Letter to Ryan Rzepecki

To summarize: Don’t. Please, don’t.

Why? Why not be bought out by Uber? Because the objectives and culture are not a good fit.

JUMP (SoBi) has a model of disruption based on offering a better product, meeting the need of people, and making a profit in the good work. Every SoBi employee I’ve had interactions with had a passion for making the world a better place through bike share. When there were problems, each person I spoke with or emailed made sure to get it right. SoBi works with the cities it goes into, negotiating the terms but wanting to make sure it works for the company, the city, and the users.

Uber is the exact opposite. Their business model of disruption is to break every law they can get away with breaking, to cut every corner. Their intent is to drive every competitor out of business, as they must if they are ever to stop losing money. They treat employees like dirt (yes, the drivers are employees by definition of labor law, though at least in the US Uber is so lawyered up that the federal government and state governments have either not been able to compel Uber to follow the law, or don’t care to. In every city in which it operates, in the US and in Europe, Uber has violated law after law after law.

These two things do not match, and can never match.

One of the great hopes that I have for electric bike share is that it can displace many of the ride hailing trips that exist because it is time competitive with and cost positive over ride hailing in denser urban areas. I see uncontrolled ride hailing as the worst thing that could happen to our cities, and anything that lessens that damage is a great thing. That puts the ideal of bike share in direct conflict with the idea of ride hailing. The terms ‘shared mobility’ and ‘mobility as a service’ are all the rage these days, but I don’t see any mode that uses low occupancy energy guzzling cars (electric just shifts impacts from fossil fuel burning at the car to fossil fuel burning at the power plant, at least so far) as complementing any other mode. They are not a complement, they are a competition.

But the biggest conflict is on the streets. Bike riders, the users of SoBi and JUMP bikes, want more than anything to be safe. But they can’t be safe so long as poorly trained commercial drivers (Uber) terrorize bicyclists by driving over the speed limit, making sudden right and left turns, and looking at smart phones instead of at the road. Uber drivers block bike lanes more often than other ride hailing companies. I’m not sure why, but suspect it has to do with drivers adopting the attitudes of their company.

When I am bicycling in San Francisco (headed there for the weekend right now), I can hardly even use bike lanes on many streets because they are blocked so often by ride hailing. Do they look when pulling in? Do they look when pulling out? Seldom. As a vehicular bicyclist, I know how to deal with this, to just use the general purpose lane and avoid the bike lane, but I assure you, this is not the experience most bicyclists are looking for.

Bicyclists want safety. Uber does not.

I am really concerned that this is the beginning of the end of SoBi/JUMP, and that would make me very sad. Uber may kill off bike share once it realizes that the values and goals of bike share are opposed to their own. Another not unlikely possibility is that Uber will go under, under the weight of endless lawsuits that will sooner or later start to be successful. If you run a criminal enterprise, it will eventually catch up with you, whether you are Uber or the president.

To summarize: Don’t. Please don’t

@jumpbikes @ryrzny

#NoMoreUber

I have always been leery of Uber. They have seemed from the beginning like a bunch of spoiled tech brats, whose only values are innovation and profits. Their business model is to exploit the grey areas of law, and to exploit the black and white areas of law by making huge profits in the time gap between recognition and enforcement. They are really not providing a service so much as running a scam. They are scamming their drivers. They are scamming their riders. They are scamming their investors. They are scamming society as a whole by proposing that shady dealings are the future of transportation. They have been found in a number of states to be violating employment/contractor and wage laws, but they continue as though they can. And if we let them, they can indeed. The instances of discrimination against people of color and the disabled are legion. The instances of intimidation and violence against patrons by drivers who have not been sufficiently background checked are legion.

What has brought me to this point of anger, however, is their arrogant attitude about operating semi-autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. Their vehicles have been observed violating the law and endangering pedestrians and bicyclists, and the company’s response has been that things will get solved eventually, with a little engineering. They have thumbed their nose at both the state of California and the city of San Francisco, refusing to cease vehicle testing, though they have not acquired permits to do so. All the other companies have.

I’m a frequent visitor to San Francisco, and what I’ve observed when walking, bicycling and using transit is: Uber drivers making high speed right turns, failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks (marked or unmarked), cutting in and out of lanes and disrupting traffic flow, greatly exceeding the speed limit, pushing bicyclists out of traffic by using their vehicles as weapons of intimidation, blocking bike lanes to pick up and drop off (legal for taxis when the client’s disability requires that, not so for Uber), blocking transit only lanes (the bus + taxis designation does not apply to Uber), circling the block waiting for rides which increases congestion and air pollution. I could go on. I’ll say that I’ve also experienced some very polite and safe Uber drivers, but they are the exception.

It is well documented that Uber is losing money. So what is their plan? Their plan is to drive the competition out of business. One of their competitors is taxi cabs (which are licensed and regulated), and in some locations their have nearly succeeded. I’m not defending taxis, whose service was poor for years, but driving your competition out of business by violating the law is not the way things are supposed to work in a country of laws. Competition by offering a better service? Sure, but not by violating the law.

Another effect of even more concern to me is that they are harming public transit. Many transit systems are just hanging on, with declining ridership and declining fare recovery. Some might go under due to the actions of Uber. Of course it is likely that Uber will go under as well, and so the marketplace should work, but what of the damage they cause on their way down? Uber has encouraged the idea that ride hailing is the future and transit is the past. And if we let it be so, it will be.

None of this is to suggest that ride-hailing/car-“sharing”/transportation network companies (TNC’s, the official name of such services) can’t be part of our overall transportation services, complementing other modes. But I will state right here that Uber is not part of that solution, they are the problem.

So, what to do. I ask you, dear readers, to stop using Uber. If they lose riders, they will fail all the sooner, and do less damage on their way down. There are other ways to get around, please use them.

Until a few months ago, I’d have said that companies that bully everyone cannot succeed, but then a bully was elected as a president (or not, depending on your view of the electoral college and popular vote). Perhaps all bets are off. Maybe Uber is the future, the model of business so well refined by Donald Trump.

You bet I’m angry.

#NoMoreUber