doesn’t seem to have made profit the primary idea behind the rides that it enables (its URL is even “flinc.org”) is one of the reasons why it has happily existed while fire and brimstone has rained down upon Uber for allegedly flouting commercial driving regulations in multiple markets.

A large part of Flinc’s technology appears to involve smart navigation: it works out your route from A to B, and then the route for individuals looking for rides, and then it matches them up, serving options between potential pairs only one at a time to avoid double-booking and confusion. Some 500,000 people have used the service to date.

Daimler Mobility Services, the division that has made the acquisition, says that the deal is part of Daimler’s strategy to “transition from being an automobile manufacturer to a mobility services provider.”

It’s one more sign of how automakers are preparing for a potential future where cars are more expensive (because they carry more tech in them, such as self-driving capabilities), and are therefore purchased less often, leading automotive manufacturers to search for other kinds of business models around their vehicles.

“Transport options are just as varied as the mobility demands of our customers. Whether flexible carsharing, ride-hailing or door-to-door ridesharing, with our mobility services, we are able to provide the ideal solution,” said Jörg Lamparter, head of Mobility Services at Daimler, in a statement. “With Flinc, we are taking on an extremely well-coordinated team that brings valuable experience in the field of short-distance ridesharing.”

Daimler has not been a stranger to the bigger changes we are seeing in the transportation industry. Recent investments from the company have included putting $60 million into quick-charging battery startup Storedot, $250 million into Via, a shuttle-based ridesharing company, and investments into Careem, Blacklane, FlixBus and Turo. Other acquisitions include car2go and mytaxi (which includes its acquisition also of Uber competitor Hailo).

Daimler is not alone in the race for more technology and startups that are building it. General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen and Volvo have all also bet big on autonomous cars and transportation startups that are helping consumers live without owning their own vehicles.

 


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