Uber’s path to win back London: data, fines and fees

(Reuters) – If history is a guide, Uber Technologies new Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi is likely to dangle data sharing and a promise to pay fines and fees when he sits down with London officials to negotiate the ride service’s future in one of its most important markets.

From the Philippines to Portland, Oregon, the strategy has worked time and time again for the San Francisco company.

London transportation officials last month deemed Uber [UBER.UL] unfit to operate because of lax corporate responsibility. The move threatens an Uber stronghold at a time when Khosrowshahi is trying to salvage the company’s reputation after a series of scandals.

Police have complained that Uber was not disclosing or taking too long to report serious crimes tied to its rides, and London mayor Sadiq Khan backed the decision to pull Uber’s license.

Khosrowshahi already offered a contrite public response, which is unusual for Uber, in an open-letter apology to Londoners “for the mistakes we’ve made.” He’s also armed with local support: more than 840,000 Londoners have signed an Uber petition urging city to reconsider its decision.

Khosrowshahi is scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Transport for London Commissioner Mike Brown.

A deal would be a big victory for the new Uber leader, and securing a surcharge or new data on drivers could be a win for Khan, Uber’s highest profile critic and chair of the regulator.

Uber has been willing to pay fines and institute fees in local disputes around the world. But when pressed, it has also shut down in several markets to protest measures that it says slow the service for customers or hinder driver recruitment. As recently as last week, Uber said it would pull out of Quebec rather than agree to 35 hours of training for drivers.

Uber declined to comment on London bargaining tactics. It has said it wants to work with the city “to make things right.”

There is no certainty of a deal, and neither side has portrayed the Tuesday meeting as a negotiations. But with the stake so high – 3.5 million customers won over by price and convenience have made it Uber’s biggest European market – a deal for both sides makes sense.

“The mayor just wants to get something to show constituents upset with Uber some action,” said Bruce Shaller, a former New York City transport official who has authored a book on ride-hailing apps. “Transport for London would look unreasonable to let Uber walk away.”


Uber is often described as a “big data” company that thrives because it can match customer needs to driver availability, predicting where cars will be needed and dynamically tailoring fares based on expected demand.

Though it has been loathe to share information for privacy and business reasons, awarding limited data access to cities has solved several standoffs.

When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to limit the number of Uber cars in the city to clear up traffic, the company released data that helped show congestion would persist and agreed to give the city ongoing data such as the location and time of pickups.

Uber also launched a personal and public campaign in New York against the mayor, similar to the London petition but with criticism aimed directly at de Blasio. De Blasio dropped the proposal.

Portland, Oregon let Uber back into the city in 2015 after a similar promise of trip data – and a fee of 50 cents per ride to pay for oversight. The information helps the city check compliance with requirements such as 24-hour, citywide service.

“We’ve been able to use data from the company and the resources from the rides’ fees to create a regulatory scheme that is robust,” said Brendan Finn, chief of staff to Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who played the role of swing vote and wasn’t otherwise an Uber backer.

Uber has paid fines to other regulators for access: a one-month suspension in the Philippines was lifted early, once Uber paid almost $ 10 million to the government and drivers in August. Last year, Uber agreed to a $ 7.6 million fine in California to avoid suspension over a delay in turning over data sought for an analysis on the neighborhoods the company served.

Still, Uber has drawn lines when the convenience and affordability that has helped its offering stand out is threatened. The company suspended operations in places such as Macau, Bulgaria, Denmark and Hungary that are all mandating terms the company has called financially unbearable for itself and its drivers.

And talks with Australia’s Northern Territory province have been bogged down over a proposed registration fee of around $ 500 for each driver and a small per-ride fee, which Uber said were not affordable.

In Quebec, the company has provided 20 hours of training for new drivers. When the province said it wanted 35, in line with training for taxi operators, Uber said it would pull out in mid-October.

“They are more than happy with regulation,” a former Uber public policy official speaking on the condition of anonymity said of the company. “But it has to enable the market for ride sharing, and it has to exist for a public policy reason.”

Reporting by Paresh Dave in San Francisco, Eric Auchard in Frankfurt, Julia Fioretti in Brussels, Costas Pitas and Kate Holton in London and Julie Astrid Thomsen and Teis Jensen in Copenhagen; editing by Peter Henderson and Edward Tobin

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Is UX Dead?

The usage of the term User Experience (UX) has has exploded in the tech, media and design industries in recent years. But what does UX really mean?

The truth is, it is incredibly difficult to define what UX is, or what a UX designer does. Because it’s so new, we haven’t yet arrived at a universal definition. If you Google “definition of UX” you’ll be hard pressed to find two credible sources with the same definition. Go ahead, try. I’ll wait.

What’s worse, when you combine the inconsistent definitions with the usual word vomit used to explain UX, it makes understanding the job nearly impossible. Most definitions I’ve come across make it sound like it’s rocket science. Take Wikipedia’s definition, for example:

User Experience is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product. User experience design encompasses traditional human-computer interaction (HCI) design, and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users.

As a UX designer myself, how am I supposed to explain that to my mom?

Most definitions are certainly a mouthful. Don’t get me wrong, you can still count on me to talk the talk, as well. But the irony is that UX designers are supposed to make things easy to use and understand, and yet, how we explain what we do is so complex.

Why haven’t we used our superpowers to design a definition that can be easily consumed and understood?

I’m sure most UX designers are too busy saving the world, one digital product at a time, to worry about describing their work. But it matters that we do. It really matters. With the lack of consistency and simplicity in how we define UX, we’ve stripped it of it’s meaning and, more importantly, reduced the job to a mere buzzword.

Because of the pervasive abstraction about what UX design is, the most common perception of UX is the design of the “face” or “skin” of an an app or website. Today, the things that UX designers create, the apps you use every day, have shaped our interpersonal relationships, dictated how we manage our finances and influenced how we consume news.

Is a visual artist qualified to control the essential elements of how we function as a society? Probably not.

A one-dimensional understanding of UX means there’s a greater chance of companies underestimating the resources that create the products that shape our value systems, our social norms, our brains.

Yet part of the reason UX is so difficult to define is that it has so many dimensions, which makes it challenging to encapsulate. Among other things, a UX designer requires at least some foundational knowledge of:

  • Business acumen to ensure that the interests and strategies of the business are being met;
  • Cognition and communication to logically organize information (visually and semantically) in a way that can be quickly understood or learned;
  • Behavioral sciences to take into consideration human motivations, attitudes and aspirations;
  • Computer science to understand the constraints and possibilities of the medium by which he or she creates;
  • Cultural intelligence to be sensitive of diversity and international exposure;
  • Ethics to prevent users from being exploited.

How then, do we create an all-encompassing description of a UX designer that isn’t ripe for misunderstandings and over-simplification? One that allows us to truly understand the capabilities of the person that carries so much weight.

The answer is we don’t. That person doesn’t exist. Here’s why.

Business has always been about providing a great experience to the customer–that’s the nature of creating value, and it’s nothing new. In fact, 86% of buyers say they are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. All successful businesses, not just the digital ones, have mastered that.

Since the advent of the term, UX has primarily been a reference for resources dedicated to a customer’s digital experience. The distinction for digital designers signaled a shift to behavioral factors (like emotion and memory) that influence our experience with a screen, rather than our traditional experiences in brick and mortar environments.

Today, however, the boundaries between physical and digital experiences are blurred, with nearly all businesses operating with some sort of digital component. The reality is, every business must have some degree of digital competency in order to remain relevant.

If there is no longer a distinction between users and customers, why should separate business functions exist to serve each of them?

For instance, would a UX designer for Marriott’s mobile app operate any differently than, say, the hotel concierge? Both require empathizing with the customer, anticipating their needs and adding value to their experience. The only difference is the medium in which that service is provided.

Granted, there’s still a need for strong design in successful digital experiences, but it might be time to drop the User in User Experience and focus on the customer holistically. When you think about which business functions have historically owned the customer experience, you’d be hard pressed to find a company that leaves that responsibility to a graphic designer. Rather, that responsibility falls on the entire organization, or more specifically, the company leadership.

That’s likely the reason why designers are becoming the next generation of CEOs.


The Senate Is About to Approve Commercial Sale of Self-Driving Cars (But Not Trucks)

You will soon be able to ride home from your local car dealership in a car that finds its way there unassisted while you nap or read. That reality came a whole lot closer this week, with bipartisan agreement in the Senate on legislation allowing self-driving cars to take the the roads. The law is expected to come up for vote in the near future, and pass.

The House passed similar legislation, also with bipartisan support, several weeks ago. That legislation allows car manufacturers to sell up to 25,000 autonomous vehicles the first year they offer them. That will go up to 100,000 cars a year if the self-driving cars prove as safe as human-driven ones. And that’s not all. The Trump administration also helped out recently by issuing voluntary safety guidelines for autonomous cars and at the same time requesting that states avoid writing laws or regulations governing self-driving cars and possibly hampering their introduction.

The senators who arrived at the self-driving deal note that autonomous cars appear to be safer than human-driven ones. “Ultimately, we expect adoption of self-driving vehicle technologies will save lives, improve mobility for people with disabilities, and create new jobs,” said Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) in a joint statement. They may be right: When a Tesla owner died while his car was in Autopilot mode last summer, company founder Elon Musk pointed out that it was the first known Autopilot fatality in 130 million miles of driving, whereas there’s a human fatality for every 89 million miles of traditional driving.

But if cars with no one at the wheel will soon become a common sight, the same won’t be true of semi trucks. The Teamsters successfully lobbied for the House version of the bill to limit self-driving vehicles to 10,000 pounds or less. That could be a problem for the U.S. trucking industry, which was short an estimated 48,000 drivers at the end of 2015, a shortage that’s expected to grow to 175,000 over the next seven years. That will create enormous pressure to replace hard-to-find long-haul truck drivers with no-muss, no-fuss AI.