Uber and Lyft, the competing startup ride sharing services, don’t play very nice with each other. Now, we better understand why.
Documents uncovered by technology site The Verge show that Uber, the Goliath in the battle of the two techie darlings, has begun directing contracted recruiters to call for Lyft rides. Upon getting picked up, the recruiters attempt to sway drivers to their neck of the sharing economy by becoming drivers for Uber.
With Lyft’s arrival in New York imminent, Uber said it was creating a “street team” charged with gathering intelligence about Lyft’s launch plans and recruiting their drivers to Uber. Contractors were then handed two Uber-branded iPhones and a series of valid credit card numbers to be used for creating dummy Lyft accounts. Uber assumed every contractor would be caught by Lyft eventually; the second phone, according to a contractor interviewed by The Verge, was issued so “you would have a backup phone if and when that happened so you wouldn’t have to go back.”
The Verge’s report spells out Uber’s aggressive recruiting strategies and suggests the practice could be put to use in several cities wherein the two services compete, including Boston.
Drivers for neither Uber nor Lyft are employees—they instead are independent contractors. Your mileage may vary (so beware surge pricing) on how out of bounds the recruiting actions seem.
But in an effort to stay under Lyft’s radar, some Uber recruiters are calling and canceling Lyft rides, the report says. That basically puts Lyft drivers in the position of losing out on time that could be spent giving rides while dealing with an annoying business tactic—certainly not as nice as offering a new gig while still paying for the ride.
This is far from the first time Uber has faced allegations of using the ride canceling tactic against competitors. Uber has previously decried Lyft’s allegations of that call-and-cancel strategy, and said Lyft is guilty of the same thing.
Uber responded to inquiries from The Verge by writing a blog post meant to offer a “demystify” the practice—which, of course, is far less detailed than The Verge’s report. (Uber has not always been all that forthcoming. And when a self-identified Uber driver recently was forthcoming, Uber was quick to suggest an ulterior motive.)