Nobody likes a bully. Nowhere in the world is this truer than in the United States, a nation which was founded on the notion of standing up to bullies. We disdain an unfair fight and often find ourselves rooting for the underdog. We are taught since kindergarten to believe that we ought to treat others the way we wish to be treated — and that the one most hurt by bullying is the bully himself.
Tell that to Uber, which has made little effort to shroud its back-handed tactics to annihilate its ridesharing competitors, namely Lyft. Earlier this year I likened Uber to the Galactic Empire of Star Wars and Lyft to the underdog Rebel Alliance. Leveraging a war chest which now has grown to some $1.5 billion dollars, Uber has done whatever it can to put Lyft down — from gimmicky marketing schemes and attack ads, to even lowering rates.
But all of that seems paltry in comparison to Uber’s latest anti-Lyft strategy, which has devolved into outright sabotage. According to the Verge, Uber is hiring teams of independent contractors equipped with burner phones and credit cards as part of a sophisticated effort to undermine Lyft and other competitors. The contractors, which Uber calls “brand ambassadors,” are paid to requests rides from Lyft and other competitors in an effort to recruit their drivers — all the while taking multiple precautions to avoid detection.
Well, they didn’t go undetected. According to CNN Money, Lyft claims that 177 Uber employees have ordered and cancelled about 5,560 rides since October 2013. One brand ambassador allegedly created as many as 14 different accounts in order to perform 680 cancellations. Lyft drivers also have complained about being propositioned to join Uber.
Lyft discovered this after cross-referencing the phone numbers used in the faux requests and finding links to Uber recruiters. Though Uber issued an apology earlier this year after documents surfaced showing a similar scam reported by Valleywag and TechCrunch, this time the company has stayed silent.
Sorry not sorry, as they say.
Uber is calling this effort Operation SLOG (Supplying Long-term Operations Growth), which already has resulted in thousands of canceled Lyft rides and made it more difficult for its largest competitor to establish a foothold in new markets. However, Uber claims Lyft’s accusations were “baseless and simply untrue,” arguing that Lyft has carried out similar call-and-cancel strategies.
“We never use marketing tactics that prevent a driver from making their living — and that includes never intentionally canceling rides,” Uber wrote in a blog post.
But Lyft is not the only Uber competitor to complain — GetTaxi, a ridesharing service available in such cities as New York, London, Moscow and Tel Aviv, told Business Insider that Uber employees had called and cancelled rides from the company during a two-week period in January and February of this year.
Uber’s business practices seem counter to everything that the sharing economy stands for: community, trust and magnanimity. But the company is banking on the idea that people are pragmatists. In other words, that people could care less if it is their personal driver or friend with a car (Uber and Lyft’s mantras, respectively), as long as they can get the quickest, easiest and cheapest ride possible.
So far, Uber seems to be correct. Though Lyft’s coverage capacity in many big markets, such as San Francisco, are on par with Uber’s, this is not the case in other important battleground markets. In Washington, D.C., for example, I have noticed that while I typically can find an Uber within two minutes, it can take as long as six minutes to secure a Lyft ride. For many consumers, that four minutes can be the difference between accepting or canceling a ride. Even those who would prefer to take a Lyft will opt for an Uber if they can’t find a Lyft quickly enough.
Even as Uber continues its Machiavellian march towards outright ridesharing monopoly, it is also adding some pretty cool services, such as partnering with United Airlines to integrate Uber services with the airline’s app. The company also seems content to go it alone in fighting policymakers and taxi regulators, who would like nothing more than to see Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and every other transportation network company (TNC) go the way of the dodo.
Uber may be a bully, but boy are they killing it. For now.
Image Credit: Flickr foxmental
Based in Washington, D.C., Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and policy. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower)