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The AP bans the term "ride-sharing" for Uber & Lyft

Companies like Uber and Lyft have often referred to their services as "ride-sharing." But that's not an accurate term. The Associated Press now agrees, and has banned the word for Uber-like services in its widely-used style guide. The better term, AP says, is "ride-hailing."

Screen capture by Daniel Guzman.

In July, I criticized the trend of calling these and other services "sharing" and called on Greater Greater Washington readers to come up with a better term.

When a number of people collectively buy something so all can use it, that may be sharing. When a company brokers transactions between people buying a good (in this case, rides) and people who can sell that good, that's not sharing.

As Charlie Warzel explained in BuzzFeed, "Though Uber has recently introduced a carpooling service, the vast majority of services that Uber and Lyft and others provide mimics a traditional taxi or driver service. You don't get in an Uber to share a ride with another paying passenger."

There are already ride systems and services that are much more properly "sharing." Virginia has long had the practice of "slugging," where drivers pick up other passengers at designated lots in order to use the carpool lanes. Other people are creating companies that help people actually share rides.

Jenny O'Brien is a community manager for Carma, a smartphone app that connects drivers and riders with similar commutes for carpooling. She says, "When I tell a potential user about Carma, as soon as I say 'app' and 'ridesharing' they say, 'Oh, like Uber!' Then I have to explain that Uber is more like a taxi. It's frustrating that the public lumps us together because of the misuse of the term 'ridesharing.'"

Many writers and publications follow the AP Stylebook. It is fortunate that AP has agreed with us and others to more accurately describe this new technology and services.

Abigail Zenner, is a former lobbyist turned communications specialist. She specializes in taking technical urban planning jargon and turning it into readable blog posts. When she's not nerding out about urban planning, transportation, and American History, you may find her teaching a fitness class. Her blog posts represent her personal views only. 


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This country cannot move forward with integrity until it faces the fact that multi-billion dollar Uber mega-corporation has criminalized the transportation services industry. We, the people, have to demand an honest government that enforces the law, even against super-rich "ride-sharing" criminals.

by James on Jan 14, 2015 12:10 pm • linkreport

Fantastic news.

by JJJJ on Jan 14, 2015 12:15 pm • linkreport

What must go as well are "sharing economy" references, and replaced with independent contractors who-must-buy-their-own-health-insurance.

by kob on Jan 14, 2015 12:18 pm • linkreport

"[The] multi-billion dollar Uber mega-corporation"

A fact which many of those trying to paint Uber as some sort of "underdog" desperately avoid.

And I would prefer to replace the term "sharing economy" with "piecework economy".

For Uber's function, I prefer the term "car for hire service". That covers everything from limos to street-hail taxis.

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2015 12:26 pm • linkreport

Totally agree and not because I dislike Uber because they are still a better resource for me than DC cabs have ever been. RIP Hailo though.

by BTA on Jan 14, 2015 12:28 pm • linkreport

Are most Uber drivers full timers who make a living at it, or are they folks who are doing an occasional drive to get some extra cash out of an asset they own mostly for their own needs? The latter would be sharing (even if Uber is making a lot of money) and the former would be simply using contractors in place of full time labor.

by Crossingbrooklynferry on Jan 14, 2015 12:36 pm • linkreport

I suspect that the business models of many of these "sharing economy" companies will collapse as unemployment falls further and wages finally start to rise.

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2015 12:37 pm • linkreport

That's awesome. I've made that argument for about two years.

Uber, relying on mobile commerce taxi dispatch services, argues that it is a "social economy" or "collaborative consumption" type offering, but it isn't. It's just a taxi dispatch service.

Using the verve of mobile commerce, it argues it should be regulated differently from taxi services that involve owning vehicles, that somehow using a phone app instead of a phone call to hail a cab means that it should be treated outside of the traditional regulatory system that has developed to oversee taxi service.

There is no compelling argument for why this should be the case.

by Richard Layman on Jan 14, 2015 12:42 pm • linkreport

Ride-sharing to me basically means charging people to go where you are going. Carpooling for a fee.

Car sharing might be another way to put it - but to me that would be renting out your car when its not in use (say while you are at work downtown).

It would be like if in your neighborhood everyone pitched into a pot every year and had reasonable access to whatever tools anyone else in the neighborhood had. That would be tool sharing. That would be different from me simply renting out my tools to whoever needed them.

Is it a livery service or a taxi service? I guess its more like a livery - in that you can't street hail an Uber - which is kind of the hallmark of a cab.

But its not ride-sharing.

by Tom A on Jan 14, 2015 12:50 pm • linkreport

@CBF: ...folks who are doing an occasional drive to get some extra cash out of an asset they own mostly for their own needs? The latter would be sharing even if Uber is making a lot of money)...

Maybe. But only if the owner lets you drive.

by JimT on Jan 14, 2015 12:51 pm • linkreport

again, Uber is a taxi dispatch service using independent contractors who are hailed through a mobile application taxi dispatch program.

It's taxi service using a mobile app, independent contractors, not having branded vehicles (e.g., like Yellow Cab), but with specific requirements on the type of vehicle and its maintenance that mean the vehicle operation characteristics are more comparable to a business.

Lyft is a taxi dispatch service using independent contractors who may be either operating their participation as a formal business or independently, using their "personal" vehicle. The dispatch service, somewhat comparable to taxi companies, receives a fee for providing the client for each trip. (Taxi companies usually charge a weekly fee. Some firms in DC do have an upcharge for dispatch services.)

Ride sharing is sharing a ride with someone, and paying toward the cost of the ride, but not a profit.

by Richard Layman on Jan 14, 2015 12:58 pm • linkreport

They need to do the same with zipcar.

It's not car sharing, it's hourly car rentals. Car share would be me letting you borrow my car for an hour.

Bike share is on the line in my opinion because many are run or contracted by the municipality or local government, so it's shared in that it's a public resource.

by JJJJ on Jan 14, 2015 1:04 pm • linkreport

Good riddance.

As a part-time Uber driver, I never understood the "ride-sharing" thing. When I drive a passenger somewhere, it's for the expressed purpose of getting them to Point B; I'm not going to Point B myself and picking up a paying hitchhiker.

That said, it's a great business model. I average $25-30/hour doing a low-stress job that lets me take breaks at will and meet thousands of fascinating people. Some people oppose Uber for purely ideological reasons without noting the proper context - for instance, the hundreds of low-income and disabled passengers I've driven that would have been denied service by traditional taxis.

by Republic on Jan 14, 2015 1:08 pm • linkreport

"@CBF: ...folks who are doing an occasional drive to get some extra cash out of an asset they own mostly for their own needs? The latter would be sharing even if Uber is making a lot of money)...
Maybe. But only if the owner lets you drive."

Is airbnb only part of the sharing economy if you make your own breakfast?

by Crossingbrooklynferry on Jan 14, 2015 1:18 pm • linkreport

I tend to disagree with @Richard Layman. Uber is more than a taxi dispatch service. The Uber app also provides significant customer feedback on individual drivers and their vehicles. Relative to traditional cab service, this shifts the power dynamic toward the customer. If a driver is creepy, drives badly, or operates a crappy car, customers will flag this through the mandatory feedback mechanism. As such, regulation by an official third party is not as essential with Uber as it is with traditional cab companies. My feeling is that this added feature, which is only practicalbe because of smartphone technology, warrants a different regulatory regime for Uber. I agree that it isn't a rideshare service, however.

by renegade09 on Jan 14, 2015 1:44 pm • linkreport

Agreed with most of the comments above it is a (I think superior) taxi dispatch model. I suspect over time it will come under increasing regulation in terms of driver registration and tracking. I always try to talk to my uber drivers a bit and most seem to think of it as a full or part time job and only a few are picking up odd hours here and there.

by BTA on Jan 14, 2015 2:15 pm • linkreport

You can call Uber what you want, but it should have a separate set of rules from plain-taxis because it is not a street hail. There is a 3rd party record of who is picking me up, there is a rate agreed upon in advance, etc.

by John on Jan 14, 2015 2:16 pm • linkreport

JJJJ -- yeah, you could call car sharing fractional rental, sure. I always lose the URL, but there is a great UN funded report on creation of "product service systems" and integrating uses, etc. although their motivation was about reducing waste.

There are many ways to use it. Fractional use is often called "sharing." But Uber isn't a fractional use to my way of thinking. It's e-hail taxi dispatch.

I think it's reasonable to think of zipcar as sharing, even though they are a for profit, because you can think of them as "the agent" acting for all of us members. In some communities, there are nonprofit car share organizations (although they tend to charge more because capital is more expensive for them, and they need to come up with money to buy and replace cars).

But yep, it's worth reading up on "fractional ownership", the "sharing economy," "product service systems" and "supply chains" to get a better sense of how it all works, could work, what to call it, etc.

Typically, elected officials and the average citizen tend to not get so involved.

FWIW, the book "What's Mine is Yours" on "collaborative consumption" is very well written.

by Richard Layman on Jan 14, 2015 2:45 pm • linkreport

John -- those characteristics you outline aren't particularly unique or different (other than full distance vs. time for charging) that justify the argument that they shouldn't be regulated as a taxi dispatch service.

A street hail vs. a "radio" dispatch is not much of a difference of substance, but does support some of your definitional differences. But with credit payment and e-hails (e.g., a computer generated appointment on Red Top to go to the airport, even though you live in DC), any taxi service can generate the same info.

by Richard Layman on Jan 14, 2015 2:49 pm • linkreport

Good for the AP; I've been saying this for a long time.

by Matthias on Jan 14, 2015 3:26 pm • linkreport

>As such, regulation by an official third party is not as essential with Uber as it is with traditional cab companies.<

Regulation is essential. Restaurants get tons of feedback as well from customers. There's yelp, blogs, and newspaper reviews, but that doesn't mitigate their need to follow health, safety and sanitation rules. They provide a public service, and so does Uber.

Customer feedback doesn't shift power. The consumer may be able to write a negative/positive review on Uber, but when that person is in the vehicle it's the driver, not the rider, who has control. The regulation is there to protect the rider at the point where they have the least control.

by kob on Jan 14, 2015 4:50 pm • linkreport

Good for AP for using terms that mean what they say rather tham terms with built in bias like ride sharing.

by wanderer on Jan 14, 2015 5:25 pm • linkreport

Restaurants are not a good analogy. They provide a quite different service to Uber. There is a clear risk to safety if hygiene standards are not followed in a restaurant, and customers are not in a good position to evaluate hygiene in the kitchen. Regulation by an outside inspector is therefore proportionate.
When it comes to getting a ride in a car, I would say that the feedback of the last 5 customers is as valuable, if not more valuable to me than the seal of approval of some taxi regulatory agency.
Empirical observation would suggest that regulation of Uber is not essential. The company continues to gain market share, and has many satisfied customers. We have to be very clear why regulation is warranted, ensure that regulation is proportionate, and that it adds value to the customer. I would also point out that regulation has not protected me from some extremely shitty experiences in DC cabs.

by renegade09 on Jan 14, 2015 5:54 pm • linkreport

I completely disagree. The restaurant analogy seems spot-on to me. With Uber, there is a clear risk to safety if the vehicle is not maintained; and a potential risk if the driver is not properly trained or has a history of assault convictions. Customers are not in a good position to evaluate the car's maintenance history or the driver's background, and star ratings do not reflect these things. Just because the last five (or fifty) customers didn't experience an issue doesn't mean the next one will be so lucky.

by WestEgg on Jan 14, 2015 11:32 pm • linkreport

Actually, Uber vehicles are required to undergo annual safety inspections. As a DC resident, my car (despite being 2014 model year) had to be inspected in VA - DC doesn't offer the requisite inspection. There is also a stringent requirement regarding the age of vehicles, an important safety standard on which numerous taxicabs fail miserably.

Please be informed about a topic if you are to hold a strong opinion on it. There is nothing inherently inferior about Uber's safety model. Inspections and insurance are taxi-company PR buzzwords, empty accusations that distract media and eager cheerleaders.

by Republic on Jan 15, 2015 8:22 am • linkreport

You speculate about a clear risk to safety with unregulated Uber, but I am not aware of a large number of incidents relating to unsafe Uber vehicles, or assaults committed by Uber drivers. Uber's business model would collapse if that was true. Instead, Uber keeps growing. I would go so far as to say that there is NOT a clear risk to public safety from Uber. The people clamoring for regulation of Uber are seldom Uber customers.
The sad fact is that despite their vaunted regulation and licenses, most DC cab drivers wouldn't make the cut as Uber drivers. Their vehicles, inspected as they are, are frequently held together with string and duct-tape. Their habit of declining credit card payment, talking on cell phones, demanding tips, and outright refusal to take certain fares, would lead to them being terminated as Uber drivers. Uber has shown that there is another model of regulation that works at least as well as the traditional model.
I'm reluctant to get into a battle of the not-quite-right analogies, but I would suggest that Uber warrants regulation like Craigslist rather than like restaurants. When you meet up with somebody from Craigslist to procure a product or service, there is a certain risk. And yet the government does not require Craiglist vendors to get a license or complete background checks.

by renegade09 on Jan 15, 2015 9:48 am • linkreport

The insurance issue is a reality that even most 'independent contractors' for these TNC's do not fully understand. There is a gap, and most insurance companies will drop you instantly if they discover that you are driving for these services. Your policy specifically states that it is void if you do so.

Look at the incident with the little girl last year in San Francisco. The driver ran her and her family over, he called his insurance, they dropped him on the spot, and Uber claims they aren't liable in the incident. There's the gap.

by ZackS on Jan 15, 2015 10:20 am • linkreport

Uber vehicles are required to undergo annual safety inspections

Required by what entity? Uber's own policy? What's to stop them from quietly taking away that requirement?

ZackS's point about the insurance gap is another big one, and an excellent reason to bring Uber and similar services into recognized legal status. I doubt somebody injured in an accident involving an Uber vehicle would look at their denial-of-coverage letter as a collection of "PR buzzwords."

by WestEgg on Jan 15, 2015 12:29 pm • linkreport

Uber does not involve "hailing," as the phrase "hailing a taxi" means trying to nab one on the street. Uber is more appropriately an on-demand livery cab or on-demand car hire service. Very, very different.

by Phil on Jan 15, 2015 3:57 pm • linkreport

I would agree with uber hailing.

by uber on Jan 16, 2015 5:02 am • linkreport

Thank you AP.

Sharing: to grant or give a share in —often used with "with" OR to divide and distribute in shares : apportion —usually used with "out"

Carsharing: Joint ownership in a car with agreed upon rules on who uses it when (e.g. Zipcar, or two siblings splitting a household's third car)
Ridesharing: Several people are going from point A to point B, they ride in one car for that trip (e.g. a carpool, or friends on a roadtrip)
Apartmentsharing: Joint tenancy on an apartment lease (e.g. group homes, or that timeshare they try to sell you in Vegas)

The financial aspect (split cost up front, one pays another, both pay a third party, no money exchanged) are irrelevant to "sharing." The communal aspect is.

Market: a public place where a market is held OR a retail establishment usually of a specified kind

Car market: A place where you go to buy cars (a dealership, or

Ride market: A place where you go to buy rides (Uber, or Lyft)

Apartment market: A place where you go to lease apartments (Craigslist, or AirBnB)

The financial aspect (buy/sell/lease, and at what price) is central to the purpose, and the market itself generally takes a cut. "Sharing" any aspect of what you're buying is optional.

The ONLY reason you see "sharing" thrown around all these virtual markets is that its their way of seeming disruptive -- "We don't need cabs, we can just SHARE RIDES with others!!" -- which gives them more cachet (and higher P/E ratios) than just calling themselves "the eBay of...". Which naturally led the finance guys to dub all their markets "the sharing economy."

Don't let finance guys or techies change your vocabulary. Culture is not their strong suit.

by Vinnie on Jan 16, 2015 6:54 pm • linkreport

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