London sets out safety-first plan for regulating ride-sharing

After London sent ripple’s of shock through Silicon Valley last year, by denying Uber a renewal of its private hire vehicle license, the city’s transport regulator is doubling down on its scrutiny of the impact of app-based ride operators.

Today it’s published a policy statement setting out its intentions for adapting transport regulations to fit the fast-changing sector. And chief among its stated priorities is the safety and welfare of passengers and drivers.

“Safety will be a particular focus in new or novel areas where there is little existing evidence of what happens in practice,” TfL writes in its policy document. “Maintaining high standards of safety is the top priority and operators should clearly demonstrate this.

“That means setting out clear policies and action for the prevention and reporting of offences and for clear, named accountability at senior management level for safety, reporting and protection of personal data.”

TfL also flags up “broad support” in a recent consultation on private hire vehicle regulations for ensuring clear controls exist to “protect the safety of passengers and drivers”.

“To ensure that these services provide a safe, secure, accessible and sustainable contribution to London’s transport system, we will consider making use of provisions in the Transport Act 1985 and the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 to set regulations,” it writes. “We will consult on proposals to make changes to private hire legislation as appropriate. Views will be sought from stakeholders, other taxi and private hire regulators and the public in 2018.”

TfL says operators “should ensure that drivers are treated fairly, ensure drivers have appropriate and reasonable working hours including appropriate breaks throughout their shift and have clear policies and procedures to keep drivers safe”.

Gig economy working conditions is also an area of focus for the UK government, following growing concern about safety and welfare in the sector — and earlier this month it announced a package of labor market reforms aimed at responding to changes driven by the rise of app platforms which it billed as a major expansion of workers rights.

Concerns over public safety and a lack of corporate responsibility were the key reasons TfL listed for denying Uber’s license renewal in September.

And while Uber is appealing that decision, and is continuing to operate in London during the appeals process, TfL’s policy statement suggests that whatever the eventual outcome in court its intent is to tighten regulation on the sector, with the aim of enforcing a more responsible approach from all service providers.

Though it also notes that any regulation changes will be subject to a full public consultation.

Among recent regulatory tweaks made by TfL is a formal English language requirement for drivers — a move that Uber opposed. But it’s considering lots more changes for regulating the sector, including an advanced driving test; PHV operator fleet insurance; private hire vehicle signage; and even mechanisms to allow passengers to choose who they share vehicles with.

It’s also conducting an impact assessment of removing London’s Congestion Charge exemption for private hire vehicles — which would clearly have a knock-on impact on fares — and says, depending on the outcome of that work, the measure could be put up for a public consultation too.

Expanding accessibility by requiring a minimum percentage of private hire vehicles to be wheelchair accessible is another change it’s looking at.

The policy statement also advocates for operators to share “travel pattern data” with TfL — “so that travel patterns in London and the overall impact of the services can be understood”. Which perhaps offers a route for service providers that have lots of data to build better relations with the regulator — by providing insights that city planners can benefit from. (We’ve asked Uber if it’s currently sharing any data with TfL and will update this article with any response.)

“The private hire market is unrecognisable from when current legislation was introduced,” said Helen Chapman, interim director of licensing, regulation and charging for TfL, in a statement. “The growth of ride-sharing and other advances mean that regulation has to be fit for the next decade and not the last.

“Our vision sets out clearly how we will manage these new developments that improve convenience for customers, while ensuring safety remains our top priority. The document also makes clear that any new developments in the sector have to fit with the objectives of the mayor’s Transport Strategy.”

Among London mayor Sadiq Khan’s wider transport objectives are reducing Londoner’s dependence on private cars generally, including in order to promote healthier mobility options such as cycling and walking, and also to make more efficient use of the city’s street space. Which makes Uber’s emerging interest in bike-sharing look like a prudent diversification of its urban mobility offering.

Another stated priority for Khan is improving London’s air quality — and the strategy document specifically anticipates dedicating more areas in central London to being entirely “traffic free”. (Last year, for example, the mayor announced that the highly congested and polluted Oxford Street shopping district would transition to being traffic free — with a goal to complete this by the end of 2018.)

Asked whether the transport strategy requires a reduction in the overall number of private hire vehicles on London’s roads to deliver its objectives, a TfL spokesman would not provide a direct answer to our question — saying only that the aim is to “make sure that whatever developments happen in the industry they complement the goals in the mayor’s transport strategy”.

But he also noted those goals do include a principle to “support mode shift away from car travel”.

He reiterated, too, that the regulator continues to support the idea of having a cap on the total number of private hire licenses — but said this would require primary legislation, adding that TfL continues to lobby government on that front. “To date they haven’t been minded to do so but that’s still our position,” he added.

For now there’s no firm timeline for TfL reworking London’s private hire vehicle regulatory framework. The spokesman said only that it will be giving more details on specific timelines for consultations cited in the documents “in the coming months”.

Asked whether Uber’s behavior as a company has fed into formulating the policy document, the spokesman said no one ride-sharing company is driving its thinking. “This is us at TfL saying what we think for the industry as a whole is required,” he told TechCrunch. “We want the regulation to be fit for the next decade, not the last decade.

“This is talking about the industry as a whole. We’ve seen it change a lot in the last few years — we’re expecting it to change a lot again in the next few years, so it’s making sure that we’re setting out our store.”

At the time of writing Uber had not responded to a request for its thoughts on TfL’s policy statement.

GM expands Maven car sharing to Toronto

GM has launched its first major international city for its Maven car sharing product. The service is going live in Toronto, Canada’s largest city by population, with rates beginning at $9 per hour which include gas and insurance coverage. The launch follows a prior pilot in the Waterloo region nearby, but Toronto is the first launch at scale Maven has undertaken outside of the U.S.  since launching two years ago.

The car sharing service began as a sort of internal startup at GM, spinning up with leadership from a number of other shared-use consumer vehicle platforms, including Zipcar. The model is similar, too, offering round trip, on-demand use of cars with convenient pick-up locations dotting parking spots among popular city neighbourhoods.

Toronto made good sense for Maven’s next big expansion for a number of reasons, according to Maven and GM Urban Mobility VP Julia Steyn. She explained in an interview that Toronto has a good mix of the factors that contribute to making sure services like car sharing are in demand.

“We’re among a lot of like-minded companies here, there’s a huge tech boom in the city,” Steyn said. “And frankly, for better or for worse, Toronto’s issues with congestion and people not wanting to own vehicles is not unique to many other large cities. We always wanted to have a large-scale deployment and Toronto will afford us that.”

Maven’s debut in Toronto is staring with its Maven City consumer-facing vehicle sharing service, which as mentioned is similar to Zipcar and other equivalent services. Users don’t need to pay any kind of membership fee, and there will be 40 vehicles to choose from in the fleet at first, including a range of Chevrolet, GM and Cadillac cars. Every car also includes a full suite of technology features, including OnStar, Wi-Fi, CarPlay and Android Auto.

“It’s been clear for a long time that in urban cities, people don’t want to be tied to an expensive asset that sits idle,” Steyn explained, regarding the appeal of the platform especially in urban settings, and with younger audiences. “We have not really set ourselves a goal of going after millennials, but it’s just natural that people who are very comfortable with technology and very comfortable with interacting with mobile devices come to us. ”

GM has now turned Maven into a mobility brand with a range of different service offerings, including Maven Gig, which aims to provide on-demand vehicles specifically for use by gig economy workers, including Uber and Lyft drivers, and those working for on-demand service delivery platforms. Maven City is the only product offering coming to Toronto at launch, though others may follow depending on how this launch goes.

Cars on the Maven platform will be available to book using the app and pick up from spots in Bloor West Village, Liberty Village, King West, the Entertainment district, City Place, Yonge and Eglinton for the Midtown crowd, Leslieville, at Ryerson University, on the Danforth, in the Financial District and at the Eaton Centre, so Toronto residents from various parts of the city should have a chance to try it out.

“We have been growing 10 times month over month, so we now have 250 million Maven miles [driven],” Steyn said. “I think the goal is very simple, and it is to remove barriers from sharing in the broader sense.”

Uber to require a 6-hour break for every 12 hours of driving in the U.S.

Uber has added a feature that will force a six-hour offline break whenever a driver on its platform reaches 12 hours of driving time. The feature is similar to one that Uber has in place in a few markets already around the U.S., which differs depending on local regulations, but this will apply across the U.S., and fully block use of the driver app for accepting trips during the six-hour period when it becomes active.

Uber’s decision to roll this out was made as a response to the problem of drowsy driving and driver fatigue, both of which are issues that continue to affect people on the road, even if driving while using mobile devices and intoxicated driving get more press and scrutiny.

The Uber feature implementation will trigger when a driver has driven 12 hours without taking a continual, six-hour break at any point between. Drivers will have full visibility into how much driving they’ve done according to Uber, which measures based on a number of factors, and will count things like when you’re stopped at a stoplight (your brain is still engaged in the driving activity, even if you’re temporarily stopped), but won’t count time spent waiting in an airport parking lot to be called for a pickup, for instance, since many drivers use these as napping and rest opportunities.

Uber’s Head of Safety Product Sachin Kansal explained that the company relied on its ample experience with drivers and working with road safety organizations in determining what does and doesn’t count towards a user’s total driving time.

“There’s definitely a lot of third-party expertise that has gone into our thinking,” Kansal said in an interview. “But it’s also that we know how our drivers drive, we know road conditions, so we have baked all that into it as well.”


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This limit likely won’t impact the majority of drivers on its platform, the company notes, because around 60 percent of its drivers don’t even use Uber over 10 hours per week, but Kansal tells me that a relatively small number do tip the scales as heavy users. The company wants to do its part to address this safety issue, however, Kansal tells me, and to do so proactively, even where it’s not specifically required by local bylaws.

Uber has studied the feature where implemented in other markets (including Australia, where it launched previously) and built this U.S.-facing version with a lot of feedback in mind. That’s why the app will provide notifications when you’re nearing that 12 hour limit, effectively counting down so that it’s fully transparent and not surprising to a driver when they max out. When the six-hour break is over, the app will once again unlock itself for bookings. Also, where different rules are required by local law, those will apply instead of this new cross-U.S. limit.

Rival Lyft has a driver limit in place, too, which mandates a six-hour break for every 14 hours spent in driver mode, but it’s not as granular as Uber’s. Uber says it also plans to evaluate continued international rollout on an ongoing basis, and to expect this change to be introduced gradually across the driver app in the U.S. one the next few weeks.

Uber CEO hopes to have self-driving cars in service in 18 months

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was speaking to Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait today at the new outlet’s event #TheYearAhead event, and he shared some more information about Uber’s plans around autonomy, and autonomous ride-hailing service rollout.

“True autonomy for every single use case, is some ways away,” Khosrowshahi began, acknowledging that the problem is a massive one to solve. But, he suggested that the first Uber autonomous vehicles to be deployed commercially would be on streets relatively soon.

“We will have autonomous cars on the road, I believe within the next 18 months,” he said. “And not as a test case, as a real [use] case out there.”

Uber has put its autonomous vehicles on roads in a testing capacity in a number of different pilot projects, including most recently in Arizona. Khosrowshahi described how this will lead to a “feathering in” of autonomous vehicles in their ride-hailing mix, with the aim of eventually giving over a greater portion of rides to AVs.

The Uber CEO described how in, for example, Phoenix, there will be 95% of cases where the company may not have everything mapped perfectly, or the weather might not be perfect, or there could be other factors that will mean Uber will opt to send a driver. “But in 5 percent of cases, we’ll send an autonomous car,” Khosrowshahi said, when everything’s just right, and still the user will be able to choose whether they get an AV or a regular car.

That initial 5 percent is going to grow to 10, to 15 and 20 as Uber’s algorithms learn more about what it takes to drive in a real-world situation, he said, and then “in five years, we will have the perfect driver in Phoenix.”

Khosrowshahi added that Uber will then have to retrain its computer driver in every city, and that he then expects within 10 to 15 years to be able to serve most cities competently with autonomous tech. Asked whether child born today would even have to learn how to drive, Khosrowshahi confidently said he didn’t believe they would.

Turo car sharing marketplace launches in Germany

Peer-to-peer car sharing platform Turo is expanding to Germany officially starting today, after acquiring Daimler’s Croove in-house product forpvoding essentially the same service last September. Turo also received a significant strategic investment from Daimler at the same time as it acquired the automaker’s cars sharing experiment, and it now operates peer-to-peer rental services in the US, Canada, and the UK in addition to Germany.

Turo claims over 200,000 vehicles listed on its service across its combined active markets, and over 5 million total users registered on the platform. It’s also temporarily foregoing its commission on rentals during an introductory promotion period through July 2018 to celebrate bringing the service to Germany, something it hopes to help it lead the market in the country by the end of the year.

In Germany, Turo is teaming with Allianz to insure vehicles on its platform against costs related to accidents and damages, on both the owner and the renter side. The company touts its ability to provide specific makes and models of cars at lower costs vs. traditional rentals as key advantages to how it operates for consumers.

On the car owner side, Turo says its platform provides people with a way to defray the cost of buying and operating a vehicle. In some cases, Turo has shown that owners can completely cover the cost of their lease agreements by making their vehicle available on the platform for as few as nine days per month.

As automakers look to alternatives to individual ownerships, or to incentive people to keep buying, something like Turo makes a lot of sense to back and promote. Mobility service models in the future will combine multiple approaches, including things like car sharing, and Turo’s platform and offerings like it could figure prominently in how the industry evolves over time.

Uber’s big SoftBank deal has officially closed

SoftBank’s $1.2 billion primary direct investment deal has officially closed, according to Uber itself, which confirmed the deal closure and provided the following statement to TechCrunch via a spokesperson:

We’re proud to have SoftBank, Dragoneer and the entire consortium in the Uber family. This is a great outcome for our shareholders, employees and customers, strengthening Uber’s governance as we double down on our technology investments and continue to bring our services to more people in more places around the world.

The Uber-SoftBank deal will also see payments for secondary sales processed and distributed throughout Thursday, the company confirmed, and the governance changes that Uber agreed to as part of the deal structure are also officially coming into effect today.

That means that Uber founder Travis Kalanick is officially now a billionaire in reality as well as on paper, thanks to his sale of around 30 percent of his total stake in the ride-sharing company. It also means that SoftBank is now the largest shareholder in the company, and that it secures its new board positions, and helps set Uber up for its planned 2019 initial public offering.

SoftBank Investment Advisers CEO and SoftBank Group Director Rajeev Misra provided the following statement regarding the deal’s close to TechCrunch:

We are very pleased to have successfully closed the Uber investment and appreciate the support and professionalism of the Board, management team and shareholders who made this transaction possible.

Uber has a very bright future under its new leadership. It is now part of a wider SoftBank network ranging from Sprint to WeWork. I look forward to SoftBank helping Uber become an even bigger global success.

The SoftBank deal came together at the end of last year, when the group led by the Japanese company made a deal valuing Uber at around $48 billion, a discount to its $69 billion valuation from its previous round.

Featured Image: ANTHONY WALLACE/Getty Images

Toyota teams with Uber, Amazon, Pizza Hut, more on mobility services

Toyota has partnered with a number of companies to form the “e-Palette Alliance,” which is a group intended to help guide its transformation as a mobility services company, and determine how it makes use of its new e-Palette vehicle platform, which is a modular, driverless vehicle intended to suit a number of purposes at once.

The alliance at launch includes Uber, Didi, Mazda, Amazon and Pizza Hut, and works on Toyota’s Mobility Services Platform, which it revealed in 2016 and which works for offering up mobility-as-a-service, as well as for covering things like insurance and fleet leasing, as well as data analysis and gathering for usage and routing.

The initial group of companies will be working to help guid the direction of Toyota’s concept vehicle, the e-Palette, and of how it develops and supports the mobility services it offers to companies as a result. Toyota discussed this as a way to help build a ‘common platform’ that all businesses and companies can use as a “plug-and-play” open platform for building out their own mobility services, which they can then offer to consumers.

The vision from Toyota is a vast one, that would ultimately see its vehicles deployed as a fleet of flexible service vehicles than can switch from logistics, to delivery, to passenger travel as part of a large, autonomous electric network.

Toyota plans to initially launch the e-Palette and the early results of its partnership with the Alliance at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.