Company / division: Lyft
Lyft’s Gross Bookings Growing at Higher Rate Than Uber’s (Jul 25, 2017)
Bloomberg has some inside data from Lyft that suggests its gross bookings grew by 25% year on year in the second quarter, which would be higher than the mid-teens growth Uber had told investors to expect in a preliminary call earlier this month. As with other recent signals that Lyft may be gaining on Uber, it’s tempting to read this as evidence that there’s some kind of backlash against Uber over its recent troubles, but I continue to see very little evidence of that. Rather, it’s likely that Lyft’s big push into new markets in the first half of this year has helped it grow bookings significantly during this period, while the Uber scandals have made a far more limited impact. And of course Uber’s results are on a much bigger base, meaning that its dollar growth is likely far larger than Lyft’s even if its percentage growth rate is lower. I’m happy to see Lyft gaining on Uber – it’s always struck me as a more ethical company with a leadership with more integrity than Uber’s, and I’ve been using Lyft pretty much exclusively when traveling recently. But I see very little evidence that Lyft is gaining on Uber broadly for this reason, and in using Lyft it’s often been clear just how big an edge Uber has – at airports, there are multiple times as many Ubers in the pick-up area as Lyfts, and at least half my drivers have been drivers for both services, often skewing heavily towards Uber in their actual share of driving (which often turns to a 100% share on specific days given the bonuses Uber offers for driving over a certain amount).
It’s been somewhat heartening lately to see Lyft partnering with a number of different players around autonomous driving technology, and even announcing its own “open platform” (mostly an API for integrating with its ride sharing data) for the space. At a time when Uber, Waymo, Tesla, and a raft of big legacy automakers are all competing around self-driving systems, it appeared Lyft was going to avoid diving into the fray and instead try to partner with the best in the industry. However, all that got rather turned on its head today when it announced that it will also be developing its own self-driving technology, with 10% of its engineers already devoted to this area and a big expansion and new offices planned for the team. On paper, that looks like something of a contradiction given the recent announcements about partnerships, or at the very least a serious hedge that will make at least some of those partners think twice. However, in reading both Lyft’s own blog post and several press articles about the news, I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s actually very little there, and in fact Lyft may be building something far more limited in scope than what most others mean when they talk about a self-driving system. All that’s really described in Lyft’s announcement is leveraging its existing ride sharing data and possibly adding sensors to some of its drivers cars to create 3D mapping. The former is already the centerpiece of its open platform, while the latter seems overly ambitious and probably also redundant given the much larger and more advanced high definition mapping efforts underway for the last several years. What I don’t see any references to are developing LIDAR or other hardware necessary for self-driving, or even software to steer self-driving cars – it’s almost as if Lyft expects its partners to fill those roles, though it still talks about Lyft’s own self-driving cars as distinct from those run by partners. I’m hoping we’ll get more clarity as this project moves forward, but suspect it’s less momentous and therefore also less contradictory than it might at first seen based on the headlines.
Uber Adds Tipping and Makes Other Driver-Friendly Changes (Jun 20, 2017)
Uber Pool Burned Through Cash for Months in San Francisco (May 31, 2017)
★ Waymo and Lyft Partner Over Self-Driving Cars (May 15, 2017)
The New York Times reported last night that Alphabet autonomous driving unit Waymo and ride sharing company Lyft are partnering around self-driving cars. There aren’t many details, but it’s worth noting that Lyft already has GM as an investor and partner, and GM has its own autonomous driving technology through its Cruise Automation subsidiary. But the brief Lyft statement on the partnership described Waymo’s technology as the best out there, which certainly matches my own perception but likely wasn’t well received at Cruise. But the partnership is a concession by Lyft that it needs its partnerships in autonomy to move much faster to compete in autonomous driving with Uber, which of course is developing its own technology, and a concession by Waymo that it likely won’t be building a ride sharing network at scale on its own. Even though the situation is complicated somewhat by Alphabet’s investment in Uber through GV, Waymo and Lyft certainly have a common enemy in Uber at the moment, and joining forces makes a ton of sense. Waymo has the autonomous technology but not ride sharing expertise or scale, while Lyft has the ride sharing scale but no expertise in autonomy. As I’ve said before, though a number of tech companies are trying to play in one of the three major shifts in transportation – autonomy, electrification, and mobility as a service – few are serious players in more than one of those domains. Partnerships are therefore going to be key for most of them, although acquisitions (including a possible eventual Waymo-Lyft acquisition) would be another eventual outcome.
Lyft’s Rapid Growth Continues in Q1, While Losses Narrow (Apr 27, 2017)
Following Bloomberg’s exclusive on Uber’s financials for the end of last year, which were provided officially, it now has leaked numbers for Lyft for Q1. Those numbers, like Uber’s, show very strong growth, though the implication that this has come as a result of Uber’s troubles isn’t supported by other recent data. What’s really happening is that the whole space is growing extremely rapidly and these two companies are capturing the vast majority of that growth in the US. The big difference between the two is that Lyft’s numbers show smaller losses in dollar terms, while Uber’s showed growing dollar losses. Lyft’s recent aggressive expansion is probably going to slow its progress towards profitability somewhat, but that goal continues to look quite a bit closer for Lyft than for Uber.
There were reports about new fundraising for Lyft a while back, and it looks like it’s now completed a decent-sized round at a significantly higher valuation than its last round a year ago. The FT article also suggests that Lyft has been benefiting from Uber’s recent troubles, though there’s actually been little evidence of that and some to the contrary. It’s still smart for Lyft to raise funding and fuel its rapid expansion in the US during this time, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll be able to gain meaningful share as a result given that it seems to have been able to do little of that even in what’s been a disastrous period for Uber on the PR front.
via Financial Times
8,000 Uber, Lyft, ride-hailing drivers fail new background checks in Massachusetts – The Boston Globe (Apr 5, 2017)
Massachusetts put in place a new law requiring drivers for ride sharing services to acquire a license, which in turn requires passing an extensive background check. Of the 71,000 existing drivers who applied, a little over 11% failed these background checks, in many cases because of issues with driver’s licenses, at least some of which should have been caught by Uber and Lyft. Those companies, in turn, countered that they either don’t have access to longer criminal histories or that they have deliberately ignored older offenses as a way to help people with troubled pasts move on. Though there’s some truth to the former point, the latter is at least partly spin. Sex offenders, of whom 51 were rejected by Massachusetts, have to register, and presumably blocking them from becoming drivers would be both easy and desirable, no matter how long ago the offenses. The Massachusetts law is stricter than in other states and as such helps highlight how the background checks the companies themselves conduct can miss potentially serious issues in drivers’ histories.
via Boston Globe
Though I think we tend to think of services like Uber and Lyft as disrupting the status quo in transportation, it’s sometimes amusing to watch them instead recreate existing models, as in this case, where Lyft appears to be creating what’s essentially a bus service. Now, it’s still different in that it’s not tied to set routes, the drivers aren’t professionals or employed by any municipality as most bus services are, and the pricing is unpredictable, so there may be both pros and cons to this approach. But the more adoption of ride sharing services grows, the more they’re going to emulate existing modes of mass transportation like buses, because those continue to be the most efficient and cost effective ways to get people from A to B, especially during commuting times. Whether they end up being better than traditional mass transit in the same way as the original ride sharing services were better than traditional taxis remains to be seen.
Lyft will be breathing a big sigh of relief over the finalization of this settlement, which has been in the works for months, and Uber probably is too. Even though the latter is the focus of a lot of news coverage of how ride sharing companies treat drivers, it’s worth remembering that Lyft has exactly the same relationship with its drivers, which it insists on treating as independent contractors rather than employees. Both companies have now fought (and in Uber’s case are continuing to fight) groups of drivers lobbying for employee status and the benefits that would come with that, and so far they’ve prevailed. Keeping this arm’s-length arrangement in place is critical for maintaining the current financial structure of the ride sharing market, and any change to employment status would have pretty severe effects on the business model, so expect these companies to continue fighting these attempts to reclassify workers tooth and nail.
This is interesting data which confirms something that I’ve always suspected but never had more than gut feel to go on: that matters of principle rarely cause large scale and lasting changes in consumer behavior. In other words, even with the high profile and almost continuous coverage of everything going on at Uber at the moment, only relatively small numbers of people seem to be switching to Lyft, and they seem to be doing so fairly temporarily. The article cites spend data from a company called TXN which shows only a brief and switch of spending from Uber to Lyft in a couple of cities, which appears to represent roughly 5-10 points of market share at its peak. Convenience, habit, peer pressure and a myriad of other factors all likely weigh as heavily or more so in decisions to use a service or not, and Lyft’s big problem is that in many cities it’s simply not as big as Uber is. In the two cities cited here, it looks like Uber had two thirds and four fifths of spending at its nadir following the negative news, and that’s likely representative of many other cities where both operate (and of course there are still cities where Lyft doesn’t operate at all despite its recent expansion). That makes it tough to capitalize in a major way even when Uber appears to be stumbling significantly, especially because those stumbles haven’t affected the user experience in the slightest.
Lyft looks to raise $500M as Uber stumbles – USA Today (Mar 2, 2017)
As I mentioned in covering Lyft’s rapid expansion into new cities in the first two months of the year, taking advantage of Uber’s current struggles is smart, but it’s going to be costly. This news that Lyft is raising more money is validation of that view, but may also be a sign that it work even harder to take advantage of this window of opportunity. That’s smart – Uber is especially vulnerable with both drivers and riders at the moment, and the differentiation between the two is so limited that as long as Lyft has the capacity it could take really meaningful share.
via USA Today
A few weeks back, I wrote about Lyft expanding into 40 new cities as part of a 100-city push for 2017. Here’s the second part of that push, with another 54 cities launching today. Given what’s been happening with Uber over the past week or so, the timing of this massive expansion couldn’t be better from Lyft’s perspective – it’s now primed to benefit from the #deleteUber movement in many more places, given that it’s the only meaningful alternative to Uber across most of the US. Again, as I wrote in that earlier comment, this means Lyft is likely investing heavily in those new markets, which will push it further into the red at a time when it looked like it might be making progress towards profitability, but if this expansion helps it close the gap with Uber, then it’s almost certainly worth it.
via USA Today
That’s two major carmakers who now plan to deploy their first autonomous vehicles in ride sharing fleets, with Ford already committed to rolling out its first self-driving cars in a similar scenario. This makes lots of sense – two of the biggest limitations of early AVs are going to be cost and restricted geographic use, so deploying them in ride sharing fleets where they can be limited to a narrow area and driven almost constantly creates conditions in which they can still be both effective and cost effective. I’m still skeptical that we’ll see these cars roll out in more than one or two markets in the timeframes mentioned here, and even then I think it’s quite likely they’ll require human drivers for quite some time. But all this also reinforces the sense that it will be many years until we see universally autonomous vehicles (rather than cars able to be autonomous within narrow confines), and also somewhat undermines Lyft’s claims of getting to 50% autonomous in its fleet by 2021.
This is a big hire for Lyft, which so often plays second fiddle to Uber in so many ways. Being able to recruit a top notch mapping engineer like this away from Google is a great validation of Lyft as a company and as a recruiter specifically, and should make it easier to hire in other talent for mapping and autonomous vehicle technology at Lyft. It’s also notable that Vincent would be willing to leave Google, which obviously has far bigger and deeper efforts underway around mapping and autonomous driving than Lyft does.