To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Uber’s War on Lyft Could Prompt Federal Investigation

The ride-share service’s apparent attempts to sabotage its competitors might become red meat for the Federal Trade Commission or state attorneys general.


By Dustin Volz,  August 27, 2014

Uber is the darling of Democrats and Republicans alike, but the company's cutthroat campaign against its ride-share rivals could land it in hot water with state and federal regulators.

The company has reportedly equipped an army of independent contractors with burner phones and credit cards as part of a "sophisticated effort to undermine Lyft and other competitors" and poach drivers, according to an article published by The Verge this week.

The San Francisco start-up's aggressive recruitment methods are already well documented, but the size and sophistication of its exploits revealed by The Verge could warrant an antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission or state attorneys general, according to several antitrust experts and former government officials interviewed by National Journal.

A former FTC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that reports of Uber's misrepresentation aligns strongly with similar antitrust investigations the agency has conducted in the past.

"The heart of what's offensive here, the indispensable ingredient, is the canceled orders," the official said. "That kind of behavior would be seen as having no redeeming benefits at all, poses competitive burdens, and falls within the conception of unfair competition."

Uber stands accused of employing street teams of contractors to disrupt Lyft's launch plans in New York City who were handed "two Uber-branded iPhones and a series of valid credit-card numbers to be used for creating dummy Lyft accounts." Uber has also allegedly made a habit of ordering Lyft rides and canceling them to avoid detection, a method that would prompt rival drivers to waste time driving to the pickup spot. Lyft contends Uber has caused thousands of canceled rides, something Uber denies was done intentionally.

Solely ordering a Lyft ride and trying to convince the driver to switch sides is likely not enough to merit an inquiry by the FTC, which polices against "unfair" and "deceptive" business practices, said David Balto, a former policy director at FTC and an antitrust lawyer.

But the apparent sophistication and duplicity of Uber's so-called "Operation SLOG" in New York City raises antitrust concerns. "The calling and canceling would make it very difficult for [Lyft] to effectively operate," Balto added. "That's the kind of thing that could very well be investigated by the FTC."

"Uber may be a 21st-century innovator, but it looks like it's pulling out the tactics of a 19th-century robber baron," Balto said. "Some of these tactics are things that John D. Rockefeller would be proud of."

In a blog post published shortly before The Verge's story, Uber denied it ever intentionally cancels rides, but acknowledged that "we can't successfully recruit drivers without talking to them—and that means taking a ride."

"We're all about more and better economic opportunity for drivers," the company wrote. "We never use marketing tactics that prevent a driver from making their living—and that includes never intentionally canceling rides."

Uber, which now boasts a presence in more than 160 cities around the world, is confronting a new wave of scrutiny just a week after hiring former Obama campaign wizard David Plouffe to lead its policy team. In announcing his new gig, Plouffe wrote that he was eager take on Uber's main opponent, the "Big Taxi cartel," which he maintains "has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers."

The tech company has also recently earned the adoration of a number of Republicans looking to curry favor with its young, largely urban base.

Earlier this month, the Republican National Committee launched a petition soliciting support for "innovative companies like Uber," in response to backlash from the traditional taxi lobby and ride-sharing regulations proposed in some cities and states. And Sen. Marco Rubio has touted the company as an example of free-market ingenuity that should not be subject to strict regulatory red tape.

The company's success, size, and influence is likely to increase the chances of triggering either a regulatory investigation or private litigation, said Richard Feinstein, former director of the FTC's antitrust enforcement.

The FTC has historically been an ally to the booming app-driven ride-sharing industry. In April, the agency wrote a letter articulating its belief that regulations should be limited to safety and consumer protection and not for the purposes of levying higher license fees than those placed on traditional taxi fleets.

An Uber spokesman accused The Verge story of being thinly sourced and revealing nothing new, telling National Journal that it lacks "any verification" of the claims or documents published.

Uber has never publicly taken responsibility for reports of employees ordering phony rides from Lyft. In January, the company issued an apology on its website acknowledging that some employees in New York were "too aggressive" in its tactics of ordering rides from competitors and canceling them moments later. But the apology indicated the tactics were orchestrated by local staffers and not approved or initiated by corporate higher ups.

"We have messaged city teams to curtail activities that seek lead generation in this manner," the company wrote.

Lyft did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The Future of Urban Transportation


By Shaina Kandel, June 2, 2014

Car Traffic

It is increasingly clear that for growing urban populations, personal vehicle ownership is not a viable method of transportation. The laundry list of externalized costs from driving includes: air pollution, accidents, traffic congestion, noise pollution, roadway land value, etc. As populations grow, these costs grow as well.

CommuteSolutions.org quantifies indirect driving costs at about $13/day for a 16 mile commute. What does this mean for a city? Take Silicon Valley, which has a total of 98,000 car commuters daily, according to the Peninsula Press. The societal tab for car commuters comes to an annual sum of $309M. As the population density of urban areas increases, the rationale for personal vehicle ownership diminishes.

Understanding the true costs of cars on the road, private companies, public entities, and non-profits have been noodling on sustainable transportation solutions for some time. Interestingly, innovative trends in urban transportation, such as Google’s Driverless Cars, car-sharing platforms, and private commuter shuttles, are connected by a common thread: not owning vehicles.

Google’s Driverless Cars

On May 27th, Google announced its newest iteration of the self-driving car, sans steering wheel or brakes. Google’s previous version, which had all of the normal controls of a standard car, allowed the driver to take over in case of emergency. With testing, Google engineers found that it was more of a safety hazard for humans who were napping or reading to take over the wheel, stated the New York Times. Instead, the newly revealed self-driving car version solely operates with a start and stop button.

Photo Credit: CNN.com

Google co-founder Serge Brin discussed the long-term vision of their self-driving cars in an interview with the New York Times, “Regardless of Google, I think the right model for most of the world will be not through vehicle ownership,” he said. “These should be provided as services for the most part.”  Instead of car ownership, self-driving vehicles could be hailed by smart phone as a means of on-demand, shared, personal transportation within cities. This vision has the potential to change the transportation industry as we know it.

Ridesharing, Carsharing, and Resource Efficiency

Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) connect non-commercial drivers to passengers via an online platform, enabling drivers to provide rides with their personal vehicles. TNCs are the Lyfts, Ubers, and SideCars who are creating a new market structure for the transportation industry in urban environments.

Photo Credit: SiliconSlopes.com

This distributed model of ridesharing fundamentally changes the concept of car ownership. What was once privately owned property is now a means to revenue in the burgeoning sharing economy. TNCs leverage the resource of unused passenger space in cars to efficiently transport urban dwellers.

TNCs emerged in the wake of carsharing services such as Zip Car and City Car Share. Through a membership model, urbanites can have access to cars on demand, without incurring the costs of owning a car. This resource efficiency eliminates the opportunity cost of parked vehicles. It fills the user need of transportation by car through a service.

The rise of ridesharing and carsharing has disrupted the assumption that in order to get around by car, you must own or lease one. By shifting this belief, there is the ability for resource efficient, distributed models of transportation to emerge.

Private Commuter Shuttles

While public transportation, carsharing, and ridesharing are means for transportation within urban areas, there is still the question of the commute to work. Private Commuter Shuttles have emerged as a solution to this last-mile transportation need.  Large companies, such as Google, Apple, Yahoo, etc. are investing in fleets of large buses that connect urban dwelling employees to the office. This alternative removes cars from the road, allows employees to be productive on the commute with wi-fi enabled busses, and reduces the stress of sitting in traffic.

In Apple’s 2000 census, they reported that about 11% of employees were using private shuttles to commute to work. By 2012, The Verge reported 1/3 of Google employees using private shuttles and New York Magazine quotes Facebook stating that 40%-47% of employees using alternative means of transportation to work, including their six shuttles.

Photo credit: SFGate

Private shuttles show that employers are investing in alternatives to car commuting. While this 
solution may not be feasible smaller organizations that don’t have the capital on hand (Google quoted each private shuttle costing over $500,000), there may be creative commuter solutions developed for clusters of organizations or business parks. Innovative companies are capitalizing on the benefits of employees not commuting by car, further divesting urban transportation from personal vehicle ownership.

LA's Very Dangerous Roads Are Getting Even More Dangerous


By Bianca Barragan, August 27, 2014


188 out of 200.jpg



In Los Angeles, we know the traffic's bad, but if not for a new report out from insurance company Allstate, we might have forgotten that, despite being completely congested, our freeways and roads are also pretty dangerous. Allstate has released its tenth annual overview (and companion interactive map) of driver safety in the US's 200 biggest cities, ranking them from best to worst in terms of car collision frequency and factoring in rain and snow, city density, and population. Los Angeles dropped seven slots in the ranking in 2014, all the way down to 188. Out of 200.

This is Los Angeles's lowest ranking in the 10 years Allstate's been keeping track. (The city did rank 185 in 2007.) While the average national driver will have 10 years between collisions, LA drivers have just 6.5 years. In number-one-ranked Fort Collins, CO, drivers average 14.2 years between car crashes. This probably has something to do with why Angelenos pay such high rates for car insurance ...
· Allstate Best Drivers Interactive Map [Allstate]

· California's 10 Most Expensive Cities For Car Insurance All in LA [Curbed LA]