How did Uber beat Lyft and Sidecar

At a busy intersection under the freeway that meanders through San Francisco, the battle for the taxi of the future is raging. And, as is so often the case in the tech industry, the battle initially looks like a party: a couple of boys are dancing on the side of the road holding up colorful signs, a taco cook is giving away food, and a man with a pink, sticky mustache points to cars whose rear window lights up a blue "U" into a parking lot.

Luminous letters, pink beards: Anyone who knows the symbols knows that this is not about fun, but about a lot of money. Two companies are currently fighting for market power in the "ride sharing" industry that has quickly become a nightmare for American taxi drivers.

"U", that stands for Uber. The pink beard on the bumper, on the other hand, belongs to the competition called Lyft. Both organizations have in common that they come from San Francisco and use an app to arrange private chauffeurs, who are often cheaper than taxis thanks to their flexible prices. And that they don't just want taxis with their offers, they also want to displace each other.

"We steal Uber from the driver," admits the man with the pink mustache as he waves the next car in. Only those who can muster the largest possible fleet of freelance chauffeurs generate sales. And that's why Lyft has positioned itself right across from the Uber service center, where the competitor's drivers come and go. "$ 500 and a taco" is the reward on the colorful signs intended to attract paging.

Not that Uber would behave any differently: The company also pays defector bonuses and is currently driving poster trucks through the city. It says "Shave off your beard" and the promise of sales of up to $ 50 an hour. Lyft responded by posting "You are more than a number" - a reference to supposedly better working conditions.

Drivers fear for their income

What can be experienced in San Francisco is currently happening in many major American cities: Not only are Lyft, Uber and smaller competitors such as Sidecar or Gett expanding without worrying about local licensing regulations, the battle for drivers has reached such bizarre proportions, that in some cases, poaching attempts still take place during the evening rush hour in order to be able to satisfy the demand of the passengers.

Investors are currently placing bets on who will win in the end: Uber raised $ 300 million last summer, including from Google Ventures and Goldman Sachs. At the beginning of April, Lyft again announced a new investment round and now has companies like that for a total of $ 333 million Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Andreessen Horowitz on board. Currently, it is said, Uber is also working on a new round of financing for $ 500 million, which would make the company worth $ 12 billion on paper.

Because Uber is expanding more aggressively internationally than the competition and is considered a takeover candidate for its investor Google in the medium term, it is currently the favorite. But the market is still unsorted: Many countries heavily regulate passenger transport, the taxi industry is resisting in almost all major European cities, and there are increasing numbers of regional rideshare providers who are copying the US models before they can even enter the market.

Uber in particular continues to struggle with the bad reputation of its service and the accusation that it does not choose its drivers carefully enough: In Los Angeles, an Uber chauffeur kidnapped a drunk customer in a motel, and the prosecution in San Francisco filed charges this week against an Uber driver who allegedly hit a passenger.

And there is also an audible rumble in the driver community: many private drivers talk about doubts as to whether their income is really enough to make a living. The competitive pricing policy of the providers has reduced the drivers' sales, in addition to the 20 percent agency fee, up to a third of the income is also spent on gasoline and maintenance. And as a freelancer, you bear the main risk if you have an accident.

Uber boss Travis Kalanick didn't exactly improve the mood last week. In an interview he made it clear that he doesn't really care about the fate of the drivers. What will happen to them when driverless cars will soon be able to navigate passengers through the streets? "Well, this is how the world is developing," replied Kalanick succinctly, "and the world is not always fair".

© SZ from 06.06.2014 / sana / sks