Uber CEO Travis Kalanick likes to talk about the unfair ways that taxi incumbents "protect their monopoly" against his popular product. But the bigger Uber gets, the more aggressive its own protectionist tactics become. CNN says new data from Lyft, a smaller rival, shows 117 Uber employees cancelled 5,560 rides with Lyft drivers around the country since last October.
According to CNN, Lyft gathered the new data by cross-referencing cancelled rides with phone numbers of "known Uber recruiters." Uber got caught pulling a smaller-scale cancellation scheme in New York during a bad snowstorm, ordered by a general manager. But along with data, Lyft reported a new way to mess with the drivers' time:
And even when Uber employees don't cancel, Lyft drivers complain to headquarters that they take short, low-profit rides largely devoted to luring them to work for Uber.
Last month, in the span of a few hours two female Lyft drivers both told me they dealt with multiple Uber recruiters who got in their car just to get them to switch over. One of those drivers also said Uber will sometimes request a number of Lyft rides to "try to get Lyft to surge and then [Uber] will drop their prices." I've reached out to Uber and Lyft and will update the post if I hear back.
Just last week, Uber was caught lying to drivers in New York that Taxi and Limousine Commission would punish them working for two competing apps, like Lyft. One of the female drivers I mentioned said she was scared to tell Uber that she drove for Lyft—or her Uber contract would be cancelled—and scared to tell fellow Lyft drivers because of how they feel about Uber.
CNN says that unlike both New York incidents, there was "nothing to suggest" that Uber corporate asked for or were aware of the 5,560 cancelled rides. But the numbers don't look like an accident:
One Lyft passenger, identified by seven different Lyft drivers as an Uber recruiter, canceled 300 rides from May 26 to June 10. That user's phone number was tied to 21 other accounts, for a total of 1,524 canceled rides.
Another Uber recruiter created 14 different accounts responsible for 680 cancellations.
A single account from a Los Angeles-based Uber representative canceled 49 rides from October through mid-April. [...]
An Uber employee whose phone number was tied to 102 cancellations was reported as using a different name on his account than the one he used in the car.
After the New York manager's cancellation order, Uber brushed it off the tactic as "too aggressive" and promised to "tone down." But Uber's response to Lyft's new claim is more in keeping with the company's brand. They merely touted their empowering platform and refused to take the blame.
In a statement Monday, Uber said, "We recruit hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs to build their own small businesses on the Uber platform, where the economic opportunity for drivers is unmatched in the industry."
The company went on to imply that some of the people identified by Lyft could have been average passengers looking to make money, as opposed to professional Uber recruiters: "We even recently ran a program where thousands of riders recruited drivers from many platforms, earning hundreds of dollars in Uber credits for each driver who tries Uber."
That's a deliberate misdirection. Riders can't earn hundreds of dollars if they're hitting cancel over and over.
After its $18.2 billion valuation, Kalanick told CNN that people were being unfair toward his company (again) by calling Uber's growth tactics overly aggressive. Uber "has really strong principles and we feel good about how we act in the marketplace," he said:
"If you call an employee at another industry and say, 'Hey would you like to work for me?' That's normal. But if it happens in the car service business 'Oh my god, the sky is falling!'"
A more accurate analogy might be calling an employee and hanging up so many times they couldn't get anything done. Look, Uber and Lyft will continue to fight like dogs and slightly smaller dogs, both with multi-billion dollar collars. Uber's growth strategy is built on it. Tomorrow, it might be Lyft in the hot seat over reintroducing its commission fee "with a new twist" (spoiler: you have to work more to get more money). Just remember these antics the next time Rand Paul tells you that Internet companies can regulate themselves.
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[Image via Getty]