Uber is off to a crazy-bad start in 2017, and boy is its major competitor Lyft having a ball with it.
On Thursday, Lyft announced a massive, 54-city expansion to its ride-sharing service in the U.S., cutting into a big chunk of Uber’s lead in overall coverage while the latter company is, to put it gently, dealing with a giant shitstorm. Uber is currently dealing with a massive tornado of user protests, employee unrest, regulatory wrist-slaps, and massive allegations of systemic, shocking sexual harassment in its San Francisco-based engineering team. Oh, and it also just got slapped with a lawsuit for allegedly stealing proprietary information from Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car startup. Things are not great at Uber HQ, and Lyft is all about it.
Lyft’s 54-city expanded brings its total coverage to 294 cities in the United States – and Uber is only active in 209 cities domestically. It’s the largest expansion Lyft has made. Although Uber still has more coverage worldwide, that’s got to hurt, especially since Lyft has been gleefully poking Uber’s wounds for the last few months.
On February 19, a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, went public with a huge list of allegations of sexual harassment during her time as an employee of the company. The allegations of systemic harassment have shaken Uber. The company has long had a history of treating drivers poorly, but the sexual harassment allegations shook the white collar San Francisco tech offices in a way that other bad press hasn’t.
And Uber’s streak of bad publicity didn’t start there: In the wake of Donald Trump’s immigration ban, users massively protested the company using #deleteuber in response to Uber continuing to work during the NYC taxi-workers strike. Due to the extreme public backlash, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from Trump’s business advisory council. Lyft cheerfully donated a million dollars to the ACLU in response to the ban.
Uber also recently had its self-driving cars kicked out of California for testing without the appropriate permits. And it probably didn’t help that a video of one of its autonomous cars running a red light surfaced in December.
This whole series of messes is not making Uber look particularly attractive, and Lyft is taking advantage in a big way with the giant roll out of cities. Although Lyft’s expansion was teased at the beginning of 2017, when the company added 40 more cities, it projected it would move to cover 300 cities by the end of 2017. Uber’s continued flailing may have sped up that timeline, to bring that coverage within a month.
In all fairness, although Uber is quite good at what it does, and Lyft isn’t a perfect company. Peter Thiel serves on the board of Lyft, and it also doesn’t treat its drivers super well. There are a few smaller rideshare companies that are reasonable alternatives – but at this point, it will be hard to rival Lyft’s new massive coverage.