Uber attorneys challenge Lyft’s Bay Area bikeshare monopoly

Uber is asking Bay Area transit officials a question key to the region’s transportation future: Hold on, why does Lyft have a monopoly on bikeshare …
By on January 22, 2019 1:00 am

Uber is asking Bay Area transit officials a question key to the region’s transportation future:

Hold on, why does Lyft have a monopoly on bikeshare again?

In a detailed, seven-page missive to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission obtained by the San Francisco Examiner, an attorney for Uber-owned bikeshare company JUMP challenged the exclusivity contract between Bay Area cities and Ford GoBike.

“I write to explain our analysis that Motivate does not have contractual exclusivity over e-bike or dockless bike sharing programs,” wrote attorney Mark Linderman last December.

Ford GoBike is operated by Motivate, which has a ten-year exclusive contract with Bay Area cities to run docked bikeshare operations, including in San Francisco. Motivate, which operates roughly 3,700 shareable bikes Bay Area-wide, is owned by Lyft

JUMP operates a comparatively small 500 dockless bicycles in San Francisco, but it’s no secret they want to expand: They’ve previously applied for permits to operate on a larger scale in The City, but came head-to-head against the exclusivity deal San Francisco signed with Motivate.

Reading the tea-leaves, San Francisco officials speculated Jump’s letter may be some sort of pre-emptive action before an expansion. Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who authored San Francisco’s dockless bikeshare regulatory structure, said it wouldn’t surprise him.

“Judging from Uber’s behavior in the past, one might assume they’re going to dump a bunch of stationless, dockless bikes all over the world in a bid to compete and wipe out Motivate,” Peskin said.

“I would not encourage Uber to go that route in San Francisco,” he said, adding that regulations clearly require permission from SFMTA to do so. “They’ve got to ask for permission rather than forgiveness.”

The current bikeshare landscape is a little messy: Motivate objected when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency moved to give permits to JUMP in late 2017, and entered into arbitration that led to JUMP being awarded only a limited contract to launch a small pilot program here.

Meanwhile, Ford GoBike may soon be rebranded, as Ford is pulling its branding and backing, according to news site Axios. Motivate, which runs the Ford GoBike program in the Bay Area, was purchased by Lyft in July last year. JUMP, a dockless bikeshare company, was also bought by Uber in the spring last year.

So although on the surface this is a battle of bikeshare companies — JUMP versus Motivate — this is also a battle of the bikeshare companies’ owners — Uber and Lyft, respectively.

The MTC helps administer the Motivate bikeshare program and brokered agreements for it with various Bay Area cities.

The argument from Jump’s attorney to MTC is a simple one: Ford GoBike has an exclusive agreement to run “docked”-style bikes, which are parked in stations, not “dockless” bikes, which are parked anywhere and unlocked by smartphones, which is how JUMP’s bikes operate.

He also argued that the agreement doesn’t pertain to electronic motor-assisted bikes, like JUMPs.

“Any exclusivity granted to Motivate was simply in the name of operating a single dock-based system, not in granting Motivate monopoly rights it could use to prevent any bikeshare competitor from operating in the Bay Area,” Linderman wrote.

Jump and Motivate declined comment for this story. MTC did not comment by press time.

Peskin said that while he does not know all the particulars of Motivate’s contract, he believes there “is indeed legal uncertainty” over whether or not Motivate’s exclusivity contract bars dockless bike programs from expanding.

“I think they’ve got an argument,” Peskin said. “Whether or not it’s an argument that withstands legal challenge, I have no earthly idea.”

Jason Henderson, a San Francisco State University professor who studies urban mobility, likened the contract quarrels to the bygone days when private companies like the Market Street Railway Company vied for control over The City’s mass transit system.

“This is the franchise squabble you’re going to have,” Henderson said. “Before Muni, one company would go bankrupt and one company would buy another.”

Henderson said the frequent boom, bust, and acquisition of various tech mobility companies shows a need for a publicly-run bikeshare program linking suburban areas and public transit stations. Such systems exist in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, he added.

“It’s not that utopian,” Henderson said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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Here Lies the CEO: Israel’s Amenity Analytics Uses AI to Uncover Hidden Truths

Amenity raised its first capital in August 2017 when it raised $7.6 million from a group led by Israel’s State of Mind Ventures and Intel Capital, the …

Investment houses and hedge funds employ armies of analysts to sift through tweets, media reports, quarterly earning statements and transcripts of investor conference calls. If they succeed, some seemingly obscure nugget of information could give them an edge over other investors.

The problem is the tedious and time-consuming work. Human analysts are prone to making mistakes and overlooking important details, if only due to the sheer quantity of material to digest and analyze.

Israeli-U.S. startup Amenity Analytics has a solution for speeding it all up and getting better results by employing artificial intelligence. Founded three years ago, Amenity has developed a dedicated set of data mining tools for financial documents.

“Teams of analysts follow scores of companies and read all the material they produce, and that way they can look for clues and new trends,” said Roy Penn, Amenity’s vice president for engineering.

“For example, Nvidia spoke over the course of several quarters about the gaming market and then suddenly stopped. The analysts might not notice that the company had stopped talking about it, but our system could, by analyzing previous quarters and generating insights about something suspicious.”

Penn said Amenity can even measure the reliability of CEOs, for example by whether they answer questions directly in conference calls or try to avoid them.

“We have identified approximately 50 different ways a CEO can avoid answering a question. One of our customers calls it the ‘bullshit detector,’” Penn said with a smile.

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“For instance, if a fairly honest executive, who only avoids answers 10% of the time, is suddenly lying four times as much, I would want to look at the questions that he didn’t answer. That’s critical.”

The company was formed after the two future founders were introduced to each other — CEO Nathaniel Storch, an American whose background is in finance and markets, and Prof. Ronen Feldman, an Israeli expert on data mining who is now Amenity’s chief scientist. They were joined by Feldman’s wife, Hedva, who is responsible for Amenity’s strategic relationships.

Amenity raised its first capital in August 2017 when it raised $7.6 million from a group led by Israel’s State of Mind Ventures and Intel Capital, the investment arm of the giant U.S. semiconductor maker.

Today it employs 60 people, two-thirds of them in Israel. The company doesn’t reveal its revenue figures and says that all profits are plowed back into the business to help it grow.

“Intel decided to invest in us because of Pokemon,” said Chief Product Officer Mati Cohen. “They asked us to do a project on augmented reality and how this trend was talked about in the news. Our system found that it was Nintendo that started the conversation in some article about augmented reality about a year and a half before they launched the mobile game Pokemon Go.”

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Cohen stressed that artificial intelligence couldn’t predict when a game like Pokemon Go was due to be launched but it showed Intel what Amenity’s technology could learn text-rich material.

The company itself is sometimes called the “8200 of hedge funds,” in other words providing the same kind of high-tech intelligence the Israel Defense Force’s storied unit does.

Its customers include the Nasdaq and the credit rating agency Moody’s. “These are companies that operate like countries. They have intelligence units and big data staffs, but even they sometimes reach a dead end. That’s where we enter the picture,” said Penn.

Amenity’s system is based on natural language processing, which is concerned with the interactions between computers and human languages, including how to analyze large amounts of natural language data.

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NLP engines analyze each sentence as part of a paragraph and each paragraph as part of a document, to learn the full context. At the same time, each sentence is broken into its components and analyzed syntactically and grammatically.

“In a sentence like ‘Toyota declares a recall of its most successful and best-selling care,’ most NLP engines will analyze it positively,” said Cohen. “It includes the words ‘successful’ and ‘best-selling.’ It’s a complicated sentence, but we would be able to understand that it’s a negative event for investors because it’s talking about a recall.”

Can AI understand sarcasm and metaphors? Penn said it can identify metaphors and imagery and even catch the tone of speech based on the length of an answer to a question. “Sarcasm is more difficult for it to identify, but you need to remember that we’re talking about the American financial sector — we don’t encounter almost any cynicism,” Penn said.

There are other ways a close reading of events can be put to work to the advantage of the user. For instance, if a big company fires its CEO, that would normally be taken as a negative for investors, a sign the company is failing and needs new leadership. But if the user is a financial services company, it could be good news, if it turns out the ex-CEO received a $40 million golden parachute, for example, and will need someone to manage his or her money.

The company’s next big challenge is to develop systems that can be used by smaller hedge funds and so-called family offices that manage the assets of wealthy individuals. It’s also looking at the insurance and automotive industries.