With new tech coming online, cities need a department of urban testing

The design and operation of cities is the province of urban planning. But an explosion of startups in cities means a lot of new products and services for urban areas. The problem is, we don’t really know how people are going to use these new products and services. “The company launched a trial service in Santa Monica just last year and when I first saw the scooters (parked literally outside of our office) I was convinced nobody would want to ride them…The volume grew so steadily that I finally hopped on one, rode down to Bird’s offices and pleaded with Travis to take money from us. I had literally never seen a consumer phenomenon take off so quickly,” says Mark Suster in All The Questions You Wanted Answered about
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Self-driving car startup Voyage brings on ex-Tesla, Cruise and Uber exec as CTO

Voyage, the autonomous driving startup that currently operates self-driving cars in retirement communities, has brought on its first CTO, Drew Gray. Gray most recently worked at Uber as its director of engineering, leading the deep learning and perception team in San Francisco, according to his LinkedIn. This comes shortly after the company poached Uber’s head of policy for autonomous vehicles and aviation, Justin Erlich, to lead its strategy, policy and legal efforts. Voyage, Gray said, was the obvious choice because of the mobility needs it addresses for the 125,000 residents in The Villages in Florida. “Private communities like The Villages are often much simpler with respect to roadways and traffic patterns, and allow us to implement creative technical solutions that aren’t possible everywhere else due to regulation,” Gray wrote in a Medium post. “We believe there to be a massive un-tapped autonomous ride-sharing business in locations like The Villages — all with
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Uber partners with Cargo to help drivers make money by selling stuff to riders

Uber has teamed up with Cargo, a startup that makes it easy for ride-share drivers to sell goods to their passengers. Cargo works by giving drivers free boxes, filled with goods like gum, phone chargers and snacks, to sell to passengers from the center of the car console. Cargo, which has partnered with brands like Kellogg’s, Starbucks and Mars Wrigley Confectionary, provides these boxes to drivers for free. The only requirement is that drivers must have at least a 4.7 rating and be relatively active on the platform, Cargo founder and CEO Jeff Cripe told TechCrunch. Each Cargo box comes with both free samples and items for purchase. Drivers earn at least $1 per order, even if what the rider gets is free. Starting today, Uber drivers in San Francisco and Los Angeles can pick up Cargo boxes at one of Uber’s driver support locations, called Greenlight Hubs. While
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China’s Didi Chuxing is close to launching a taxi-booking service in Japan

Days after raising $500 million via a strategic investment from travel giant Booking Holdings, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has continued its international push with the launch of a local business in Japan. Its new Japan-based unit is a joint venture with SoftBank, a longtime Didi investor, which has been in the works since an announcement back in February. Today’s news isn’t that the service is live yet — it isn’t — but rather than the JV has been formally launched. Didi did say, however, that it plans to launch services for passengers, drivers and taxi operators in Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Tokyo and other major cities from autumn this year. Didi said that its users in China and Hong Kong will be able to use the soon-to-launch Japan service through their regular Didi app — that’s interesting since a ‘roaming’ strategy involving Lyft and others arranged years ago never came
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Uber hires first chief privacy officer

Uber has hired its first chief privacy officer, as well as a former TomTom executive in charge, ensuring the ride-hailing company complies with the EU’s data protection laws. The new hires, which were announced to Uber employees in an internal email, aim to help the company strengthen its privacy standards and data protections. Ruby Zefo, who was hired as chief privacy officer, will be based in San Francisco and is expected to start August 6, according to an email sent to Uber employees Wednesday. Zefo led Intel’s global privacy and security legal team. She also serves on the board of directors for the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Zefo’s appointment is part of the company’s recent mission to move past an embarrassing data breach, as well as other weak privacy practices employed by former CEO Travis Kalanick, who resigned last year after a string of scandals. In April, Uber expanded a
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Companies, like people, don’t change

Not a month goes by when we hear about another snafu or scandal about Facebook and Uber. And each time I wonder if they will change. It seems both these companies are genetically pre-programmed to obey what their DNA tells them — unfettered growth without consequences. And which makes me wonder, can companies change? Or the culture a company starts with becomes its defining characteristic. Here are my thoughts. Continue reading "Companies, like people, don’t change"

Uber is being investigated for gender discrimination in a federal probe

As Uber tries to chart a new course, it still can’t manage to outrun news that paints its corporate culture in an ugly light. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Uber is being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for gender disparities pertaining to hiring practices and pay. The EEOC probe began in August 2017 and the commission has since been interviewing employees and collecting relevant documents since. The EEOC declined to provide details to TechCrunch due to “confidentiality provisions,” adding that details of an EEOC investigation “[become] public only when the EEOC files a lawsuit, which is typically a last resort.” An Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company has “proactively made a lot of changes in the last 18 months.” Those changes include creating and enacting a new “salary and equity structure,” reforming the way it conducts performance reviews to emphasize high quality feedback,
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Uber’s head of policy for flying taxis and autonomous vehicles leaves for self-driving car startup Voyage

Uber’s head of policy for autonomous vehicles and urban aviation, Justin Erlich, has left the company to join self-driving car startup Voyage, TechCrunch has learned. To lead its policy efforts for autonomous vehicles, Uber recently brought on Miriam Chaum, previously of Philanthropy University. “We wish Justin all the best with his new opportunity at Voyage,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. Erlich’s departure comes a couple of months after Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden, who oversaw Uber Elevate, left the company. At Voyage, Erlich will lead the company’s strategy, policy and legal efforts. Voyage, led by CEO Oliver Cameron, spun out of Udacity last year and has since deployed Level 4 autonomous vehicles in retirement communities in California and Florida. Erlich previously worked under Attorney General Kamala Harris, where he focused on emerging technology and the key policies that the government will want to have in place to ensure technology
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Wave Uber’s new Spotlight or send canned chats to find your driver

Uber is aiming to perfect the art of the pick-up with three features it says minimize cancellations. Guaranteed pickup windows boost confidence that you’ll make your flight, and give you a credit of up to $10 if your scheduled ride is late. Pre-written messages let drivers and riders let each other know they’ll “Be right there” or “I’ve arrived” with a single tap.

And most flashily, three years after I suggested Uber let you hold up a colored screen so your driver could find you amidst a crowd of hailers, it’s introducing Spotlight. Each driver gets assigned a semi-unique color gradient to look for. Hit the Spotlight button, that color takes over your screen, and you can wave it to help your driver locate you. 

These optimizations show the depths Uber is willing to go to shave seconds off of pickups. That can reduce unpaid waiting time for drivers

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Lyft valuation hits $15.1 billion after fresh $600 million in funding

Lyft has raised an additional $600 million in a Series I financing round led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, pushing its post-money valuation to $15.1 billion. The company’s value has more than doubled in the past 14 months. Senator Investment Group LP joined Fidelity in the capital raise. Fidelity has poured more than $800 million into the ride-hailing company, making it one of Lyft’s largest investors. Lyft has spent the past 18 months aggressively expanding into new U.S. cities, as well as into Canada and pursuing its autonomous vehicle ambitions. Lyft’s plans — along with some of rival Uber’s scandalous missteps — have helped the company increase its market share in the U.S. to 35 percent. In January 2017, Lyft had just 22 percent market share in the United States. Of course, scaling up is a costly affair. And Lyft has spent the past year seeking
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Uber is helping Saudi Arabia drive its cultural transformation

Uber has about 95,000 monthly active drivers in Saudi Arabia. And right now, only one is a woman. But that’s about to change. Uber (as well as Middle East ride-hailing rival Careem) is launching programs aimed at leveraging the sweeping cultural and economic changes afoot in the country. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman lifted the country’s ban on women driving. It’s one of many changes spearheaded by the kingdom’s heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has encouraged reforms in Saudi Arabia in an effort to diversify the country’s economy. Uber has spent months preparing for this moment, conducting research on the country’s demographics and developing an approach that will add to its driver ranks without veering too far from cultural norms there. Uber says it will pilot a new feature this fall that will let women drivers in Saudi Arabia select a preference to be connected
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Uber is in court to appeal London license loss by claiming it’s changed

Uber is in court in the UK today to try to overturn a decision by London’s transport regulator last fall to withdraw its license to operate in the city — where it claims to have some 3.5 million regular users. Its appeal is being heard in Westminster Magistrates Court from today, with the hearing expected to last for several days. The company can continue to operate its service in London while it appeals the decision. Transport for London (TfL) sent shockwaves through the ride-hailing giant last September when it rejected Uber’s application to renew its license on the grounds the company is “not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence” — a long history of rule-defying behavior finally catching up with the company. TfL criticized the company’s approach and conduct, saying it demonstrated “a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have
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Uber safety driver of fatal self-driving crash was watching Hulu, not the road

A safety driver operating an Uber self-driving vehicle looked down at a phone that was streaming The Voice on Hulu 204 times during a 43-minute test drive that ended when pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed in Tempe, Arizona, according to a 318-page police report reviewed by TechCrunch. The Tempe Police Department released late Thursday evening the report on the fatal self-driving car crash that occurred in a Phoenix suburb in March. The lengthy report reveals that safety driver Rafaela Vasquez was streaming the show The Voice on her phone at the time of the crash.

Police determined that Vasquez’s eyes were off the road for 3.67 miles of the 11.8 total miles driven, or about 31 percent of the time.

Based on the data, police reported that Vasquez could have avoided hitting Herzberg if her eyes were on the road. The case has been submitted to
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Uber drivers made more than $600 million in tips in one year

Since finally launching in-app tipping for drivers last year, Uber has facilitated more than $600 million worth of payments in tips to its drivers. In August, Uber hit $50 million in tips. Since introducing mid-trip ratings and tips in May, there has been a 30 percent increase in tipping, Uber product manager Dhruv Tyagi wrote in a blog post. In April, Lyft announced drivers hit $500 million in tips since its launch, with tip averages increasing by nearly 8 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. Lyft, of course, is not available in nearly as many markets as Uber. Lyft only operates in the U.S. and Canada, while Uber operates in the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. So, more continents and cities means more opportunities for tipping. Uber drivers
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Uber’s unrelenting desire to be everything

Welcome back to CTRL+T, the TechCrunch podcast where Megan Rose Dickey and I talk about stories from the week that we either found interesting or hated and had more to say about. This week we talked about Uber . Uber, Uber, Uber. This company wants everything. The rideshare market! Autonomous vehicles! Flying vehicles! And now? Scooters. And to be able to detect inebriation in passengers! This week, we found out that Uber filed for a patent for tech to be able to tell whether a potential passenger is drunk. And regular listeners know how we at CTRL+T feel about scooters, but we have to keep talking about them because the companies that facilitate that mode of transportation keep getting funded. Thanks, funders. And Uber is taking its place in the scooter racket. I mean, market. Click play on the little player below or, better yet, subscribe on Apple PodcastsStitcher
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China’s Didi Chuxing continues its international expansion with Australia launch

Didi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride-hailing company, is continuing its international expansion after it announced plans to launch in Australia this month. The company — which bought Uber’s China business in 2016 — said it will begin serving customers in Melbourne from June 25 following a month-long trial period in Geelong, a neighboring city that’s 75km away. The business will be run by a Didi subsidiary in Australia and it plans to offer “a series of welcome packages to both drivers and riders” — aka discounts and promotions, no doubt. It began signing up drivers on June 1, the company added. The Australia launch will again put Didi in direct competition with Uber, but that is becoming increasingly common, and also Ola which counts Didi as an investor — more on that below. This move follows forays into Taiwan, Mexico and Brazil this year as Didi has finally expanded beyond its China-based
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China’s Didi Chuxing continues its international expansion with Australia launch

Didi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride-hailing company, is continuing its international expansion after it announced plans to launch in Australia this month. The company — which bought Uber’s China business in 2016 — said it will begin serving customers in Melbourne from June 25 following a month-long trial period in Geelong, a neighboring city that’s 75km away. The business will be run by a Didi subsidiary in Australia and it plans to offer “a series of welcome packages to both drivers and riders” — aka discounts and promotions, no doubt. It began signing up drivers on June 1, the company added. The Australia launch will again put Didi in direct competition with Uber, but that is becoming increasingly common, and also Ola which counts Didi as an investor — more on that below. This move follows forays into Taiwan, Mexico and Brazil this year as Didi has finally expanded beyond its China-based
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Uber brings on Facebook product director to lead driver product

Uber has brought on Daniel Danker to serve as a senior director and head of driver product. Prior to joining Uber, he was a product director at Facebook responsible for video and Facebook Live. “Drivers are the heart of the Uber experience, and Daniel’s passion for our mission and deep product knowledge will ensure we continue to improve and innovate on their behalf,” Uber Head of Product Manik Gupta said in a statement to TechCrunch. Uber has been without a head of driver product since December, when Aaron Schildkrout left shortly after Uber wrapped up its 180 days of change driver campaign. As head of driver product, Danker will be responsible for planning, strategy and execution. Danker has had a long history in Silicon Valley. Between 2000 and 2010, Danker worked in a couple of roles at Microsoft, where he ended his stint as director of development and operations. He
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Southeast Asia’s Grab lands $1B from Toyota at a $10B valuation

Grab, the ride-hailing firm that acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia business earlier this year, is raising a new round of funding and it just announced that it will be led by Toyota, which is committing $1 billion in capital. The deal values Grab at $10 billion, a source close to the company told TechCrunch. In return for its capital, Toyota will also get a board seat and the opportunity to place an executive within Grab’s team. Grab said it plans to work with its new investor “to create a more efficient transport network that will ease traffic congestion in Southeast Asia’s megacities” and help its drivers increase their income. In particular, that will involve close collaboration with the Toyota Mobility Service Platform (MSPF), which is working on areas such as user-based insurance, new types of financial packages and predictive car maintenance. “Going forward, together with Grab, we will develop services that
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Uber bets on developing world growth with low-data Uber Lite

“The next hundreds of millions of riders for us are going to come from outside of the United States”, Uber’s head of rider experience Peter Deng tells me. The transportation giant already sees 75 million riders per month and 15 million rides per day. But to grow in the developing world, it had to rethink its app to work on the oldest phones and slowest networks. So Deng’s team traveled the globe asking people what they needed from Uber, but also what they didn’t. The result is Uber Lite. It’s launching today in India before rolling out to more countries, though there’s still a waitlist form instead of a download link. The Android app takes up just 5 megabytes. “You delete three selfies, you have room for Uber” Deng laughs. 300-millisecond response time means its quick to hail a ride, even for the 4 percent of users in India
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