Uber (company)

Pittsburgh Welcomed Uber’s Driverless Car Experiment. Not Anymore.

PITTSBURGH — When Uber picked this former Rust Belt town as the inaugural city for its driverless car experiment, Pittsburgh played the consummate host.

“You can either put up red tape or roll out the red carpet,” Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, said in September. “If you want to be a 21st-century laboratory for technology, you put out the carpet.”

Nine months later, Pittsburgh residents and officials say Uber has not lived up to its end of the bargain. Among Uber’s perceived transgressions: The company began charging for driverless rides that were initially pitched as free. It also withdrew support from Pittsburgh’s application for a $50 million federal grant to revamp transportation. And it has not created the jobs it proposed in a struggling neighborhood that houses its autonomous car testing track.

Blame is being pointed in many directions. While Mr. Peduto had trumpeted his relationship with Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, he didn’t get any commitments in writing about what the company would provide for Pittsburgh. That became an issue in Pittsburgh’s Democratic mayoral primary this month, with Mr. Peduto’s challengers criticizing his relationship with Uber and one calling the company a “stain” on the city. (Mr. Peduto won the primary.)

“This was an opportunity missed,” said Michael Lamb, Pittsburgh’s city controller, who has called on Uber to share the traffic data gathered by its autonomous vehicles.

The deteriorating relationship between Pittsburgh and Uber offers a cautionary tale, especially as other cities consider rolling out driverless car trials from Uber, Alphabet’s Waymo and others. Towns like Tempe, Ariz., have already emulated Pittsburgh and set themselves up as test areas for self-driving vehicles. Many municipalities see the experiments as an opportunity to remake their urban transportation systems and create a new tech economy.

Yet Pittsburgh shows the clash of private-versus-public interests that can result. The lessons are college course level “101,” said Linda Bailey, the executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Uber “is a business, and they want to make money,” she said. “With Pittsburgh, we learned we need to present the city’s needs upfront.”

Uber said it was open to a deal with Pittsburgh but had yet to see a draft of proposed commitments the city is seeking from the company. Uber said it planned to share some data collected by its autonomous vehicles with the city this year, though Pittsburgh officials say the data Uber shares with other cities is insufficient.

The company, which still has allies in Pennsylvania’s state and county government, said it had created 675 jobs in the greater Pittsburgh area and had helped local organizations like a women’s shelter, among other moves.

“Uber is proud to have put Pittsburgh on the self-driving map, an effort that included creating hundreds of tech jobs and investing hundreds of millions of dollars,” the company said in a statement. “We hope to continue to have a positive presence in Pittsburgh by supporting the local economy and community.”

Pittsburgh’s frustrations with Uber are encapsulated in the Hazelwood neighborhood along the Monongahela River, where the company opened a driverless vehicle testing track last year. From the second floor of the neighboring Center of Life church, the track is in full…

Can Zillow ‘Uber-ize’ the hundred-billion-dollar real estate brokerage?

Earlier this month, when Zillow announced a record high quarter, projecting to surpass a billion dollars in revenue by the end of this year, many wondered whether the company, with its 75 percent online real estate audience market share and 171 million monthly users, can “Uber-ize” real estate agents, cutting out traditional brick-and-mortar brokerage middlemen in the same way Uber bypassed taxi dispatchers.

The answer is perhaps yes, but it’s not quite that straightforward.

Zillow essentially makes its money from selling leads to agents who usually work for brokers — like Coldwell Banker or Re/Max — that provide them with marketing, insurance, sales and transaction support in exchange for a “desk fee” or a cut of their commission income.
So-called “super agents,” who spend over $60,000 a year buying leads from Zillow and driving the company’s growth, are already spending more with Zillow than with Re/Max in desk fees, prompting accusations that Zillow is effectively collecting a “brokerage fee” without legally being a broker.
Between marketing support, lead generation, and lead management technology, real estate search portal Zillow now delivers more value to agents than most brokerages do. Given this position, Zillow has a golden opportunity to commoditize the brokerage value to the agents.

Traditionally, brokerages have flaunted their trusted brands as a key value to agents. But even as brokerages spend billions in marketing, with the Internet today providing most of the vital information brokers once did, as many as 97 percent of homebuyers and sellers now consider their branding to be irrelevant in hiring an agent.

Given that 3 out of 4 home shoppers now start their search with Zillow, the company sees a well-timed opportunity to close the “search-to-transaction” loop. If Zillow is able to assume all the roles of a broker without legally being a broker, then brokers could find their role increasingly limited until, like notaries, they exist only to fulfil a simple legal function: an agent must be affiliated with a broker to be paid.

Zillow’s acquisition of real estate transaction platform DotLoop for $108 million in 2015 may have been the first step in creating such an end-to-end home transaction platform. The next step would be to offer digitally the functions of a traditional brokerage such as hiring agents, scheduling showings, etc., to fully close the lead-to-transaction loop, significantly reducing the time agents waste chasing fruitless…

Uber Threatens to Fire Star Engineer in Legal Battle Over Driverless Cars

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber has signaled that it might break up with the star engineer who led its driverless car efforts, as the company seeks to disentangle itself from a high-stakes lawsuit that could affect its future in self-driving vehicles.

To comply with a court order, Uber’s top lawyer told the engineer, Anthony Levandowski, in a letter that if he did not comply with the lawsuit, he could face “adverse employment action,” which may include the loss of his job, according to a court filing on Thursday.

“While we have respected your personal liberties, it is our view that the court’s order requires us to make these demands of you,” Salle Yoo, Uber’s general counsel, said in the letter. “We insist that you do everything in your power to assist us in complying with the order.”

The letter was the latest turn in a legal battle between two technology giants. Mr. Levandowski has been at the center of a trade secrets case involving Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car business that operates under Google’s parent company. Waymo has accused Uber of conspiring with Mr. Levandowki, a former Google engineer, to steal trade secrets from Google for Uber’s autonomous vehicle designs.

The letter is the first public sign of a split between Mr. Levandowski and Uber, which to date has not tried to force him to cooperate with the investigation in the case. Mr. Levandowski has been close to Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, who wooed the engineer to join the ride-hailing company and purchased Otto,…

This Startup Is Telling Everyday Investors It Will Be The Next Uber

Actor John O’Hurley appears in an ad for YayYo, a ride-sharing app that promises to compare the prices of different ride-sharing companies (that aren’t Uber or Lyft).

Ramy El-Batrawi has founded 27 companies that are now inactive or dissolved, hawking everything from relationship counseling to futures trading to van rentals to Alaskan fishing vacations, a HuffPost review of state records finds. He even ran a travel agency in Palm Beach, Florida, with a Saudi arms dealer involved in the Iran-Contra affair, and was named as a go-between for an offshore entity listed in the Panama Papers.

In 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission barred El-Batrawi from being an executive in a publicly traded company for five years as part of the settlement over a $130 million stock fraud case against a company he led until it collapsed in 2001.

Now that his prohibition period is over, El-Batrawi has something new to sell: shares in YayYo, a price-comparing ride-sharing app that doesn’t currently work.

HuffPost

The company, with El-Batrawi as CEO, is trying to sell $50 million in stock ― which it can do thanks to newly relaxed securities laws that let speculative startups raise money from mom-and-pop investors. Proponents of the laws said they would boost the economy and create jobs, while critics said the loosened rules put people’s money at risk.

YayYo paid Master P to record a promotional track for the company and has been running TV ads on daytime cable news for weeks featuring the actor John O’Hurley, who famously played a catalog salesman peddling ordinary products and whimsical stories on “Seinfeld.”

“What if you were an early investor in Uber or Lyft — what would you be worth today?” O’Hurley asks. The answer, he says, is that you would have made “made millions, if not tens of millions.” (Uber and Lyft are valued at $62.5 billion and $7.4 billion, respectively.)

But wait, there’s more: YayYo, O’Hurley says, might just grow even faster that Uber and Lyft. When and if YayYo’s app works, it will let you compare prices from different ride-hailing companies by plugging directly into the data that companies like Uber and Lyft have made available to third-party developers.

As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably running stock ads on Fox News at 11:45 on a random weekday morning.

Lyft has already filed a cease and desist order against YayYo and barred the company from using its data, a spokesman told HuffPost. Uber did not return HuffPost’s request for comment, but BuzzFeed’s Will Alden noted that the company’s terms don’t allow its data to be aggregated with that of its competitors.

A ride-hailing price-comparison app that can’t compare the prices of the two dominant ride-hailing services is extremely unlikely to succeed,…

Daily Report: Remembering When Uber and Google Were Allies

Sometimes old friends make for the best of enemies.

By now, the nasty fight between the ride-hailing service Uber and Waymo, the unit of Alphabet that used to be Google’s self-driving-car project, has been well cataloged. Waymo claims Uber is using stolen technology plans in its own self-driving-car project — plans that Waymo claims were brought to Uber by a former Google employee.

This week, a federal judge in San Francisco declined Waymo’s motion to shut down Uber’s self-driving-car work, but last week, he did refer the issue of what the former employee had done to the…

A Canadian Town Wanted a Transit System. It Hired Uber.

Uber, the global car-hailing service, has fought its way into resistant cities around the world, despite being hit by raw eggs and rush-hour roadblocks in Montreal and Toronto, fires in Paris and smashed windshields in Mexico City.

But in Innisfil, a small yet sprawling Canadian town north of Toronto, the company has met a somewhat different reception. Town leaders have embraced the service as an alternative to costly public transportation, causing local taxi companies to worry about the effect on their business.

Innisfil is a rural quadrilateral-shaped town of about 104 square miles, on the southwestern shore of Ontario’s Lake Simcoe. It has no public transportation other than stops on a regional bus line. This week, the town inaugurated a pilot program for what Uber says is its first full ridesharing-transit partnership, providing subsidized transportation for the town’s 36,000 people.

“It’s better value for money than a traditional transit system,” Tim Cane, Innisfil’s manager of land use planning, said in a telephone interview.

The town has set aside 100,000 Canadian dollars (about $74,000) for the pilot program, paying Uber that amount to subsidize rides. The money will cover the difference in the cost of a ride and a fixed rate paid by passengers, as well as a discount of 5 Canadian dollars per ride for rides at nonfixed rates.

Many municipalities have fought Uber as the company has defied regulations and slipped through legal loopholes to infiltrate markets. Uber has often faced violent protests from taxi and bus drivers subject to expensive and restrictive licensing and insurance rules.

Though many of Uber’s strategies have been criticized, the service has spread to more than 70 countries.

In the last two years, Uber has moved aggressively to sign transit agency partnerships around the world to embed itself in public transportation infrastructure. Those deals are generally complementary to existing municipal bus or subway service. Innisfil’s is unusual in that it is an alternative to establishing a traditional transit system for the town.

“It’s still a small part of our business, but it’s growing,” said Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy and research. He said Uber had a “couple dozen” transit agreements so far using different models.

Critics, though, have voiced concern about Uber’s move into public transit, saying the service will sap systems of riders, create congestion during rush hours and ultimately take money away from improving transportation infrastructure in cities fully embracing the Uber model.

Another worry is that the reliance on smartphones and credit or debit cards in these arrangements excludes those who have neither. Innisfil’s plan mostly addresses that issue: Passengers can send texts if they do not own a smartphone with the Uber app, for example. And town leaders say they are working on solutions for people needing to pay cash.

Still, not everyone in Innisfil is happy about Uber’s arrival. Manjot Saini, the owner of the newest taxi company, Global Taxi Innisfil, said he had offered to beat Uber’s price…

How Uber and Waymo Ended Up Rivals in the Race for Driverless Cars

SAN FRANCISCO — At a technology conference in mid-2014, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin presented the company’s first prototype for a self-driving car. Watching in the audience was Travis Kalanick, chief executive of Uber, the ride-hailing start-up.

Mr. Brin’s presentation in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. — including a video of a compact two-seater autonomously doing laps around a parking lot — jolted Mr. Kalanick, according to two people who spoke with him. Google, the search giant — long considered an Uber ally — seemed to be turning on him. And even as Uber was a growing force to be reckoned with, it was lacking in self-driving car technology, an important field of study that might affect the future of transportation.

So Mr. Kalanick spent much of 2015 raiding Google’s engineering corps. To learn about the technology, he struck up a friendship with Anthony Levandowski, a top autonomous vehicle engineer at “G-co,” Mr. Kalanick’s pet name for Google.

The two men often spoke for hours about the future of driving, meeting at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and walking five miles to the Golden Gate Bridge, according to two people familiar with the executives, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The friendship developed into a partnership. Mr. Levandowski left Google last year to form Otto, a self-driving trucking start-up. Uber acquired it months later for nearly $700 million. Mr. Kalanick subsequently appointed Mr. Levandowski to run Uber’s autonomous vehicle research.

That relationship has since set off a legal morass, with Google’s self-driving vehicle business — now called Waymo — accusing Mr. Levandowski of creating Otto as a front to steal trade secrets from Google, then using the findings with Uber’s driverless cars. On Monday, a federal judge in San Francisco barred Mr. Levandowski from working on a crucial component of Uber’s self-driving car technology for the duration of the case.

The implications are set to reverberate far beyond the courtroom. Any setback for Uber will shake up the driverless car industry, which is locked in a bitter race to introduce and commercialize autonomous cars. Silicon Valley tech titans and Detroit automakers are making huge investments — bets that autonomous vehicle technology will usher in a new age of how people get around. For some companies, especially traditional carmakers, their very survival is at stake.

While Google has been developing autonomous vehicle technology for more than a decade, others have raced to catch up. General Motors, Ford, Apple, Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are among those that have jumped in. All are competing — and sometimes cooperating — for a slice of a new market expected to top $77 billion over the next two decades, according to a study from Boston Consulting Group.

Uber has been ahead of many others in publicly testing autonomous vehicles. Last year, the company began a pilot program of autonomous cars in Pittsburgh; it has also done testing in San Francisco and Tempe, Ariz.

That aggressiveness has spurred an intense rivalry with Waymo. Waymo’s legal pursuit of Uber and Mr. Levandowski is out of corporate character; Google has tended to refrain from suing former employees who move to competitors. Many at Google and Waymo are incensed at Mr. Levandowski and how he may have betrayed them for a rich payday, according to current and former employees.

That has pushed Waymo to strike back. Beyond suing Uber, Waymo said on Sunday it had teamed up with Lyft, a ride-hailing rival, on driverless car initiatives.

“This is a race where every single minute seems to…

Uber Engineer Barred From Work on Key Self-Driving Technology, Judge Says

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber sidestepped a full shutdown of its self-driving car efforts on Monday when a federal judge stopped short of issuing a temporary injunction against the ride-hailing company’s autonomous vehicle program.

But the court mandated that Anthony Levandowski, a star engineer leading Uber’s self-driving car program, must be restricted from working on a critical component of autonomous vehicle technology throughout the duration of the litigation, a setback that could hamper the company’s development efforts.

The decision came in a case that has underlined the increasingly bitter fight between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car business that operates under Google’s parent company. Both companies have been striving to race ahead of each other in autonomous vehicles, which many consider to be the future of transportation. The outcome could affect who wins or loses in the technology, which has also drawn in other tech companies, automakers and start-ups.

The case began in February, when Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber, accusing it of stealing trade secrets to develop self-driving cars. Waymo said the thief was Mr. Levandowski, a onetime star engineer at Google and a guru of autonomous vehicle technology, who joined Uber last year. Waymo asked the court to issue a temporary injunction that could have halted Uber’s self-driving program.

Over the past few months, both sides have traded barbs with one another and attempted various legal tactics to gain the upper hand. Waymo accused Mr. Levandowski of downloading thousands of documents and using the findings at Uber. Mr. Levandowski decided to plead the Fifth Amendment in the case, reserving the right against self-incrimination.

In his ruling on Monday, Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco, said, “Waymo L.L.C. has shown compelling evidence that its former star engineer, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 confidential files from Waymo immediately before leaving his employment there.”

He added, “Significantly, the evidence indicates that, during the acquisition, Uber likely knew or at least should have known that Levandowski had taken and retained possession of Waymo’s confidential files.”

Judge Alsup directed Uber to produce a timeline of the events leading up to Mr. Levandowski’s hiring, including all oral…

Gett Buys Juno For $200 Million, Uniting Would-Be Uber Competitors

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The Brooklyn Startup Bringing Eyewear Manufacturing Back To America

Gett founder and CEO Shahar Waisar
Gett founder and CEO Shahar Waisar

Photo: Gett

Gett founder and CEO Shahar Waisar

Neither Gett nor Juno have made much of an impact fighting Uber in the U.S. But maybe together they can?

On Wednesday, Uber rival Gett, which operates in Europe, Russia, Israel, and New York City, has acquired Juno, another…

What Rating Should You Give Your Uber, Lyft, or Other Driver?

The gig economy looks like it’s here to stay. Although Uber still has the occasional battle with regulators, for the most part smartphone app-driven gig companies are popping up for every service imaginable.

Want someone to pick up takeout from a nice restaurant that doesn’t normally deliver? What about run to the shop and grab a few batteries for your TV remote? Favor can do it. What about someone to come in and clean your place while you’re out? Look no further than Handy. Odds are, if you can think of a small job that someone could do for you, there’s an app that will help you find someone. It’s really convenient.

The gig economy, though, does have a few quirks, so let’s dig a little deeper into how it works.

How the Gig Economy Works

Almost all gig economy companies work in roughly the same way, so let’s just use Uber as an example.

An Uber driver (well, at least an UberX driver) is a regular person who is using their own car; pretty much anyone who meets the basic criteria can sign up. They’ve got a smartphone app provided by Uber that they use to find gigs.

Uber’s customers also use an app. When you want a ride, you open the app, enter your location and a ping is sent out to nearby drivers.

The Uber driver who’s sitting just down the road, gets the notification and wants the job. They tap Accept, drive over, pick you up, take you to your destination and drop you off. Your credit card is charged and you go on with your day. Both you and the driver are able to rate each other.

The Uber driver gets paid by Uber (less their cut for providing the platform).

And that’s kind of it. Whatever the actual thing the person is doing for you, it all works broadly the same. There’s just one small niggle in it: the ratings.

Ratings and the Gig Economy

Ratings are a big part of most…