Lyft’s complaints about Uber drivers reveal a fractured, multi-front war over rideshare

August 12

An ad for Uber targeting Lyft in San Francisco in 2013. (Steve Rhodes / Flickr)

Lyft is accusing Uber drivers of calling for thousands of rides in recent months, only to cancel them later. The tactic, which causes Lyft drivers to waste money on gas and lose precious time they could be using to transport legitimate fares, is being described as "aggressive and questionable." On the off-chance that the drivers don't cancel, CNN reports, they wind up trying to entice Lyft drivers to switch to Uber instead.

In a statement, Uber is denying the claims, telling Ars Technica about a recent recruitment program that gave Uber members a bonus for convincing rival drivers to try Uber.

"Even Lyft drivers have participated in a successful campaign recruiting thousands of other Lyft drivers to Uber, where drivers make a better living than on any other platform," Uber said.

The dispute underscores what should have been evident all along: That the fight for dominance among rideshare companies is intensely competitive, no matter how cuddly those pink Lyft mustaches may seem.

But the war among Uber, Lyft and other comparable startups has mostly been overshadowed by a larger fight with traditional taxi operators. And those groups are getting more organized. In the nation's capital, cab industry folks who "are usually at each others' throats" — as one taxi attorney told my colleague Luz Lazo this week — are banding together. Labor interests that support taxi operators are collaborating with cab company owners. Different cab companies are lobbying together. Where it once seemed that ridesharing companies were throwing the entire taxi industry into disarray, cabdrivers now appear to be regrouping.

That's what makes the spat between Lyft and Uber — not to mention the shenanigans that Uber is currently being accused of — so potentially hazardous for the companies. Despite Uber's attempts to distance itself from the sharing economy, the company's fate is more or less intertwined with Lyft, Sidecar and other ridesharing firms. That's been evident in all the regulatory activity that's cropped up recently lumping Uber and Lyft together. Media coverage surrounding the firms isn't much different, either. Like it or not, there's just no separating the two.

So what does all the infighting accomplish? Maybe Lyft thinks it needs to attract more attention to keep growing. Or maybe Uber feels threatened by Lyft. After all, Uber's ambition is to become a major logistics platform. Proving its dominance in moving people would give investors greater confidence in its ability to move goods.

But it's hard to see the discord doing much to help the companies in the larger battle with the increasingly organized taxi companies.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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Brian Fung · August 12