According to East Hartford police, in January, Harris’ grandmother reported that between Dec. 14, and Jan. 24, someone spent about $1,500 on Uber using her credit card. She suspected her granddaughter, Harris, was responsible and believed she took a picture of her credit card to use for the ride-hailing service.
Inside, though, Harris was robbing the gas station. When he returned, Harris was behaving strangely and holding a pair of scissors.
“He’s acting a little fishy when he gets back in the car, telling me, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!'” Owens told KOAT. “He says, ‘I’m just using this pair of scissors to cut strings off my jacket.'”
As it turned out, Harris had used the scissors to hold up the station.
Owens dropped his passenger off and headed home. Police arrived an hour later, telling him and his wife to come out with their hands up. In a video of the encounter, police officers can be heard telling Owens, “The reason you’re being detained is because the person you took to the Valero robbed the Valero.”
Owens was soon released and Harris was arrested the next day. He pleaded guilty to armed robbery and was sentenced to drug rehab. According to the criminal complaint, Harris told police he gets into trouble because he was “a privileged child.”
Owens had his doubts: “At some point, accountability needs to come into play,” he said.
Ride-share drivers are increasingly being roped into becoming unwitting accomplices to robberies and other crimes: In 2017, a man in Wilsonville, Oregon, used an Uber as his getaway car while robbing a bank. The man saw Uber and Lyft stickers on the driver’s car and flagged it down. He explained he didn’t have either app but offered to pay cash for the ride, which the driver accepted, according to The Oregonian.
A year earlier, Luis Mallet was arrested after robbing a bank in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and fleeing the scene in an Uber.
In 2015, three suspected robbers got into an Uber in New York and started firing shots out of the car’s windows as it drove away. The driver contacted Uber headquarters, who tracked his car using GPS and helped police apprehend the suspects.
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The impact: The convenience is a huge selling point, but there could be unforeseen consequences.
- Critics are concerned that private companies could control access to transit.
- Ride-hailing companies could end up divvying up which services are available within their respective apps, creating parallel transportation systems.
- Regulations around data sharing and customer data privacy have yet to be set.
- It’s unclear if Uber or Lyft could access public transit data and how it would be protected — and how much of their proprietary data would be shared with transportation agencies.
- Pricing models could shift.
- Ride-hailing prices in one case increased after a discount was offered.
- It’s eventually possible that transit riders could be siphoned off by ride hailing — or that companies could charge to offset discounted miles, or to feature transit within their apps.
Between the lines:
- Neither Uber nor Lyft are profitable. Pivoting to become a multi-model platform could offer a sustainable business model.
- Public transit agencies could develop their own next-generation apps to compete, but doing so is expensive and requires software expertise.
What we’re watching: As partnerships between ride-hailing companies and public transit evolve, cities will need to create enforceable rules and regulations to make sure services remain accessible and affordable.
Raphael Gindrat is co-founder and CEO of Bestmile, which has developed a fleet-management platform.
Taskrabbit had raised $50 million in funding and was profitable when IKEA acquired the online marketplace for handymen-on-demand in 2017. While there has been a deluge of initial public offerings in 2019, there has been a drought in profitability from some big companies that are going public, namely household names like Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT) and even Fiverr (FVRR), a marketplace for freelance services.
Before the money-losing ride-hailing giants became household names, Taskrabbit was the pioneer of the gig economy — where workers forgo salaried jobs and instead work as freelancers or contractors.
In a new interview with Yahoo Finance, Taskrabbit founder Leah Busque Solivan said she has wondered about other exit strategies her own gig economy startup could have taken. After all, becoming an independent public company is considered the ultimate milestone for successful entrepreneurs.
“It’s interesting, I sort of have a mixed view on that. I think the way that I operated and built over the years…we always operated to profitability. So before we sold to IKEA, we were profitable. And that’s a very different way of operating a business than what we see happening with the IPO markets today,” she said.
“And so it’s just a choice. I think, as an entrepreneur, and as a CEO, sometimes you have to trade growth for profitability. And it just really depends, I think, on the market and your customers. And how well you think you can do in the long-term,” she told Yahoo Finance.
‘That idea seemed insane … and so did Taskrabbit’
In her interview with Yahoo Finance, Solivan noted that when she founded Taskrabbit in 2008, jumping into a stranger’s car was not the norm.
“That idea seemed insane at the time. And so did Taskrabbit,” she said. “So we were really one of the first to start driving this peer-to-peer economy and really build trust between strangers to get help and get things done.”
The value of the acquisition has never been disclosed, but it’s a successful exit by most measures (though some data from six months ago suggests consumers might be down on Taskrabbit). It was a seemingly natural fit, a build-it-yourself furniture company now allowing consumers the option to give DIY some support as needed.
Solivan, who served as the company’s first CEO, moved into the role of executive chairwoman and spearheaded the talks with IKEA, which went on for 9 months before resulting in a deal. Former COO Stacy Brown-Philpot had moved into the chief executive role, leading day-to-day operations, so Busque was able to act as negotiator in chief.
Now a general partner at VC firm Fuel Capital, Solivan has deeper insights into the investing process — but this time, on the other side of the table. Fuel recently raised $75 million for its third fund.
“The team really matters… Is this a team that can you know, forego profits in the short term? But do I believe that in the long term, they’re going to be able to pull it together? Because at some point, right, that has to happen. And so it really just depends on the space in the team. I come from an engineering background, very analytical, very focused on unit economics and profits. So I tend to sort of gear in that direction. And that’s how I operate in my business,” she said.
Solivan says her tech and engineering experience is “incredibly complementary” to Fuel founder Chris Howard. He comes from a marketing and advertising background, and raised the first two funds on his own.
“The two of us together can really help our companies grow and flourish. We’ve also taken a strong focus on branding, marketing and go-to-market at the earliest stages. That’s something that really helped us develop and grow and scale at Taskrabbit — just being able to tell our story and get it out there.”
Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm. She hosts Breakouts, a monthly interview series for Yahoo Finance featuring up-close and intimate conversations with today’s most innovative business leaders.
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Ride-hailing app Uber is considering expanding its services to Senegal’s capital.
But in a city full of taxis and drivers who don’t have smartphones, the San Francisco-based company will have to overcome a lot of challenges to be useful to Dakar residents and turn a profit.
The city, like most African capitals, has an abundance of taxis. In most parts of the city, any time day or night, it’s easy to find a ride. But the city is rapidly expanding, and Uber says it has seen an opportunity to move in.
“Any progressive, forward-thinking city that has a need for safe, reliable, efficient transportation is where we want to be,” Francesca Uriri, Uber’s head of communications in West Africa, told VOA. “We are part of a broader mobility movement in establishing smart cities of the future and will continue to explore what our options in West Africa.”
No fixed addresses
Among the challenges Uber will face in Dakar is a lack of fixed addresses. Taxi drivers know the city inside and out and tend to navigate based on landmarks. How the app could work in a city that rarely uses map applications is a big question for some residents.
“Like when you are coming to my house, I will not be able to tell you exactly where my house is located on the map. So, you will have to you know, I will have to tell you a building or somewhere, a school somewhere I can pick you from,” Sa Ngoné, a Dakar resident who has used Uber’s services while traveling in the United States, explained.
“It might work here, but it will require lots of investment because we don’t have the same organization as in the U.S.,” he said.
Unlike Ngoné, most Dakar residents haven’t heard specifically of Uber. But similar services, including Allo Taxi, a service you call and arrange rides with, already exist here.
However, some say the services that already exist here aren’t fully developed, and Uber coming in would be a welcome addition.
“I think if this company came in it would create competition and add something new to the landscape of transportation in Dakar. I think it could work really well,” M. Dieye, a Dakar resident, told VOA.
For most taxi rides in Dakar, riders and drivers must negotiate prices before getting in. Both parties think they would be happier if the price was fixed based on mileage and time.
“If they hire us as drivers, for example, that could help us out a lot,” Modou N’Diaye, a taxi driver in Dakar, told VOA.
Gora Séne, who has been driving a taxi since 1998, explained that often price negotiations lead to him getting paid less than he should, and sometimes arguments with riders end with him not being paid at all.
“[Uber] could work well here. If they hire drivers with experience here they could be successful — like if they hire us, that’s a possibility. But it depends on what they will offer,” he said.
But whether taxi drivers, most of whom don’t have smartphones, will be able to join Uber or compete with them, is yet to be seen.
Uber has expanded to 23 cities in Africa, including Abuja, Lagos and Accra in West Africa.