Uber has had a relentless year of scandals, spurring the logical conclusion that its arch-rival Lyft is now in a position to capitalize. John Zimmer, Lyft’s president, spoke at length on Tuesday with Time about how his company’s attempting to do just that—and it’s ridiculous.
At a moment when Uber’s reeling from allegations of rampant sexism, a perception of arrogant leadership, and seemingly underhanded tactics to pushback on regulators, it’s easy to suggest to consumers to simply switch apps. It’s just a click of the button! Zimmer seems to think there’s more to it.
“We’re woke. Our community is woke, and the U.S. population is woke,” Lyft President John Zimmer told Time. “There’s an awakening … Our vote matters, our choice matters, the seat we take matters.”
Except the seat you take in an a Lyft isn’t much different from that of an Uber, even if Zimmer thinks his company is “a better boyfriend.”
Take what happened last year in Austin. Lyft, the purported better partner in a relationship for you than its rival, worked feverishly to spike a proposed city regulation for ride-hailing services. But Lyft didn’t participate in the $8 million temper tantrum alone; it worked with Uber. As we reported at the time:
At issue here is background checks for these ride-hailing drivers. If Austinites vote to pass Proposition 1, Uber and Lyft drivers will not be required to pass a fingerprint-based criminal background check, in addition to the standard background checks they must already pass. The fingerprinting is meant to curb some of the high-profile sexual assaults and other crimes perpetrated by drivers against passengers, as has been reported in Austin and other cities.
If Proposition 1 fails, drivers will have to undergo fingerprint background checks as well. Both Uber and Lyft have instructed their drivers that they will exit the Austin market on Monday morning if the fingerprint checks are implemented, per Austin Business Journals.
How’d that end up? Both Uber and Lyft left town. Such a nice boyfriend to Austin.
There’s also the fight in Seattle over whether ride-hailing drivers should be allowed to unionize. Uber, for the most part, has received the majority of criticism from union supporters, because the company has encouraged drivers to listen to anti-union podcasts. It’s also threatened to leave the city if drivers organize.
Interestingly, Lyft has...also supported the effort to kill Seattle’s ordinance that allowed for drivers to form a union. Nice.
“Every driver that would be covered by a union agreement should have the right to vote on it,” a Lyft spokesman told the Wall Street Journal back in November. “By proposing rules that would disenfranchise nearly 50% of all drivers, the City of Seattle has embarked on a fundamentally unfair, undemocratic process.”
Sure, Lyft has some less unseemly aspects about it. At a time when civil rights are under threat by the current administration, pledging to donate $1 million to the ACLU made for a strong statement by the start-up. But it did so against the backdrop of its main competitor reeling from a protest over what appeared to be an effort to break a strike in New York City. It was baldly opportunistic; $1 million is a drop in the bucket for a company worth several billion.
Back in January, Madeleine Davies at our sister site Jezebel summed up perfectly why the Uber/Lyft battle isn’t a simple either-or proposition:
It makes sense that, in spite of these companies’ ills, drivers would choose to drive for Uber or Lyft rather than a unionized taxi service. In New York City, a taxi medallion (which are required to operate yellow borough cabs) can cost anywhere from $250,000-1.3 million and—with taxis facing competition from ride share apps—it’s becoming more and more challenging for that major investment to prove its worth. (Typically, it’s important to note, taxi companies buy medallions, either leasing or giving them to the drivers.) Additionally, when taxi companies are a part of the National Taxi Workers Alliance, there are more safety restrictions on work hours, meaning that drivers are not allowed to say, sleep in their cars in order to work longer than a union would likely allow.
Drivers also often use multiple apps at the same time to broaden their fare base. In addition to Lyft and Uber, there’s also Juno, which is supposedly the most driver-friendly, and countless others. The flaws of these start-ups are not the drivers’ fault, of course—rather the blame lies with the corporations and their willingness to exploit its non-unionized workforce.
One of the biggest challenges we face as consumers in 2017 is making ethical choices on how we spend our money. It’s nearly impossible to find a company that hasn’t taken advantage of its workers or its customers (again, even unionized taxi companies have their problems), but there are certainly those that do better than others.
Still, the goodwill toward Lyft persists. This week, the company said this week it’s going to allow riders to round up their bill, and it will donate the extra change to a charity. How sweet.
But it’s not such a neat move for a company that, just six months ago, championed a driver for picking up a passenger while heading to the hospital to give birth. Because that’s the ideal boyfriend: one who wants you to keep working when you’re nine months pregnant, while also not providing maternity leave or basic healthcare. That’s your “woke” Lyft.