All posts in “Ride Hailing”

Uber now wants some drivers to pay it money—and there’s no guarantee they’ll benefit

Sounds like a perfectly upstanding deal.
Sounds like a perfectly upstanding deal.

Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Pay now in order to potentially earn more later. It may sound like something straight out of a marketing scheme, but it’s in fact the latest promise from Uber to a subset of its drivers.

However, according to the ride-hail giant, this is not the latest revenue play from a company losing hundreds of millions of dollars a quarter, but rather part of an academic study with the goal of determining what value its drivers place on that gig economy-defining buzzword known as “flexibility.” 

The promotion was picked up by Alex Rosenblat, a researcher at Data&Society, who detailed the specifics in a Medium post. The offer, sent to drivers in the Houston area, promises the chance to bump up earnings by 33 percent — with, of course, a catch or two thrown in. 

“Buy a week of accelerated earnings for $115,” reads the message. “Opt in below by Saturday, October 21 at 11:59pm: $115 will be deducted from your pay for the week of October 16, and you’ll earn 33% more on every trip between Monday, October 23 and Sunday, October 29. As long as your weekly earnings exceed $349 you’ll come out ahead!”

The tricky part, of course, is that rides are assigned by Uber. So a driver’s ability to hit a certain number of trips — and potentially benefit from paying the company up front — is at the complete discretion of Uber itself. 

So what is Uber actually doing here? Could this be an attempt by the company to better predict future driver supply by locking its non-employees into driving the week before Halloween? Or is this, in fact, just another way the number one ride-hail provider in the world is attempting to figure out how to best squeeze every possible penny out of its drivers? How about both?

Neither, at least according to an Uber spokesperson in a call with Mashable, who insisted that this move is not indicative of any large-scale change the company intends to make. The spokesperson further noted that this study is being done in collaboration with MIT, and, for good measure, that it was approved by the university’s institutional review board. 

“Drivers tell us that they value the ability to choose when, where and how long to work,” the spokesperson told Mashable. “This academic study is part of broader efforts to better understand the extent to which drivers benefit from Uber’s flexible work model in quantitative terms.”

The study, which according to the spokesperson currently involves less than 1,000 drivers who have opted in, is focused on the city of Houston. However, it follows on similar research conducted in Boston. Obviously, whatever it is that Uber is trying to learn here, they’re attempting to get a wide and diverse sample. It’s almost like Uber has plans to roll this out on a larger scale — despite the company’s denial. 

And, well, what that says about the future of the gig economy is not so inspiring. Paying for the opportunity to work is some depressing shit, and just like the company’s self-driving play, Uber appears to be positioning itself to dominate whatever particularly dark future comes out of that. 

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Uber will pay drivers extra to put up with annoying teenagers

Just some teens out for a ride.
Just some teens out for a ride.

Image: Daniel Grill/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Hey there, loyal Uber driver! Feel like picking up some passengers today? Great! How about some rascally teenagers? 

No? Oh, well, hmm, what if we paid you $2 more?

Buried in the June 20 announcement that Uber will finally allow tipping was a little nugget sure to grab the attention of harried drivers everywhere: Uber will now pass on part of the surcharge for teen rides to drivers. 

“For teen account trips,” the company explained in an email sent to drivers, “$2 will be added to the base fare and you’ll earn more for those rides.”

That’s right, Uber is totally paying drivers more to put up with teenagers. This charge itself is not new, but Uber is now finally sharing that fee with its drivers. Apparently the company realized its drivers needed an extra incentive to pick up teen passengers. 

And what, exactly, are teen accounts? This past March Uber unveiled a new way for people under the age of 18 to hail rides. The idea is that kids over 13 years old can join their parents’ Family Profile, and parents are able track their children’s location as the kids ride. 

The program debuted in Seattle, Phoenix, and Columbus, and immediately generated some driver pushback. 

Tracking Riley's ride.

Tracking Riley’s ride.

Image: uber

“I certainly don’t have anything against teenagers,” one driver who opted out of picking up teenagers, Craig Gibson, told GeekWire at the time. “I have one, so nothing like that, but there is an increased liability when you’re driving somebody’s child around and the potential that could go bad there. If a child says you’ve done something inappropriate, the repercussions are almost immediately more serious and the shockwave quicker, so there is an increased risk there and Uber’s done absolutely nothing to lessen that.”

While Gibson’s concerns regarding chauffeuring around unaccompanied minors are certainly legitimate, perhaps he wasn’t aware of that sweet bonus $2 per ride he’d be getting?

We’re sure that news will make all the difference. 

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Uber for pooping is here, and we can never go back

New York City has a big problem: there aren’t many clean, reliable bathrooms available. If you need to pop off the busy streets for a pitstop, you probably won’t find a free toilet — and even the ones you pay for are more than likely gonna be icky.  

But we live in a time when we can instantly summon just about anything with our smartphones. Surely some enterprising innovator will soon introduce an on-demand, clean bathroom service to disrupt the Big Toilet industry.  

Enter Charmin. The toilet paper company is giving NYC a taste of toilet freedom with a two-day promotion for Van-GO, its new mobile-ordering bathroom experience, this week. The press-to-order service will send on-demand bathroom service to fulfill the dreams of germophobic pedestrians with overfilled bladders everywhere — or, at least the select neighborhoods the van will hit during its run.  

“At Charmin, we’re always looking to bring people the best bathroom experience, both at home with our tissue and in new and unexpected ways,” Charmin’s Associate Brand Director Janette Yauch said in an emailed release. “With the Charmin Van-GO, we are providing one of the largest, most-trafficked cities in the world a new way to Enjoy the Go … on the go.”

Yes, we will enjoy that go. This is the next generation of urban defecation. This, I daresay, is Püber. 

I was given a preview of the service before the bathroom rush begins. 

Hailing the Van-GO is simple: just pull out your smartphone and use your mobile browser to head to CharminVanGo.com. You’ll be greeted by one of Charmin’s anthropomorphic bathroom bears and a start menu, and after entering your first name, age, and phone number, you’ll be able to call for your own personal, portable porcelain throne.

That bear is ready to hit the toilet.

That bear is ready to hit the toilet.

Image: screenshot/charmin

I called for my Van-GO at the corner of Madison Avenue and 23rd Street, but we wound up having to meet on 5th Avenue and 2nd Street. Charmin reps told me that’s bound to happen in the busy city with so many people ordering the van — just like when your Uber driver winds up three blocks from your spot — so be ready to coordinate for your TP-time over text if you plan on calling for it during the promotion.

When I got to the van, there was a whole Charmin Squad on call if I needed any help using the facilities. Thankfully for them, I know exactly what I’m about in the bathroom. 

The Charmin Squad makes the mobile toilet experience even more extra.

The Charmin Squad makes the mobile toilet experience even more extra.

Image: haley hamblin/mashable

The interior of the van was cozy and super-clean, just what I was hoping for after a long walk on the NYC streets. A personalized LED light welcomed me in, helping me prepare to do my business in the middle of the bustling city.

My throne.

My throne.

Image: haley hamblin/mashable

After I got my bearings (pun intended), I gave the toilet seat a demo for our photographer. It was a solid seat, and while the traffic noise outside was a bit off-putting, I was ready. It was time. 

Just a quick pose -- shortly after, the door shut and the business went down.

Just a quick pose — shortly after, the door shut and the business went down.

Image: haley hamblin/mashable

You can imagine what went down next. Or maybe, it’s better that you don’t.

The decor is, as they say, on point.

The decor is, as they say, on point.

Image: Haley Hamblin/mashable

After using the Van-GO, I’m a changed man. Once you’ve had your own personal toilet delivered to you at your smartphone’s bidding, you won’t want to go back to your old life, either.

If you’re in NYC, you’ll be able to catch the Van-GO later this week on June 21 and 22, when the service is unleashed with black-ish star Anthony Anderson in tow to crack jokes while you do your business.

On Wednesday, the service will be available in Columbus Circle (W. 57th), Herald Square, and Bryant Park from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on Thursday you’ll be able to hail a toilet around Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Plaza, Union Square, and the High Line during the same time frame.   

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Dubai’s self-flying taxis are primed for takeoff later this year

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The “Future City” is about to add another space-age service you won’t find anywhere else in the world: autonomous passenger drones. 

Dubai’s much-hyped autonomous aerial taxi (AAT) service, which made waves back in February when it was announced as part of its World Government Summit, is finally, officially on track. The city’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) just announced a new testing schedule for the program and signed a new a new deal with German aviation company Volocopter, which will provide the aircraft for the program.

The autonomous drone taxis will fly passengers on predetermined routes throughout the city, serving as more of a sky shuttle service than a true go-anywhere taxi. The test period will start sometime during the fourth quarter of this year, and the RTA expects to continue on a trial basis for about five years until the proper legislation is in place for a bigger expansion.

The first version of the air taxi project used the Ehang 184, a 500-pound, single-seat passenger drone. The Dubai RTA didn’t say why it was now switching to Volocopter aircraft but touted the company’s reputation for safety. The craft that will be used in the trials, the Volocopter 2X, is a two-seater, which could give it the edge over the smaller single-passenger Ehang.  

The crafts are fully electric, with 18 rotors and nine independent battery systems that can pick up the slack to keep the craft in the air if anything fails mid-flight. Volocopter claims the quick-charge battery can be fully juiced in as little as 40 minutes for a max flight time of about 30 minutes. That’s at the standard cruising speed of 50 km/h (around 30 mph) and a top speed of 100 km/h (about 62 mph).

A rendering of one of the autonomous air taxis in flight.

A rendering of one of the autonomous air taxis in flight.

Image: volocopter

The project was originally slated to begin next month, but the RTA pushed the trial period to the fourth quarter of the year to make sure the system is truly ready before the crafts take to the air. The RTA said it’s working closely with the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority to iron out legislative and operational guidelines, along with more exact standards for potential taxi service operators to have all the pieces in place before the “commercial and official operation” of the AATs.

This is just the start for flying taxis, with companies like Airbus rolling out their own projects — but Dubai is ahead of the curve. The city is lined up as one of the first two targets for Uber’s flying car initiative, with plans to have a working prototype and possibly even passenger flights as part of Dubai’s Expo 2020 event. 

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Check out how easy it’ll be to hail one of Airbus’ conceptual autonomous flying taxis

Hailing a flying taxi will someday be as easy as pulling out your phone and pressing a button. 

That’s the future presented by a number of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft projects, and major transportation movers and shakers, most notably Uber and its partners, have outlined plans to take the ride hailing services currently stuck on the ground to put them in the skies.   

One of the busiest companies in the space is Airbus, which just dropped a new video of its autonomous flying taxi hailing project. The video is just a CG demo of the concept, but it’s still an exciting vision of the future of mobility.  

Vahana is one of the legs of Airbus’ three-tiered A³ initiative, which is focused on developing future-forward aviation projects. The company’s CEO Tom Enders said in January that Airbus was aiming to have a working prototype by the end of this year.  

The video shows how easy it is for Deborah, a Californian looking for a quick commute between San Jose and San Francisco. Not sure exactly what kind of future OS Deborah is using on that future phone, but the system doesn’t look too far removed from the user experience on apps like Uber and Lyft today.

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It might not be a full-blown multi-modal system like some further-flung Airbus concepts we’ve seen or a true flying car, which are looking less and less likely given the projects currently in development, but it looks impressive nonetheless. 

There’s not much information available about the project, or any news on the status of the prototype that Enders said was projecting by the end of the year. The company will have something to show next week at the Paris Air Show, according to The Verge, although it’s unclear exactly what that will bring other than the video.

The Vahana concept shows off an exciting future, but the rendering is still a ways off from reality. Driverless flying taxis have already appeared in Dubai, however, where the Ehang 184 was demoed during the city’s World Government Summit back in February. The service is projected to start full time there next month. 

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