Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ride From Hell

Everyone has a story about that taxi ride or bus ride that you thought might be your last and then there is this ride from the hell pit that is Uber that takes it to a new level.


The Washington Post
February 21, 2016
By Peter Holley

Authorities said they are investigating whether Uber driver Jason Brian Dalton may have given a harrowing ride to a passenger shortly before embarking on a shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Mich. that killed six -- and that he may have continued picking up fares in the middle of his rampage.

Ultimately, investigators may decide that there was no reliable way to predict that Dalton would -- during a single shift on the job -- morph from his identity as a driver into his role as a mass murderer. Police say Dalton didn't have a criminal history, after all. An Uber spokesman, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about Saturday's incidents, told The Washington Post that Dalton had passed a background check required for drivers employed by the company.

But the incident comes just weeks after Uber settled two class-action lawsuits for $28.5 million that claimed the company exaggerated the safety of its background checks. Despite using phrases "safest ride on the road," and "industry-leading background checks," the suits claimed, the company did not check Uber drivers against the national sex-offender registry or employ fingerprint identification, misleading customers in the process.

"We learned of systemic failures in Uber’s background checks," San Francisco district attorney George Gascon said in reference to the recently settled suits, according to Forbes. "We have learned they have drivers who are convicted sex offenders, thieves, burglars, kidnappers and a convicted murder."

"This is only really scratching the surface," he added.

Saturday's shooting in Kalamazoo appeared to begin with a bizarre twist.

One man told a local TV station that an Uber driver who looked just like Dalton picked him up on Saturday, about 90 minutes before the shooting rampage began.

"We were driving through medians, driving through the lawn, speeding along and when we came to a stop, I jumped out the car and ran away," Matt Mellen told WWMT News. "He wouldn’t stop. He just kind of kept looking at me like -- 'don't you want to get to your friend’s house' and I'm like, 'I want to get there alive.'"

Mellen said he contacted police about the wild ride -- and Uber. Then he recognized the face after local media posted photos of the alleged shooter.

"I'm upset because I tried contacting Uber after I had talked to the police saying that we needed to get this guy off the road," Mellen told WWMT.

If convicted, Dalton would be the first Uber driver connected to a mass shooting.
Uber drivers without criminal histories have committed crimes before. In recent years, just to name a few, Uber drivers:

Have been charged with misdemeanor battery, despite having multiple drug-related felony convictions.
Have been involved in racially motivated choking incident and and anti-gay assault.
Have been arrested for drunken driving at the Super Bowl.
Have been charged with rape.

Until 26-year-old Patrick Karajah pleaded guilty in 2014 to felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury

Karajah would go on to strike a 25-year-old passenger in the head with a hammer, fracturing the man's skull, when the pair got into an argument about the route Karajah was driving. Steve Clark, a legal analyst and ex-prosecutor, told CNET that the incident raised questions about how well drivers were prepared to do their jobs.

"The question isn't only did he have a clean record, but how well was he trained," Clark said. "Just doing a background check and saying, 'You're on the way,' is not enough. You need some guidelines saying 'This is how you treat unruly passengers.'"

Uber has defended its screening process. In a detailed statement explaining those measures last July, the company noted that all drivers must undergo a screening process performed by Checkr, a "nationally accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners."
"People wanting to sign up as a driver-partner with Uber are required to provide detailed information, including their full name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, a copy of their driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance, and proof of a completed vehicle inspection.," the statement added. "With the potential driver-partner’s approval, Checkr then looks into his or her background.  They run a social security trace to identify addresses associated with the potential driver-partner’s name during the past seven years, and then searches for his or her name and addresses in a series of national, state and local databases for convictions in the last seven years."
But critics say seven years doesn't peer far enough into a potential driver's past. Drivers cited in the complaints had felony convictions as long ago as 1982, Forbes reported, for incidents as wide-ranging and kidnapping for ransom, assault with a firearm, robbery and committing lewd or lascivious acts against a child under 14 (You can read the entire list of crimes here). The suits also claimed that Uber runs drivers' named through an incomplete sex offender registry that is missing around 30,000 names in California.

"The background check process that Uber and Lyft are doing follows California law," Gascon said, according to Forbes. "The problem we have is the misleading information that is being provided by Uber."

The company claims that seven years "strikes the right balance" between protecting the public and offering "ex-offenders the chance to work and rehabilitate themselves."
At the same time, Uber's terms and conditions emphasize that passengers accept their own risk by riding in one of their vehicles.

"You understand, therefore, that by using the application and the service, you may be exposed to transportation that is potentially dangerous, offensive, harmful to minors, unsafe or otherwise objectionable," Uber's terms and conditions read, "and that you use the application and the service at your own risk."

Attorney Chris Dolan, who is representing a 6-year-old girl who was struck and killed by an Uber driver earlier this year, told CNET that the company's fine print absolves the company of injury, accident or a dangerous driver.

"It completely covers their a** and says, 'We're not responsible for anything that happens to you, period,'" Dolan said. "It says, 'You can be raped, you can be killed, you can be murdered, and it's not our responsibility.'"

Uber has been under fire without guns for months.  From the East to the West  Uber drivers are protesting and attempting to organize and even unionize as the company continues to grow.  And more start ups with the idea that from delivery to errand running is all part of the aspirational class desire to pay up for anything they are too lazy or too busy to do for themselves.

When I asked my local coffee/bake shop about these services they had nothing positive to say. They said few drivers are repeat "customers" and when they arrive they are often confused as to what they are to pick up, under whose name the order has been placed and the result often means that the staff has to double check the order, finish the order correctly and often loading the products to ensure quality and all without even a tip for their efforts. They said few even say thank you and are often rushed, lack English skills and are usually rude and male. Gee shocking, I know! 

And what is disturbing that all of these companies have garnered immense information on you and so have their errand boys. They have an idea of your schedule, if you live alone, the medications you take, a sense of your financial obligations as paying $5 for a cupcake is a red flag, when and where you are traveling and your address and financial data. Yes this is a billion dollar disaster in the making.

Delivery Start-Ups Face Road Bumps in Quest to Capture Untapped Market

DoorDash, one of a multitude of start-ups with a mobile app that lets people order and get food sent to their doorsteps, relies on contract drivers like Brian Navarro to make the deliveries. The problem is that workers like Mr. Navarro don’t always stick around.

Mr. Navarro began driving for DoorDash and another delivery start-up, Postmates, in Los Angeles about four months ago. Mr. Navarro, 40, who previously drove for the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, said he had seen plenty of contracts.

“Drivers do jump around,” Mr. Navarro said. “The general consensus is that drivers really only stick around for three to six months.”

That churn has become expensive for DoorDash. A large number of drivers left the start-up less than a year after they joined, according to two people who have seen the company’s driver data. DoorDash spends upward of $200 in recruitment and referral bonuses for some drivers, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details are confidential. Other delivery companies, like Postmates and Instacart, face similar retention challenges, these people said.
The issue is just one headache now troubling delivery start-ups, which have been among the hottest sectors of start-up activity in recent years. Based on a belief that the companies would succeed once they grew to enormous scale, investors poured more than $730 million into delivery firms like DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates from early 2014 through the first half of 2015, up more than 1,100 percent from the same period a year and a half ago, according to data from CB Insights, a venture capital analytics firm.

But entrepreneurs and investors are beginning to find that the economics of making a delivery service work are far from easy.

Good Eggs, an organic grocery delivery service, laid off more than 100 employees and shuttered its offices outside its San Francisco headquarters in August. Instacart, the grocery delivery service, recently laid off 12 recruiters, which the company said was “part of an overall plan to slow down hiring” after a growth spree last year. And DoorDash has been turned down by some venture capitalists as it has tried to raise new financing, according to three people familiar with the company’s plans.

The problems are rooted in the high operating costs of the start-ups, which typically act as middlemen between consumers and restaurants or grocery stores. The companies not only have to pay for large fleets of drivers, they also have big groups of employees who receive customer orders from the apps and who then manually make calls to the restaurants to order food. At the same time, to attract customers, many of the start-ups offer introductory prices and discounts, often making delivery free for first-time users.

As DoorDash’s experience with drivers shows, the start-ups’ costs don’t necessarily decline over time. For some drivers, who are paid a fee per delivery, it can be difficult to make enough deliveries in an hour to make it financially worthwhile for them. And when drivers move on, the companies must spend again to recruit replacements.
“Ensuring drivers have the best possible experience on the DoorDash platform is one of our top priorities,” Eitan Bencuya, a DoorDash spokesman, said in a statement. He said the company has proprietary technology that helps drivers increase the amount of deliveries they can make in a single trip, increasing their commissions per hour.

Mr. Bencuya declined to comment on DoorDash’s fund-raising efforts. The Wall Street Journal earlier reported on the start-up’s funding hurdles.

For consumers, the delivery services may not seem cheap, either. Customers pay a delivery fee and a service charge on top of the cost of the food, as well as an optional tip to the driver. That has prompted concern that the services will not appeal to less affluent users in cities like New York, Denver, Atlanta and San Francisco, where DoorDash and others operate.

“Private companies doing last-mile delivery rely on charging high consumer fees, which make the services untenably expensive for the average consumer,” Dean Prissman, an Internet analyst for Morgan Stanley, wrote in a research note to clients in October.

Some investors said the start-ups have the potential to capture a relatively untapped multibillion-dollar market, one that is also being eyed by tech behemoths like Google, Amazon and Uber. The companies see opportunity in bringing delivery to millions of retailers and restaurants that do not now offer it, all for a slice of the fees.

Alfred Lin, a partner at the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, which has invested in DoorDash and Instacart, said the start-ups are also amassing a very valuable asset: consumers’ purchasing data. “The advent of the smartphone gives a company the ability to track all the information about your purchasing habits, and where you are,” he said. “It’s pretty dramatic what a company can do to utilize that information.”

Mr. Lin compared DoorDash’s trajectory to those of Netflix, Amazon and Zappos, which all required huge early spending toward a bet on future growth. He added that DoorDash is seeing a lot of growth now.

Bastian Lehmann, chief executive of Postmates, said that delivery businesses face high upfront costs but that his company’s long-term approach will ultimately drive down prices for customers. Postmates has raised more than $100 million from investors including Spark Capital and Tiger Global Management.

“It’s still kind of a premium service,” Mr. Lehmann said in an interview. “It’s not unlike the early days of Uber, when they only had black cars.”

To bring prices down, Postmates and DoorDash have assembled teams to forge deals with restaurants that they provide delivery for in their apps. The start-ups negotiate a fee that a restaurant pays per delivery — in the range of 20 percent — and the savings are passed on to the consumer, who pays a $5 delivery fee. Early retail partners include Chipotle, Starbucks and 7-Eleven, among others.

Mr. Lehmann said he imagines a future in which Postmates cuts deals with 60 to 70 percent of the restaurants in its app. As Postmates grows more popular, drivers will be able to make more deliveries to more people in shorter amounts of time, eventually earning them — and the company — more money.

“We can and will be profitable as a company in 2017,” he said.

Mr. Lehmann added that its drivers do jump to adjacent services from time to time but frequently return to working for Postmates.

DoorDash is trying to keep a lid on costs another way: By paying its drivers less per delivery. According to an email from the company to drivers that was reviewed by The New York Times, DoorDash said that starting on Monday, it would change the pay per delivery in Los Angeles to $5, down from $6, excluding tips.

“We know this is an important change, so we want to be transparent about why we are making this adjustment,” DoorDash said in the email. The company said drivers would make up what they lose in fee cuts through an increased order volume.

Mr. Navarro, the driver in Los Angeles, said he could make only about two deliveries an hour, though that has increased at peak mealtimes. While he is unhappy with the fee change, he said he plans to keep working for DoorDash and Postmates for now because it beats the alternative.

“I’d rather do this than be driving for Lyft or Uber,” he said.

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