Automotive > Connected Mobility Blog

Uber & Lyft: Outside the Bubble

by Roger Lanctot | Feb 09, 2021

Lyft will report its latest quarterly results after the close of markets today. Uber will report Wednesday. Uber is expected to report a 12% decline in revenue, according to a report in the New York Times quoting analysts and reflecting an expansion into food delivery to compensate for lost rides for humans. Lyft could report a decline of as much as 44% year over year, again according to New York Times reporting.

It didn’t have to go this way. While both companies struggled to cope with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic eventually requiring masks for drivers and passengers along with between-ride disinfecting, neither company adopted a comprehensive policy requiring the deployment of in-vehicle partitions to protect drivers and passengers.

Ridership plunged last spring as offices, schools, restaurants, theaters, entertainment venues, and retail businesses closed temporarily or permanently – along with the suspension or reduction of most international travel. Still, human beings were restless around the world and in the U.S. and still needed to get from point A to point B and in some instances saw a reduction in public transit options.

Unfortunately, Uber and Lyft, uniquely, in the U.S. failed to instill confident in the safety and security of their platforms by deploying in-vehicle partitions. They were alone in this insistence on avoiding partitions. Uber worked with DriverBubble outside the U.S. – particularly in Europe – to provide in-vehicle partitions. Lyft made some partitions available to drivers in the U.S., but did not require them.

Regulators failed as well to jump in and require in-vehicle partitions for ride hailing operators. The net result will play out in Uber’s and Lyft’s dismal financial results – which arrive later today with corporate tap dancing from Lyft to be followed by Uber’s own financial fan dance, as both of these operators attempt to paper over embarrassing financial performances.

Even Uber’s rapid-fire acquisitions and dis-investments intended to cut losses and shore up revenues have succeeded only in replacing once-profitable people moving to much less profitable food delivery. Lyft lacks even this fig leaf to paper over its poor performance.

Now, both Uber and Lyft are attempting to push their drivers to the front of the vaccination line, as if this gambit will reverse their flagging fortunes. And still, with virus variants proliferating and fingers crossed as infections and fatalities decline, both Uber and Lyft refuse to commit to deploying in-vehicle partitions.

Nearly a year ago DriverBubble emerged working with ride hailing operators around the world including Bolt and Grab along with taxi and limousine operators to deploy its light, inexpensive, and easy to install partitions. DriverBubble even works with brokers like HyreCar to have its systems installed.

It’s true that in the U.S. consumer reaction to the virus has been mixed and, for some, an in-vehicle partition is intrusive or unnecessary. At the same time, also in the U.S., masks have become a politically volatile proposition – which created a challenge for both Uber and Lyft drivers who must enforce mask wearing by their passengers.

Uber and Lyft could have solved this problem from the very outset of the pandemic by adopting DriverBubble or even an in-house developed equivalent partition solution to instill passenger confidence and protect drivers. They failed and, as a result, both organizations have lost thousands of passengers and drivers – including drivers that have been sickened or have died from the coronavirus.

I don’t expect either Uber or Lyft senior executives to acknowledge their failure to meet the challenge of the pandemic effectively and responsibly. There is no reason to prioritize Uber or Lyft drivers for vaccination after the organizations failed to take all the steps they might have to protect their drivers in its absence.

Once again, Uber and Lyft have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to protect the public interest or the safety and security of drivers or passengers. It is for this reason that transit agencies should think twice before partnering with either company to fill in existing gaps in public transportation networks. 

Uber and Lyft were never committed to delivering a predictable or reliable quality of service. Transit agencies must not turn to these organizations to solve post-COVID transit challenges – at least until they get inside the bubble.

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