Now, Marco is interested in taking on Uber, according to several media reports.
Juno began testing its services last month and plans to debut in New York this spring, according to BloombergBusiness. The report says the new company plans to charge drivers only 10-percent commissions for the first two years, or less than half of what drivers pay Uber. Future increases will be worked out after consultation with the drivers. The company also plans to give stock to its drivers on a regular basis so that they eventually hold half of the founding shares, creating “a real partnership,” Marco told Bloomberg.
“The advantage of being second is you can learn from other’s experience,” Marco told BloombergBusiness last month. Tripping has tried to reach him through his Facebook page and a publicly available email address, so far without luck. Uber hasn’t gotten back to us. Neither has Lyft, for that matter.
In a lengthy interview last month with Pando.com, Marco said he was moved to go after Uber after talking with one of its drivers and feeling horrified at the terms on which the driver was employed. So he decided that perhaps winning over disaffected drivers could be the opening into the ride-sharing market.
“We are not looking at competing with Uber and Lyft on price,” Marco told Pando. “We are looking to compete on quality. We want to offer a differentiated experience to drivers, but also to riders. There is a lot to improve in this space.”
Juno already claims that “thousands” of New York drivers are running around with its app, and at least 1,000 more are “registered and waiting,” Pando says. Marco told the high-tech news outlet that he’s in process of filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue stock that would eventually be shared with its drivers.
“It is about doing something meaningful,” Marco told Pando, sounding like a young Ben or Jerry eager to infuse a cool new business with idealism.
Juno hasn’t even launched. But making sense of Juno is, in a way, making sense of Uber. And Uber, to judge from its astonishingly fast worldwide growth, has become a emblem of the new economy. It’s popular with riders. And it’s more or less popular with drivers, especially when you consider that its chauffeur pool doubled in size every six months over a two-year period.
But Uber is also troubling. From its start as a toy for the pampered frat boy to order up a Lincoln Town Car baller-style for a night on the town – as its co-founder, Travis Kalanick, said elsewhere – Uber has become the Walmart of the sharing economy. It’s probably forgotten that Uber initially tried to sell itself as a luxury. Now it’s the pricekiller of the taxi and limousine industry, while promoting better service too.
Uber fans rave about how its drivers are prompt and courteous; how their cars are often new and clean; how there’s no such thing as kiting fares because the drivers follows the route displayed on his or her GPS; how bad drivers are weeded out by customer rankings, and vice versa; and how it’s even done away with the bad old days of taxis nightmares — such as the form of discrimination known as “hailing when black,” when taxi drivers were known to ignore a potential fare because the passenger was African American. Investors have valued the company at $62.5 billion and counting — more than General Motors Corp.
But Uber’s also had a giant share of trouble. Since its 2009 founding, the San Francisco-based company has been accused of dirty tricks against competitors; it’s been accused of exaggerating its payoff and exploiting its drivers, prompting some to rally or take steps toward forming unions; the California Labor Commission has ruled that Uber drivers are employees, not contractors, a decision that could have significant consequences on the company’s taxes and benefits (Uber has appealed); and people with disabilities have accused the company (and its largest competitor Lyft) of not doing enough to accommodate them. The murderous rampage by a Michigan Uber driver prompted renewed scrutiny of its background checks — with critics saying the company has resisted the sort of fingerprinting and vetting that taxi companies routinely use.
In a relatively short time, Uber has become a symbol of a futuristic economy that’s already here: no smokestacks and no factories, just lots of virtual employers and employees — or, as Uber prefers to call them, “partners” or entrepreneurs — meeting up through a digital marketplace. The Uber business model offers convenience and price-shaving fares for consumers, extra cash for its part-time drivers, and fabulous riches for its computer-savvy creators. It’s a slice of the gig-culture that has taken hold everywhere.
But is Uber good for the economy? Will Juno be any better? Is this the way forward to a flexible marketplace where everyone benefits? Or is it just another step on the way to an high-tech, economic dystopia where most people scrape by with odd jobs and full-time jobs have become memories?
(Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, is an Uber investor.)
A year ago, Uber released a report on its economics that was positively glowing about the share-economy and its place in it. Critics said it overlooked the heavy costs people pay to operate their private vehicles as taxis.
The January 2015 report — which included internal data and was co-authored by Princeton economist and former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors Alan Krueger — says Uber drivers earned more than as chauffeurs than professional taxi drivers – as much as $17 an hour in Washington, D.C. and $30 in New York. The report also stressed the positives of the gig economy: only 8 percent of the people signed on for Uber because they had no other job.
The report freely sprinkles terms such as “flextime,” “family-friendly,” and “family-oriented” and argues that the “contingent workforce” — that is, people in temporary jobs — is not to blame for rising income inequality or stagnation of incomes. The report also notes that some countries, such as the Netherlands, have reported a large rise in contingent workers but not rising income inequality.
David Plouffe, Uber chief adviser, said at DC Tech innovator 1776 that American drivers earned more than $3.5 billion in 2015 with Uber.
“In a world where more people than ever before are struggling to balance work, family, and bills they can’t pay, ridesharing is a way to put money back in your pocket and time back on your schedule,” Plouffe said in prepared remarks for the conference.
But that’s just it: Uber has found a way to profit from a form of dysfunction that has hit the modern industrial economy and left millions of people unemployed or, if they’re lucky, overworked and underpaid. Maybe Uber’s business model is eventually a way forward toward something better. And maybe Juno will take it another evolutionary step forward that’s even better, especially with its vision of giving employees (or “partners”) real equity in the venture.
Let’s hope it happens. What better or more fitting way for Americans to have a new economic model than one that arrives on four wheels.