Uber drivers, riders trying to save lives this month

3 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Uber Goes Right to Users’ Phones When It Wants Lawmakers to Jump.

Launching today, iOS and Android app developers can more easily plug in an SDK with a few lines of code to add a Ride Request Button to their apps that deep-links into Uber’s app.

It exemplified the company’s strategy of using the very mobile phones that enable its car-booking application as mobilization tools against regulations like those that cover the taxi industry. If your app has a specific address — a restaurant app, for example — Uber’s button is configured to automatically enter that address as a destination when the app is opened. Uber has deployed the tactic to encourage voting in San Francisco, to fight caps on its fleet in New York and in a successful attempt to block tougher insurance and background checks in Palm Beach County, Florida. “We certainly had pressure from Uber users,” said Melissa McKinlay, a Palm Beach County commissioner whose office was flooded with e-mails and calls — more than she’s ever received on any issue — asking her to oppose the rules. “Uber was brilliant in motivating and activating their users. Interested developers must first register their apps with the Uber Developer Dashboard, install their chosen SDK and configure their location and trip information. It was really a grassroots effort.” Valued at $50 billion and operating in more than 300 cities, Uber is using its app for a new kind of political engagement.

Unlike traditional campaigns that spend millions on television advertisements and direct mailers that voters can easily ignore, Uber’s messages are free and allow it to target users in specific cities with messages that pop up on their phones. Gabriel Lenz, who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley, was in Hawaii this year when he got an alert on his Uber app to sign a petition about a measure in that state. “The message actually came up in the app, right when I was trying to use Uber,” Lenz said. “That’s a much better way of reaching people than anything that campaigns would ever have. Once an affiliate crosses the maximum threshold Uber will consider adding them to its “partners program” Uber first offered app integrations like this to developers in March of this year, though it required a more involved process than the Ride Request. If a campaign sends you a postcard telling you to turn out to vote, on average that will have a zero effect on your behavior.” The company is facing limits on its services as policy makers struggle to decide how to oversee the mobile-phone based ride service that has expanded rapidly and upended regulated taxi systems all over the world. Taxi drivers and their employers say ride-sharing services get to avoid regulations, such as insurance requirements, that bind established competitors.

When New York Mayor Bill de Blasio this year offered a plan to cap Uber’s fleet, the company released a “de Blasio” app view mocking already-long wait times for cars. Beyond just sending users to Uber, developers can pass along additional information to speed up the request, including pickup location, destination, or what kind of Uber someone wants to take. Riders who clicked could tweet the mayor their opinions on the policy, part of a campaign that generated 49,239 e-mails to officials and 18,623 tweets opposing the plan. The mayor dropped the proposal in July. “It’s easy for many public officials to look at a big company and not listen to the message that’s being developed by the company,” said Justin Kintz, a company spokesman. “When they hear that message from tens of thousands of people in their community, that’s when they really start to pay attention.” Uber in October blasted e-mails to users in Seattle — where the city council is considering allowing drivers to unionize — urging riders to register to vote and support pro-Uber candidates in municipal elections.

More than 5,000 people complied. “Because of the immediacy and the flexibility of the app, it does give them a certain advantage,” said Arun Sundararajan, professor at New York University’s business school who studies the sharing economy. “For their size, they have immense amounts of regulatory battles. Uber’s policy incentivizes it racing to sign up partners for its API as a way to block Lyft from getting integrated too if it launches an official API.] Uber first launched its API last August with a handful of partners like OpenTable and TripAdvisor after testing out a deep-link button in Google Maps.

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