05/18/17 3:00pm

LYFT PREPARES TO DIVE BACK INTO HOUSTON, WOOS DISGRUNTLED UBER DRIVERS AT IAH Barring an out of character veto from governor Greg Abbott, that Texas law that Uber and Lyft have been angling for (the one that would stop cities from requiring more stringent background checks on their rideshare drivers, like Houston did) should go into effect shortly, now that the state Senate has passed the measure with more than 2 thirds support. Lyft pulled out of Houston in late 2014 over the local rule change, while Uber just made some noise about doing so. Meagan Flynn reports for the Press that a Lyft rep was spotted in a waiting lot at IAH on Monday passing out business cards to Uber drivers, some of whom were on a brief strike over wages and company policies. The rep said the company would be back in town soon, if the bill becomes law; the company has also put out a few job ads for Houston operations staff. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Radiant Fountains sculptures near IAH: elnina via Swamplot Flickr Pool

04/26/17 1:00pm

UBER CLAIMS IT’LL BE TESTING A FLYING TAXI NETWORK IN TEXAS BY 2020 Meanwhile, in Dallas: Uber announced yesterday that the company plans to have a set of flying taxis called the Uber Elevate Network in testing stages in both the DFW area and Dubai in about 3 years. If everything goes as planned, the network would deploy VTOLs (that’s vertical take-off and landing vehicles, which mix elements of a small helicopter and a plane) that run entirely on electricity. Uber’s set to work with Dallas-based Hillwood Properties to develop landing sites equipped with recharging stations — though the technology for VTOLs themselves still has to be developed, too. [Texas Tribune; more herepreviously on Swamplot]

10/07/16 2:15pm

CITY TO PUSH ALL 146 HOUSTON TAXI COMPANIES ONTO SINGLE SMARTPHONE APP Uber HQ in Houston, 5714 Star Lane, Houston, 77057On Wednesday city council approved a plan to require that all licensed Houston cab drivers start taking hails via the same smartphone app, Rebecca Elliott reportsArro, which rolled out in New York last year and several other major cities since, will tack a $1.50 fee onto the normal cab fare for riders (with a 50 cent-plus-3-percent fee for drivers), and will centralize taxi dispatch across the city. (Limo drivers can get in on the action too, if they want to.) The plan comes in response to not-technically-a-cab-company Uber’s recent threats to pull out of Houston over requirements for fingerprinted background checks for its drivers; Elliott writes that the city wants to have the system up and running by the end of the month.  [Houston Chronicle; previously on SwamplotPhoto of Houston Uber HQ, 5714 Star Ln.: Uber Houston

09/16/16 4:30pm

UBER’S SELF-DRIVING CARS HIT STREETS WITH ACTUAL PASSENGERS, DRIVERS JUST IN CASE Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh: As of Wednesday, Uber is letting some of its customers opt into possible pickup by its fleet of heavily tricked-out self-driving Ford Fusions. The rollout is the company’s first testing of the autonomous cars with real passengers in the urban wild; so far, they still come equipped with a prepared-for-takeover human in the driver’s seat (as well as a data-monitoring shotgun rider). Paying passengers interact with the car from the back seat via electronic tablet, which shows them the LiDAR data the car collects and allows them to take selfies. TechCrunch’s Signe Brewster got to check out one of the cars as part of a press preview and reports that the car’s driving was “so normal it got a little bit boring” by the end; Brewster does note that he “had a flurry of butterflies the first time the car encountered an obstacle — an SUV backing into the road. You don’t notice how many unexpected incidents occur during a routine drive until you ask a robot to take the wheel.” [WTAE, TechCrunch; previously on Swamplot]

04/29/16 10:45am

CITY RESPONSES TO UBER THREATS CITE BACKGROUND CHECK CATCHES, DATA UBER SUED TO KEEP PRIVATE Uber HQ in Houston, 5714 Star Lane, Houston, 77057Mayor Turner held a press conference this week in response to Uber’s current PR push regarding Houston’s licensing requirements on Uber drivers. The rideshare company and ubiquitous favorite ‘[blank] of [industry]’ fill-in is threatening to pull out of Houston over the city’s rule that drivers must pass more stringent (specifically, more fingerprint-requiring) background checks than what Uber internally requires. Turner says the city’s checks have turned up criminal history in applicants already OK’d by Uber’s screening processes, including charges for DWI, assault, and murder. Meanwhile, city administrator Lara Cottingham tells Michael Barajas that Uber’s claims of drivers waiting 4 months for city licenses are exaggerated; the actual normal wait is a few weeks, Cottingham says, but the city can’t release data to support that because Uber sued in 2015 to block open records requests regarding its business practices. “The number of drivers is increasing, their revenue is increasing, everything seems to be working out for them very, very well,” said Cottingham, adding that because of the lawsuit she “can’t tell you how successful they are.” Uber lobbied last legislative season for less-stringent state-level licensing rules that would supercede local regulations. [KHOU, Houston Press; previously on SwamplotPhoto of Houston Uber HQ, 5714 Star Ln.: Uber Houston

02/03/16 2:45pm

HOUSTON IS THE UBER OUTLIER Uber HQ in Houston, 5714 Star Lane, Houston, 77057Houston appears to be the only market in Texas in which Uber is willing to put up with regulations that complicate its business model, writes Madlin Mekelburg in the Texas Tribune — following the rideshare company’s abrupt cessations of service in Midland and Galveston on Monday. In Austin, Uber and competitor Lyft are currently funding a campaign against a recently passed city ordinance that would require more intensive background checks involving fingerprinting of drivers — a safeguard Uber accepted in Houston. “Sarfraz Maredia, Uber’s general manager over Houston, declined to say Tuesday why the company wouldn’t accept the same policy in Austin,” Mekelburg writes. “‘It has become clear that Houston is the outlier in how it has chosen to regulate,’ Maredia said. ‘The rest of our markets have focused on passing modern ride-sharing regulations. As a result, our expansion strategy in Texas has changed to focus on launching only in markets that are consistent with that policy.'” [Texas Tribune] Photo of Houston Uber HQ, 5714 Star Ln.: Uber Houston