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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Uber and Lyft Keep Rideshare Data a Closely Guarded Secret

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2015 at 1:44 PM

click to enlarge ΣΠΎΡΟΣ ΒΆΘΗΣ/FLICKR
  • Σπύρος Βάθης/Flickr

If you’ve ever wondered how many Ubers and Lyfts are on San Francisco streets at a given time, you’re not alone but you are out of luck. Both rideshare companies keep such data under wraps, probably because they’re embroiled in a Battle Royale with each other, the city, and the taxi industry and need every bit of tactical legerdemain they can muster.

As Streetsblog reports, a panel discussion on Monday elicited a sometimes perplexing array of mission statements and PR marmalade. Curtis Rogers, Lyft’s national accounts manager, identified his company’s “end goal” as reducing car ownership but didn’t say whether that also means reducing car trips.

Rogers added that Lyft doesn’t want to compete with Muni. “We’re just one more piece to the puzzle,” he said.

Such statements gloss over the company’s history of aggressively targeting Muni. In 2013, for example, Lyft, still in startup mode, proposed to buy 68 Muni buses from the city and take over operating crowded routes such as 38 Geary, 30 Stockton, and 14 Mission. Ron Conway, America’s favorite venture capitalist, was essentially stage-whispering that he’d buy out Muni and turn it into a private fleet. (This being well before Google and Leap tainted the whole notion of private buses for a certain subset of San Franciscans.)

Then there was Lyft’s “match Muni” promotion, whereby Lyft Line riders could use the code MATCHMUNI to unlock a $2.25 ride. If this indicates a company with a kumbaya attitude towards Muni, well, I have a parking space to sell you.

It’s called capitalism, and it works like a blood feud.

Streetsblog quotes Kate Toran, SFMTA’s director of taxis and accessible services, who says that Uber and Lyft’s failure to make data public is “really challenging” when the city considers planning decisions.

“Reducing auto dependency is a really great goal, but when there’s no barrier at all to entry for anyone who wants to drive their personal car into San Francisco and make some money, I think that outweighs the numbers of people who are shedding their vehicles. But again, we don’t know,” Toran said.

And, of course, it’s not just people driving into San Francisco. A (likely minor) contingent of rideshare drivers are also transporting people to Daly City, Colma, Oakland, Berkeley, and points as far south as San Jose. As writer and sometimes Uber driver Colby Buzzell wrote in Vice recently, barriers to entry to become an Uber driver are alarmingly low:

No drug tests, psychiatric evaluations, written exams, driving tests, orientations, interviews, questions about my education or prior work experience—nothing. All I had to do was go to their website, pass their online background check, and do a brief ten-minute vehicle inspection at one of their locations in the city. In a matter of minutes, I became a grunt for Uber.

Laissez faire hiring policies and Guantanamo-style secrecy mean rideshare companies have the rule of the road — for now. But how long can they continue to position themselves as eco-friendly, community-minded alternatives before somebody slams on the brakes?

     

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Jeremy Lybarger

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