There have been plenty of “dirty tricks” stories about competing employees for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps trying to poach drivers from the others. But I was not ready for the efforts of a driver to poach me as a rider a few weeks back. I had a credit with Uber so I was happy to take the free ride home. As I got in the car the conversation immediately veered into the slightly bizarre.
Do you use ride-sharing apps?
“Yes” was the obvious answer. After all, that’s why this guy was now driving me to my apartment. But as the conversation continued his angle became clear. He was pretty much pissed at Uber and looking to convert me to Juno, the latest player in a market that seems keen to burn investor cash with impunity. We spent the next 15 minutes talking about the different companies and his preferences among them. In the end it was no surprise why Juno is his favorite: He gets paid more. They pay drivers for the empty car portion of the ride to collect a passenger and offer a greater share of revenue to the drivers as well. He also managed to send me an invite to the program during our conversation. This was not just a theoretical conversation; he wanted more passengers on Juno, not Uber.
Juno’s messaging to customers also focuses on the higher pay rates to drivers. The website focuses on that angle and the ride receipt email includes mention of such.
The challenge, of course, is in meeting customer demand. With a massive car service infrastructure already in place New York City is a relatively easy market to get established in. Even with that advantage the wait for a ride this morning was a few minutes longer than is typical with Uber or Lyft. Not a huge deal and we still have plenty of time to grab breakfast before boarding the flight, but at peak times I could see that as more challenging. And there’s also the challenge of only operating in NYC right now. When my flight lands this afternoon I’ll need a different option for my next ride.
To me it is all the same car with the same driver and mostly the same ride pricing structure. In that context I don’t really care which vendor processes the payment. There are plenty of stories lately about why to hate on Uber but for me it is mostly about trying to avoid the inevitable monopoly pricing that is destined to arrive if one company can fully dominate the market. And if it happens to mean more money for the drivers I’m okay with that. too. Getting 30% off rides for the first two weeks doesn’t hurt, either.
But the fact that drivers are actively trying to convert riders to other platforms – this is not the first time I’ve had such, though it was the most aggressive – has me curious. Yes, Uber has much greater market penetration around the world and it is doing great things with different types of transportation in different markets. And it has a massive war chest with which it can likely ride out most challengers. But it is also pissing a lot of people off lately and is not so unique that it can really keep the competition at bay forever. So long as investor capital continues to flow in to the space there will be plenty of opportunities for riders. And maybe even some good news for drivers, too.
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