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From: Glenn Petersen9/28/2017 10:37:08 PM
   of 665
Ikea has bought TaskRabbit

The Swedish home goods giant is looking for some digital help from the contract labor marketplace.

by Kara Swisher and Theodore Schleifer
Sep 28, 2017, 11:35am EDT

The heads of TaskRabbit and Ikea Group: Stacy Brown-Philpot (left) and Jesper Brodin Ikea

Swedish home goods giant Ikea Group has bought TaskRabbit, according to sources close to the situation.

The price of the deal could not be determined, but the contract labor marketplace company has raised about $50 million since it was founded nine years ago. Sources added that TaskRabbit will become an independent subsidiary within Ikea and that CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot and its staff would remain.

Sources also noted that Ikea would add capital to the company, although that amount could not be determined. TaskRabbit, which is now profitable, will also be able to strike other partnerships, such as one it already has with Amazon.

TaskRabbit is one of the best-known startups in the so-called “gig” economy that links freelance workers with jobs, from handymen to movers to assistants. It has about 60 employees, but over 60,000 independent workers use its platform.

The purchase of TaskRabbit was fueled by Ikea’s need to further bolster its digital customer service capabilities to better compete with rivals likes Amazon, which has stepped up its home goods and installation offerings. The purchase is Ikea’s first step into the on-demand platform space.

TaskRabbit had already struck a pilot partnership with Ikea around furniture assembly in the United Kingdom and also had marketed its workers’ ability to put together Ikea items in the U.S. and elsewhere.

But a purchase of TaskRabbit will get Ikea even more deeply into the tech space, although it has not been without some tech innovation of late. The company — which has sales of more the $36 billion annually and 183,000 workers — recently announced an initiative to shift its 389 stores worldwide to electric car transportation and infrastructure.

And this week, it released a nifty augmented reality app for the Apple iPhone, called “Ikea Place.” Using the phone’s camera, a customer can scan a room and then place Ikea furniture virtually to see how it looks (see below). It has gotten positive reviews.

The cool new augmented reality app from Ikea helps you decorate virtually Ikea Previous acquisitions by Ikea have ranged in price from $20 million to $90 million, according to PitchBook data.

The TaskRabbit acquisition, which was finally completed this week, comes six months after Brown-Philpot said that the company had been responding to sales interest from strategic buyers.

“It’s opportunistic,” said Brown-Philpot in an interview with Recode, but declined to provide more details about the process. Sources said over the last several months there was other buyer interest, including from Yelp, Google and IAC.

The deal came together as the San Francisco-based company was in the process of raising another round of funding; TaskRabbit used Bank of America Merrill Lynch as advisers.

TaskRabbit’s investors include venture firms like Shasta Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Founders Fund. Sources said the company did another small financing last year from an international investor.

That was all to continue its expansion of cities in the U.S. to 40 from its current 24 locations. In a Recode Decode podcast last September, Brown-Philpot said TaskRabbit was cash flow positive in its cities, and close to reaching profitability overall.

Brown-Philpot, a former Google exec and a board member at HP Inc., took over the top job at TaskRabbit from founder Leah Busque in mid-2016. Busque, as Recode reported earlier this week, has recently joined the seed-focused Fuel Capital as a venture partner. Busque founded TaskRabbit, originally called Run My Errand, in 2008.

For those who do not know the massive retailer — or have never spent hours assembling one of its Kallax shelves using those tiny little L-shaped hex tools — the Ikea Group is led by Jesper Brodin. The longtime company veteran had previously run its Swedish unit and replaced Peter Agnefjall, who led the company for only four years.

TaskRabbit and Ikea declined to comment.

Update: Ikea and TaskRabbit have confirmed the deal to Recode.

“In a fast-changing retail environment, we continuously strive to develop new and improved products and services to make our customers’ lives a little bit easier. Entering the on-demand, sharing economy enables us to support that,” Ikea chief Jesper Brodin said in a statement. “We will be able to learn from TaskRabbit’s digital expertise, while also providing Ikea customers additional ways to access flexible and affordable service solutions to meet the needs of today’s customer.”

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From: TimF9/30/2017 10:41:43 PM
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Why You Can't Always Trust a 5 Star AirBnB
Why AirBnb's review process is pressuring guests to give positive reviews.
by Charity-Joy Acchiardo

Originally published at

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From: Glenn Petersen10/1/2017 10:36:42 PM
   of 665
Inside the Latest Power Struggle at Uber

New York Times
October 1, 2017

The latest board fight at Uber is over a proposed plan that would expand the powers of the company’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi. Credit David Ryder/Bloomberg

SAN FRANCISCO — The phone calls began late Friday among Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, and the ride-hailing company’s executives, as well as board members and a raft of lawyers. They were facing an emergency.

The problem was that Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former chief executive and a board member, had appointed two new directors — Ursula Burns, the former chief executive of Xerox, and John Thain, the former chief of Merrill Lynch — to the privately held company without informing them. The moves, which pushed the nine-member board to 11 people, gave Mr. Kalanick new potential allies on major decisions at Uber.

Mr. Kalanick’s actions were “disappointing,” Mr. Khosrowshahi wrote on Friday in a letter to employees that was obtained by The New York Times. “Anyone would tell you that this is highly unusual.”

The trigger for Mr. Kalanick’s move — one made possible by a board vote last year giving him control of three seats — was a proposal that Mr. Khosrowshahi and the investment bank Goldman Sachs, an Uber shareholder, brought to the board on Thursday. The proposal, which is set to be discussed by directors on Tuesday, includes measures that would shift the power on Uber’s board by reducing Mr. Kalanick’s voting clout, expanding Mr. Khosrowshahi’s powers and imposing a 2019 deadline on the company to go public, according to three people with knowledge of the proposal who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Parts of the proposal were also read to The Times.

The power shift proposed by Mr. Khosrowshahi and Goldman Sachs spurred Mr. Kalanick to act to reassert control, according to a statement Mr. Kalanick issued on Friday. That has now plunged Uber into another period of uncertainty and a corporate governance crisis, at a time when the company had been trying to move beyond its controversial past with a new chief executive on board.

Uber is “attempting to copy some things that characterize good governance at a public company,” said Charles M. Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. But, he added, parts of the proposal “typically show up when you have poor management and are generally opposed by public shareholders.”

The governance plan that touched off the latest politicking was created by Mr. Khosrowshahi and Goldman Sachs as part of a bigger effort to finalize a deal to sell billions of dollars of Uber stock to the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, according to a person briefed on the proposal.

That deal depends on the participation of some early Uber investors, who have said they will not sell their shares to SoftBank unless Uber’s governance structure changes and Mr. Kalanick is barred from returning as chief executive. Those investors include the venture capital firm Benchmark, which put money into Uber early on and has more recently been warring with Mr. Kalanick over his control of the company.

Here are some of the specifics of the proposal that Mr. Khosrowshahi and Goldman Sachs put before the board on Thursday, including details that are in flux, according to the three people briefed on the proposal and the parts of the plan that were read to The Times. Some parts of the proposal were earlier reported by Recode.

¦ According to the proposal, if the Uber board seats currently held by three directors — Ryan Graves, Arianna Huffington or Wan Ling Martello — are vacated, Mr. Khosrowshahi gains the power to nominate directors for those spots. The new directors must be approved by a majority of the board and by a majority of all shareholders.

¦ The plan also includes a proposal to remove the outsize voting power carried in two categories of Uber stock, the Class B common shares and the preferred shares. Class B common shares currently offer their holders 10 to 1 voting power, for example. But under the proposal, that would change to one vote per share. The change would diminish the power of some current shareholders, like Mr. Kalanick, as well as that of Benchmark and other venture investors.

¦ The proposal also suggests that Uber elect only a few board members each year, in effect setting a cap. That would make it hard for an activist shareholder to take over the board.

¦ One part of the proposal takes direct aim at Mr. Kalanick. The measure states that any person who has previously been an officer of Uber can return as chief executive only if he or she can get the approval of two-thirds of the board and 66.7 percent of all shareholders.

¦ The proposed plan also imposes a 2019 deadline for Uber to go public. To ensure that the public offering happens at that time, there is a provision that if more than one third, but less than one half, of the board wants an I.P.O., they can add directors until they have the control over the board they need to make the public offering happen. This provision may be dropped.

¦ The plan does allow Mr. Kalanick to keep his board seat, subject to the approval of Mr. Khosrowshahi. Of the two other board seats that Mr. Kalanick controls, one would be given to SoftBank while the other would be filled by the chief executive of a Fortune 100 company, if approved by the majority of the board and a majority vote of all shareholders. If for some reason Mr. Khosrowshahi rejected the proposed board member three times, he could designate someone for the third seat himself.

For now, most of Uber’s directors are reluctant to oppose the new board appointments of Mr. Thain and Ms. Burns made by Mr. Kalanick, according to two people who were briefed on the calls. Ms. Burns, the first African-American woman to helm a Fortune 500 company, and Mr. Thain, who also ran the New York Stock Exchange, could potentially help Uber address issues around company culture and diversity, and better prepare it to go public.

To employees, Mr. Khosrowshahi wrote: “Just know that the most important work here is the hard work you’re doing on behalf of our company. Keep focused, keep together, and keep going.”

Correction: October 1, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of members on Uber’s board. The board had nine members before the two new appointments raised it to 11; it was not an eight-member board.

Follow Katie Benner on Twitter @ktbenner and Mike Isaac @MikeIsaac.

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From: Glenn Petersen10/4/2017 6:54:59 AM
   of 665
Uber, but for Grandma

Rideshare startups tackle the senior-transport crisis, and test problem-solving the limits of tech.

09/27/2017 05:03 AM EDT

Kate Francis for POLITICO

After experiencing two seizures while behind the wheel—first plowing her car into the side of a drugstore and then, less than a year later, into a stone wall—Connie Godby gave up driving for good late last year. Even when she can control her seizures, vestiges of a brain tumor she suffered more than a decade ago, the arthritis curling her left hand makes it hard to grip the wheel. She recently moved from Kentucky to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., to live with her daughter and son-in-law, busy professionals with two small children and scarce time to ferry her around. So she does it with an app. She is now one of a growing number of seniors using ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to get around.

A graying America is also an America that is gradually, reluctantly, sometimes painfully giving up its keys. Driving can be dangerous for people with slowed reflexes and cognitive functioning, but not driving can be dangerous too: A lack of independent mobility leads many seniors to miss medical appointments and can isolate them from the social support network that is clinically shown to prolong life. Unfortunately, the nation’s transportation infrastructure relies heavily on cars. Faced with long rides on multiple trains and buses with unpredictable schedules, many seniors end up just staying home.

But today’s seniors are also aging at a time of rapidly multiplying transportation options in the private sector, with ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft at the front of the pack. Those companies blossomed amid the millennial-oriented sharing economy, serving wired young urbanites accustomed to meeting all their needs via smartphone. For some seniors, they represent the same kind of lifeline—although they also pose some new challenges.

The companies themselves have recognized the business potential of tapping into America’s rapidly growing senior population: Uber and Lyft are both busily building partnerships with senior care facilities and hospital centers. It's not always easy, though, and their struggles are a window into the challenges of delivering tech-based solutions to a population that grew up in a very different world.

Godby uses a walker that folds up easily, not a wheelchair, which requires an entirely different kind of vehicle. And she uses a smartphone, but she’s in the minority—just 42 percent of Americans over 65 own a smartphone, compared with 77 percent of the general population.

To bridge that gap, some third parties, with names like GoGoGrandparent, have created hotlines seniors can call if they can’t or don’t want to use a smartphone to hail a ride—though they add a significant fee to the cost of each trip. Uber is sending representatives down to retirement homes in Florida to preach the gospel of ride-sharing to the senior set. All these are attempts to connect a useful mobility solution with a population that desperately needs one—but there’s still much to figure out.

TRANSPORTATION MIGHT SOUND like a secondary issue for older Americans, compared with massive needs like health care, but it's almost as essential and gets far less public investment and policy attention. Getting around often represents the single biggest challenge of being old. Resource hotlines for elders report that transportation is the No. 1 reason people call—and often, they’re desperately looking for a ride to the doctor the next day. Lack of transportation access is a primary reason older people move into assisted-living facilities, a life change many would prefer not to make.

Public transportation can sometimes be an option for seniors, but the great majority live in suburban areas that are poorly served by transit. Even for those lucky enough to have convenient public transportation options nearby, simply learning to navigate a transit system—including all its accessibility options—can be intimidating; so much so that some systems, like Washington, D.C.’s, WMATA, have started providing customized transit trainings for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

A handicapped woman with crutches waits at bus stop. Transportation is often a major problem for seniors, even if we don’t often think of it that way. Ridesharing companies like Uber or Lyft could be the solution. | Getty Images

Paratransit—on-demand, door-to-door minibus services run by transit authorities to supplement fixed-route bus and rail lines—is limited, expensive to run and generally doesn't extend far beyond existing bus routes. Riders don’t like paratransit much either, since rides usually need to be booked at least 24 hours in advance. Even just going through the process of getting approved to use the service can be an ordeal.

All of this is what makes private vehicles such an attractive option—and cities are taking notice. This doesn't always mean the newer ride-hailing companies: Last week, Washington, D.C., launched its “Abilities-Ride” service, which subsidizes taxi rides that people can use in place of paratransit. (The city chose the taxi companies over Uber and Lyft in part because of the better availability of wheelchair-accessible vehicles.) Arlington, Virginia’s, Area Agency on Aging also chose taxi companies—not ride-hailing companies—for its voucher program, selecting the companies it did because they had a track record of respectful customer service that went the extra mile for older customers, like helping people in and out of the car. Most importantly, though, they are willing to accept the vouchers, which don’t include tips.

But popular ride-hailing app-based services Uber and Lyft want a piece of the action, too. Lyft has staff dedicated to health care partnerships, and Uber has people focused on “mobility,” including access for the elderly and people with disabilities.

“On-demand transportation will really not just serve 18- to 25-year-olds who are out late at night," said Allison Wylie, an Uber employee who works to strengthen connections with the senior community. "It’s something that can improve the lives of people who lose their keys.”

Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is supplementing its paratransit program by using Uber and Lyft, which it subsidizes for qualified riders who don't need the full assistance that paratransit provides. Riders who need help getting to or into the vehicle, or who use a wheelchair, are advised to stick with paratransit.

Those limitations illustrate the growing pains the ride-hailing companies are experiencing as they seek to serve a population with more complicated needs than the nimble young urbanites they’d grown accustomed to dealing with. Both companies provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles, but only in a very limited number of markets—and even those markets often have far too few vehicles. Uber, for its part, launched an UberAssist option in 2015 for people who need additional help, where specially trained drivers can help passengers in and out of vehicles, but it’s still operating at a small scale.

Lyft is working on ways for seniors without smartphones to use the service, but for now, the most widely available option is available only on the large-font, simple-screen Jitterbug phone target-marketed to the elderly. Riders press “0” on the phone to talk to an operator, who then orders the Lyft. The company clearly sees this as a growth area: It built a new platform, called Concierge, that allows the operators to request rides for others, and it has also brought the Concierge service to senior care centers and hospitals, making it easier for those facilities to request a ride on behalf of their clients. Similarly, Uber noticed that a lot of people were requesting pickups for a location other than their own—indicating that they were for someone else, often a parent or grandparent—and smoothed that process, a new feature it internally calls “UberBounce.” But neither of those are a full solution for app-averse seniors.

AFFORDABILITY IS ANOTHER barrier. Seniors often don't have much discretionary income, and paratransit is heavily subsidized. Ride-hailing services are often cheaper than taxis, but the costs still add up, limiting mobility in a different way.

Some medical facilities and health insurers have started trying to pick up the burden themselves. Older patients miss subspecialty doctor appointments as much as 30 percent of the time, according to AARP, which can lead to costly emergency-room visits and ambulance rides. Some health care companies believe that driving down those no-show rates is worth the cost of an Uber ride. Hospitals in New York City and the Washington, D.C., metro area have started facilitating ride-booking to non-emergency medical appointments, with Medicaid and other insurance plans sometimes picking up the tab. BlueCross BlueShield has identified “transportation deserts” where medical care is hard to access without a car and are offering patients in those areas free access to Lyft as a way to reduce the number of missed appointments.

A woman uses the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's paratransit, service, The Ride. | Getty

The trend has been aided by a recent ruling by the Department of Health and Human Services that it’s not a “kickback” for hospitals to pay for patients’ transportation, which could dramatically increase the medical sector’s participation in paying for on-demand rides.

In a more ambitious experiment, AARP Foundation just announced a new pilot program with UnitedHealthcare, Lyft and the University of Southern California to give free, unrestricted rides to people at high risk of missing a medical appointment. Participants will get three months of free rides for any purpose—not just medical—and their physical activity will be tracked on a FitBit. It amounts to a bet that increasing mobility will have positive effects beyond just making the appointment. Similar pilot programs are being considered for Chicago and Atlanta next year, but as of now it’s just a tiny test group.

Uber has suffered a slew of PR disasters, including the devastating #DeleteUber campaign, giving the company an extra incentive to show some compassion by providing services to a more challenging population. But it’s not all charity: It sees expanding the service to serve seniors, a rapidly growing slice of the population, as a good business investment.

Is it sustainable? That's not clear yet; as big as they are, Uber and Lyft are still money-losing startups that compete with taxis by keeping their rates artificially low. For riders, those rates are a big part of the draw. The times she’s had trouble with the apps and ended up taking a taxi, Godby says she was floored by the high prices. And she finds that Uber and Lyft drivers almost always jump out to help her when they see her standing in front of the house with a walker.

“I’m not the bravest when it comes to making a change,” Godby said. “I don’t have many apps; I don’t want many apps. But it works.”

Tanya Snyder is a transportation reporter for POLITICO Pro.

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From: Glenn Petersen10/9/2017 9:35:50 PM
   of 665
Uber vs. Taxi: A Driver's Eye View

Joshua D. Angrist, Sydnee Caldwell, Jonathan V. Hall

NBER Working Paper No. 23891
Issued in September 2017
NBER Program(s): IO LE LS PE

Ride-hailing drivers pay a proportion of their fares to the ride-hailing platform operator, a commission-based compensation model used by many internet-mediated service providers. To Uber drivers, this commission is known as the Uber fee. By contrast, traditional taxi drivers in most US cities make a fixed payment independent of their earnings, usually a weekly or daily medallion lease, but keep every fare dollar net of expenses. We assess these compensation models from a driver’s point of view using an experiment that offered random samples of Boston Uber drivers opportunities to lease a virtual taxi medallion that eliminates the Uber fee. Some drivers were offered a negative fee. Drivers’ labor supply response to our offers reveals a large intertemporal substitution elasticity, on the order of 1.2. At the same time, our virtual lease program was under-subscribed: many drivers who would have benefitted from buying an inexpensive lease chose to opt out. We use these results to compute the average compensation required to make drivers indifferent between ride-hailing and a traditional taxi compensation contract. The results suggest that ride-hailing drivers gain considerably from the opportunity to drive without leasing.

The fill working paper:

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From: TimF10/14/2017 1:49:45 PM
1 Recommendation   of 665
How much do Uber drivers value flexibility?
Daniel Pryor

Uber drivers often explain why they choose to drive for the company in terms of more flexible working arrangements. Last month, an independent poll revealed that 80% of Uber drivers in the UK would prefer to remain as contractors, but the unions campaigning to give these drivers worker status don’t seem to care about the views of the people they’re claiming to help.

In most U.S. cities, Uber’s ride-hailing model provides greater flexibility than traditional taxi models because (among other things) it doesn’t use a medallion system. Most taxi companies make money by renting medallions to drivers, who pay a daily or weekly fee for the right to drive. Instead, Uber charges a percentage commission on each journey, which means drivers who only want to do a few rides can do so without losing out. To assess how much drivers value the commission fee model over the medallion system, two MIT economists and an in-house economist from Uber offered 1,600 randomly selected Uber drivers in Boston the opportunity to lease a virtual medallion that eliminates Uber’s commission-fee. People might be sceptical of a working paper co-authored by an Uber economist, but their study was released on the reputable, non-partisan NBER last month. The other co-authors are also eminent, non-partisan economists.

The researchers offered Uber drivers a range of medallions at different prices, recording their opt-in rates and logging the amount they worked. Using this data, they were able to estimate how much these drivers prefer Uber’s commission model to a traditional taxi medallion system. This can be expressed in monetary terms as “compensating variation” (CV): how much money it would take for Uber drivers to be indifferent between the commission model and the taxi medallion system.

Using the most realistic estimates of wage gaps between Uber and taxi drivers, as well as medallion costs, the study finds that average CV is $437 per week. Boston’s Uber drivers place significant value on a more flexible commission model. For Uber drivers who don’t spend many hours working per week, this makes intuitive sense. The fixed cost of a medallion would outweigh the gains from driving fee-free. But even among drivers who would have expected to earn more per week with a medallion system, many did not opt to use it. This could be explained by a combination of loss aversion and risk aversion: the former being the idea that “the decision to buy a lease may be a gamble that drivers hate to lose” and the latter being drivers’ reluctance to gamble money upfront in exchange for uncertain gains during the week.

Although the study’s conclusions are more directly relevant to U.S. lawmakers, they are also a reminder to UK regulators that Uber’s more flexible working arrangements are highly valued by its drivers. They care about having greater freedom to choose their own hours: so much so that they are willing to trade off potentially higher earnings in order to preserve that freedom. The same is also true of Uber's customers, who benefit from the influx of supply during predictable peak hours that Uber's flexible surge-pricing model makes possible. If Uber loses its appeal against last year’s ruling that its UK drivers are workers rather than contractors, many of the benefits of flexibility will be lost.

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From: Glenn Petersen10/14/2017 8:36:24 PM
   of 665
Uber, Surging Outside Manhattan, Tops Taxis in New York City

New York Times
OCT. 12, 2017

Drivers double-parked in a designated Lyft pick-up and drop-off zone outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. After focusing on Manhattan, ride-hailing apps are expanding in New York City’s other boroughs that are not as well served by public transportation or yellow cabs. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Taxi or Uber?

It is not even a question for Samantha Forrest, 22, a single mother who sees so few taxis that she does not consider them an option. There is only Uber when she is late for her cashier’s job, lugging groceries home, or going to the doctor with her young son.

Ms. Forrest lives in the Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx, a working-class enclave that is one of the fastest-growing bastions of Uber riders in New York City. Uber pickups in the area surged to an average of 6,132 a week in August, from 1,189 the year before.

“Uber is everywhere,” Ms. Forrest said. “When I think of cabs, I think of Uber because that’s the main thing to take now.”

Uber has deployed thousands of black cars across Manhattan, going bumper-to-bumper with yellow taxis for passengers and fares in lucrative commercial and tourist areas. But the ride-hail app has increasingly shifted its focus to the city’s other four boroughs, where frustration over subway overcrowding and delays and fewer taxi options have made it the ride of choice for many.

As a result, Uber is booming in the other boroughs, with half of all Uber rides now starting outside Manhattan — up from one-fourth just two years ago — not including pickups at the city’s two airports in Queens. The growth has been so explosive that it has helped produce a milestone moment — for the first time, more people are using Uber in New York than the city’s fabled yellow cabs. In July, Uber recorded an average of 289,000 rides each day compared with 277,000 taxi trips.

While some of this growth is in freshly gentrified outposts filled with millennials and families priced out of Manhattan, it is also happening in more diverse neighborhoods, including some poor and minority areas that have long been shunned by yellow taxis.

An Uber driver along Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Half of Uber’s trips now start outside Manhattan, a boom that has allowed Uber’s ridership to eclipse that of the city’s famous yellow cabs. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

“It gives safe transportation to people in communities where the cabs don’t stop, where the color of your skin prohibits you from access,” said the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, 68, who is African-American and a senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Westchester County. Many of his church members live in the city, and now arrive for service in Uber cars.

Reverend Richardson said that drivers of yellow taxis have sometimes refused to pick him up because they assume the worst about blacks — that they will rob a driver or jump out without paying. He said he has yet to be turned away by an Uber driver. (Nonetheless, Uber and other ride-hailing apps have been accused in other cities of refusing service to African-Americans.)

Uber has showered the boroughs with “neighborhood love” promotions such as free rides, $5 car pools within each borough and free pizza just for showing the Uber app. It has also opened driver support and recruitment centers, called “Greenlight Hubs,” in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, while closing its only one in Manhattan this year. Much as it has done to New York’s yellow cabs, Uber’s popularity is coming at the expense of livery cars and green taxis that operate in northern Manhattan and the other boroughs.

Uber closely guards its ride data, but agreed to provide The New York Times with recent numbers that show its service expanding rapidly in 50 sample residential areas in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and on Staten Island with limited access to public transportation. Uber made a total of 167,194 weekly pickups in these areas in August, nearly triple the 56,721 weekly pickups from the year before.

A similar pattern has emerged in other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago and Houston, with the demand for Uber service initially concentrated in the downtown or central business district and then spreading to outlying neighborhoods and suburbs. This has helped Uber continue building ridership amid a series of high-profile missteps and scandals that have provoked widespread condemnation and incited a global backlash against the company, with some riders deleting the app in protest. In a significant setback, London declined to renew Uber’s operating license, declaring that the company was not sufficiently “fit and proper.”

For many passengers, though, the bottom line is that Uber gets them where they need to go. Leo Martinez, 30, a sales agent who has taken Uber around Queens, said that while she has heard the concerns about Uber, what matters most to her is that it is cheap — usually less than $10 a ride — fast and reliable. “Every single company has complaints,” she said. “It’s not just Uber.”

An Uber driver center in the Bronx. The company has opened similar centers in Brooklyn and Queens, while closing its only center in Manhattan. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

More than half of the 50 sample areas with increased Uber pickups were in Queens, a sprawling borough where many residents live far from the subway. In St. Albans, weekly pickups rose to 6,370 from 1,870 the year before, while neighborhoods including South Jamaica, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, Bayside and Glendale also saw large increases.

In the Flatlands neighborhood in Brooklyn, which has no subway station, there were 13,380 weekly pickups, or nearly four times the 3,598 pickups the previous year. In Starrett City, a vast housing development, weekly pickups rose to 2,261 from 699.

Nine areas were on Staten Island, a borough where public transit is sparse, including Port Richmond, New Brighton, Westerleigh and Arden Heights. In the New Springville area, weekly pickups soared to 1,494 from 591.

“We really want to make sure we’re fulfilling the needs of New Yorkers wherever they live,” said Sarfraz Maredia, Uber’s general manager for the Northeast. “Taxis have long ignored some of these communities.”

Mr. Maredia said that Uber complements the public transit system, especially in “transit deserts” outside Manhattan where subway stations and bus stops are far apart. Uber cars ferry riders from their homes to the closest station, or provide a one-way alternative.

Other ride-hail apps, like Lyft and Via, are also finding customers beyond Manhattan. Just over half of pickups on Lyft, not including the airports, now come from outside Manhattan. It has stationed its operations staff in Queens, where it also has a driver support center, and hosts monthly social events for drivers in Brooklyn. Lyft is the official rideshare partner of Barclays Center, offering up to $10 off the first two rides to the arena. Other promotions have included 50 percent off 10 rides in the boroughs outside Manhattan.

Inside the Uber center in the Bronx where in one neighborhood, Soundview, Uber pickups grew to 6,132 a week in August from 1,189 the year before. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Via, which started in Manhattan, has branched out to Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and to Long Island City in Queens. It also has a driver center in Queens, and has dangled a $5.95 flat fee for rides between Brooklyn and Manhattan, $7.95 for rides between Long Island City and Manhattan, and $5 for rides within Brooklyn.

Meera Joshi, the commissioner of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, said all these new choices have improved the transportation landscape. “More options expand mobility for passengers, and they become a greater part of our city’s social and economic life,” she said.

There are about 61,000 black cars providing rides for Uber, though they may also work for the other apps, too. In contrast, yellow taxis are capped at 13,587.

Though more for-hire cars means worse traffic in some neighborhoods, Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant who has found that the ride-hail apps contribute to congestion, said that their expansion outside Manhattan was generally positive. “I think the incremental increase in traffic is way overshadowed by the improvement in mobility in these neighborhoods,” he said.

Just as the apps have upended the yellow taxi industry, their expansion has hurt the green taxis, which were started in 2013 to serve northern Manhattan and the other boroughs, and neighborhood livery services. Currently, there are 4,251 green taxis on the road; in July, the green taxis provided an average of 29,503 daily rides, down from 42,979 the year before.

Sergio Sanchez, who once owned five green taxis, said Uber siphoned off his drivers with hefty signing bonuses and other incentives, and won over riders with heavily discounted rides. “People were standing on the corners waiting for Uber,” he said. “The green taxis were invisible, like they weren’t even there.”

Uber has seen its ridership increase in many minority neighborhoods that residents say taxis have long shunned. Ride-hailing apps have also become popular in areas that are far from subway stations. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Mr. Sanchez said he simply could not compete and his taxis were repossessed by his lenders. He now drives for Via.

Some livery services have banded together against the threat from Uber and the others, pooling their cars and creating a unified network to ensure that there is always a car available to pick up a passenger. Jose Altamirano, the president of the Livery Base Owners Association, said that may not be enough if the apps continue to rapidly expand. “If they go up, we’ll go down,” he said. “There’s only so many customers.”

The ride-hail apps have not only benefited passengers but also drivers, many of whom are immigrants with few good job options. At the Bronx driver center, which opened in February, 2,000 drivers come through the door every week.

Sabrina Ortiz, 28, earns about $800 a week driving for Uber, or twice as much as she did as a receptionist for an auto shop. Another benefit is that she can set her own hours and does not have to check with anyone to stay home if her two children are sick.

Ms. Ortiz said that she is aware of Uber’s scandals and strained relations with drivers who have criticized the company for underpaying them and cutting rates so low they cannot make a living. One passenger recently asked, “How can you work for Uber?”

“It does kind of bother me,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I haven’t had any experience like that.”

Ricardo Peña, 24, who lives in the Bronx, began hopping into Uber cars two years ago because he could not bear another packed bus or subway. Soon he was taking Uber up to 10 times a week. He eventually quit his job as a security guard and went to work for Uber as a driver.

“A lot of people need this form of transportation,” he said. “They need the convenience.”

A version of this article appears in print on October 13, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Uber, Booming In the Boroughs, Passes City Taxis.

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From: Glenn Petersen10/20/2017 4:16:00 PM
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Flexible car ownership marketplace nabs up to $1B from BMW, Penske and Sherpa Capital

by Ingrid Lunden ( @ingridlunden)
October 20, 2017 — an all-digital car marketplace that was co-founded by car industry vets Georg Bauer of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla; Scott Painter of TrueCar; and Fedor Artiles of Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, Volkswagen, and Tesla — has been largely operating under the radar since quietly launching its business earlier this year. But today, it’s coming roaring down the street, ready to take on the market of car ownership with its new, flexible model.

The startup has announced a strategic round of funding from BMW’s iVentures, Penske Automotive Group, and other investors; as well as debt funding from a group of investment banks and a Sherpa Capital entity, “set up to strategically fund innovative transportation models like flexible ownership and ride-sharing.”

The individual equity amount is not being disclosed, but the total amount of all funding is up to $1 billion, the company has confirmed to me. Currently the company is active in Los Angeles and has plans to expand to the rest of California by the end of 2017, “and to other select markets nationwide through 2018.”

There are a number of players in the world of car sales and car rentals, both online and offline. But what Fair is bringing to the table appears to be something more akin to a lease program with unfixed terms, and a range of very modern details: you use a mobile app to do everything, from searching for cars to authenticating yourself to paying; you need to give only five days’ notice before you decide to return the car; you get all-in monthly payments that include insurance; and AI-based pricing that Fair claims means users will only get “great deals.”

“It’s clear that technology is transforming how we buy and own our cars, and the consumer is the winner – with simpler, more flexible, and more cost-effective options than ever before,” said Scott Painter, founder and CEO of Fair in a statement. “Fair is on the forefront of making personal mobility more accessible for a new generation of customers.”

The name Fair may sound familiar to you. It was the company that last year was slated to acquire Beepi, a startup that raised $150 million for an all-online model to search and buy used cars. That sale fell through and Beepi was shut down and sold for parts (its domain, in fact, was picked up by another used-car hopeful, Vroom, which now picks up a redirection if you visit

While there are a lot of online and offline car sales platforms in the market today, Fair is trying to tap into some emerging trends in the automotive industry.

The first of these is how people are getting around these days. Transportation-on-demand services like Uber and Lyft have been leaning on technology like apps (and a lot of funding-fuelled price subsidies) to make it significantly easier for people to order rides when they actually need them; and for those who don’t have to use their cars every day (and even in some cases when they do), they are finding that these transportation on demand services work out to be cheaper and easier than owning their own vehicles.

That situation, some believe, is set to become even more acute in the future. The thinking goes like this: as autonomous cars, and those cars with other “smart” features, start to hit the market, many of them will be well out of the price range of average consumers. That will lead to people using more transportation services where they do not own the cars themselves. This potential outcome is one that others are also considering, including major car companies like GM.

The idea with Fair is that, in fact, we don’t need to wait until the day of overpriced autonomous cars to see this getting played out. When it comes to actually driving yourself somewhere, many people today already want something longer than rentals and shorter than outright ownership.

“Fair offers a completely new customer experience,” said Ulrich Quay, BMW i Ventures Managing Director, in a statement. “The company allows users to access vehicles without a fixed term. This appeals in particular to younger generations who want more flexible usage models.”

It’s notable to see Penske also putting in investment here. The company has a business that ranges from truck rental to car dealerships and logistics, and it implies that Fair might potentially expand its services to more than just consumer car leasing.

“Penske is committed to be on the leading edge of technology, and our investment with Fair reflects that commitment,” said Penske President Robert Kurnick. “The potential appeal of the Fair app to consumers is compelling while keeping our company at the forefront of bringing mobility solutions to the marketplace.”

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From: Glenn Petersen10/20/2017 11:28:46 PM
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Lyft Is Said to Explore I.P.O. as It Raises $1 Billion Led by Alphabet

New York Ti,es
OCT. 19, 2017

Lyft raised $1 billion in a new investment led by CapitalG, the venture arm of Alphabet. Credit Stephen Lam/Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — In an escalation of its ride-hailing war against Uber, Lyft has begun to explore going public in 2018 and is trying to strengthen its position by raising more capital, including $1 billion in new financing led by an investment arm of Google’s parent company.

Lyft has had talks with investment banks about an initial public offering next year, according to two people briefed on the discussions, who asked to remain anonymous because the conversations are confidential. Lyft has not decided which bank may become its lead underwriter for an I.P.O., the people said.

To bolster itself ahead of any public offering, Lyft on Thursday said it had raised $1 billion in financing led by CapitalG, a venture investment arm of Google’s corporate parent, Alphabet. The funding values Lyft at $10 billion before the introduction of new capital — a significant jump from the company’s last valuation of $6.9 billion.

The new investment further complicates the convoluted web of financial relationships in the ride-hailing industry, where companies like Lyft and Uber have hauled in enormous amounts of funding from firms that often put money into competing companies.

But the financing also gives Lyft a new and formidable partner in Alphabet. As part of the deal, David Lawee, a venture partner at CapitalG, will take a seat on Lyft’s board of directors. The investment round, which includes other undisclosed participants, remains open.

“Less than 0.5 percent of miles traveled in the U.S. happen on ride-share networks,” John Zimmer, president of Lyft, said in a statement announcing the deal. “This creates a huge opportunity to best serve our cities’ economic, environmental, and social futures.”

Alphabet’s investment ratchets up the high-stakes battle for supremacy in the ride-hailing industry.

Uber, which is valued at nearly $70 billion and is the industry’s dominant force, has been grappling with scandals over its corporate culture and business practices. A group of investors forced out Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and former chief executive, earlier this year over concerns that he was not fit to lead the company. Uber has appointed a new chief, Dara Khosrowshahi, and is now trying to learn from its missteps while pursuing his goal of taking the company public in the next 18 to 36 months. It is nearing a deal to sell a significant stake of itself to SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate, which would include about $1 billion in new capital.

Lyft has benefited from Uber’s series of high-profile stumbles in recent months to lift its own profile. The two companies are locked in something of a race for which can go public first; whichever company does will most likely set a benchmark for Wall Street for the valuation of a public ride-hailing company.

Investors trying to position themselves for the best returns have put money into competing entities, creating murky allegiances.

SoftBank, for example, is also a major investor in Didi, a ride-hailing company that was once a major competitor to Uber in China and is itself an investor in Lyft. And CapitalG is a sister company to GV, formerly known as Google Ventures, which is a major investor in Uber.

Those relationships are further complicated by how Uber is dealing with a lawsuit filed by Waymo, the self-driving car unit owned by Alphabet. Waymo has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets after it hired a former Google employee.

Lyft must also balance a delicate relationship between itself and a group of technology partners who are working with it on self-driving technology. In July, Lyft unveiled a large Silicon Valley headquarters for its Open Platform Initiative, a coalition of automakers and technology start-ups that are working together on software for autonomous vehicles. That group includes General Motors, Ford and Nutonomy, as well as Waymo.

“Ride-sharing is still in its early days,” Mr. Lawee, a partner at CapitalG, said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing Lyft continue its impressive growth.”

Follow Mike Isaac on Twitter @MikeIsaac and Katie Benner @ktbenner

A version of this article appears in print on October 20, 2017, on Page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Lyft, Exploring I.P.O., Raises $1 Billion Led by Google’s Parent.

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From: Glenn Petersen10/28/2017 9:58:46 PM
2 Recommendations   of 665
Omni storage now earns you money by renting out your stuff

Posted Oct 24, 2017
by Josh Constine ( @joshconstine)

“We want to change behavior around ownership on the planet,” says Omni co-founder Thomas McLeod. First, it built an on-demand storage business, where you can get things picked up from your place in as little as two hours, pay a monthly fee to store them depending on their size and get them temporarily returned to you for free whenever you need them. Now it wants to help you earn cash or offset your storage costs by renting out your stuff to other users and splitting the revenue with Omni 50/50.

“The storage business is good. The marketplace business is great. We had to build storage first,” says McLeod. Omni was already working pretty well with 100,000 items in its keep. I’m a user and the quality of service is incredible. I have them store all my camping gear, and drop it back to me whenever I’m hitting the woods for the weekend, and it all works so smoothly it’s like having some massive closet in the cloud.

That’s partly because all 48 Omni employees, including the brawny ones hauling your stuff, actually have stock in the startup. That pushes them to deliver an exceptional experience so the company keeps growing. Its warehouses reach operational profitability when they hit around 40 percent capacity, and all the recurring storage revenue makes its unit economics for pick-ups and drop-offs much better than startups in verticals like food delivery which expend resources for one-off payments.

The three-year-old startup has now raised $14.7 million from investors like Highland Capital Partners, which sees a future where people own and buy less while renting more.

Omni’s now available in the San Francisco Bay Area, from Berkeley to Stanford, and I’d recommend it if you have bikes, boxes or other giant objects cluttering your home. It’s often cheaper than renting an actual storage unit, with flat monthly costs of $3 per large item and $7.50 per closed container. Still, considering you have valuable stuff sitting around in the dark, it’d be nice to squeeze some money out of what you store.

That’s how Omni rentals works. Earlier this year the company allowed you to designate friends who could borrow your stuff, but now you can charge strangers. You just pick one of your items Omni is storing, set a price you think is reasonable, and Omni lists it for you on its rental marketplace. Anything you rent out is covered by a $2,000 insurance policy, and Omni takes photos before delivery, at pick up and at its warehouse so it knows who’s responsible if there’s any damage.

If you need a drill for some home improvements, a nice road bike for a long ride or a Halloween costume, Omni can rent it to you for much cheaper than buying, and you never have to leave your house. You can even rent that Snapchat dancing hot dog costume for $20 a day instead of buying it for $80.

Price ranges for Omni rentals

“Omni is more convenient than Amazon Prime,” said an Omni spokesperson. “You can search for something you’re considering buying and see if it’s available to rent first.” And even Amazon’s free two-day delivery doesn’t beat Omni that can get stuff to you in hours for $3 dollars in convenience fees or free the next day. Eventually Omni wants to give owners rental pricing suggestions to help them maximize their take, taking the guesswork out of matching supply to demand.

Omni will have to foster a whole new e-commerce behavior pattern to get rentals off the ground. And it must maintain quality assurance as a few lost storage or broken rental items could scare users away. But tests found that 60 percent of renters weren’t already storing stuff with Omni, so it could become a powerful sales lead generator. And long-term, as self-driving cars, warehouse robots and logistics systems improve, Omni’s profits should grow.

McLeod imagines one day that a musician could get their start by renting gear instead of buying it, lowering the barrier to entry to new hobbies and even professions. And he thinks people might seek to buy higher-quality stuff for their own benefit and to score taller rental fees. McLeod tells TechCrunch, “I don’t think we’ll ever stop the fact that people own some things, but there should be a democratization of access.”

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