I thought the “sharing economy” was supposed to be on the up and up, all kumbaya and mutual respect.
Instead, the two leading dial-a-ride companies seem to be warring with business tactics that Don Draper would relish in “Mad Men.”
Lyft accuses Uber-affiliated people of ordering Lyft rides more than 5,000 times in the last nine months -- and then canceling, thus tying up Lyft cars, costing drivers time and gas, and frustrating customers -- who might, gosh, turn to Uber instead.
CNN Money says Lyft data show that one person -- identified as an Uber recruiter with 22 Lyft accounts on a single phone number -- ordered and then canceled 300 rides over two weeks this spring. A different Uber recruiter is said to have used 14 accounts to order and cancel 680 Lyft rides.
All told, according to CNN Money, nearly 5,500 rides were canceled after Uber pledged to “tone down” such tactics, having been caught playing a similar game against a rideshare app called Gett.
Lyft drivers also say that when these setup callers do actually take the rides they've arranged, it's for short distances during which the rider lobbies Lyft drivers to jump to Uber.
For its part, Uber accuses Lyft of gaming its commissions and fares to undercut Uber’s rates.
Forbes, that font of financial sagacity, says each has been poaching the other’s drivers -- Uber by offering bonuses and Lyft by offering, among other enticements, free tacos.
The fake-ride call technique reminds me of the kind of political tactics whose obscene frat-boy nickname we cannot use here, but which the Nixon reelection campaign used against Democrats with malicious zest.
I don’t mean the kind of behavior for which the Watergate break-in was just the tip of the iceberg, the profoundly vile and possibly criminal forging of material on an official letterhead, the stalking of candidates’ families, investigating Democratic campaign staffers’ lives, stealing confidential files.
The “pranks” I mean ran to jamming phones at candidates’ headquarters, ordering quantities of pizzas, booze and limos to be sent and billed to an opposing candidate, letters inviting voters to nonexistent “free food” Democratic rallies, fake billboards grossly misrepresenting a Democrat’s position.
The future of democracy isn’t at stake in fake, anti-competitive and anti-capitalist dial-a-ride shenanigans.
What is on the line is the image and trustworthiness of the whole brand-spanking-new ride-sharing business, at the moment it’s trying to make the case for being superior -- a better business model and a more enlightened one -- to the old-line taxi trade.
Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes