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Commentary: The Ride-Sharing Phenomenon

According to Uber, consumers traveled approximately 26 billion miles using its ride-sharing platform in 2018. For the company’s approximately 4 million drivers, that represents tens of thousands of extra miles on their personal vehicles each year. 

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When we talk about the future of transportation, ride-sharing always seems to be part of the conversation. But ride-sharing isn’t a futuristic concept, because it’s already here. According to a Pew Research Center survey, the percentage of U.S. adults who’ve used ride-sharing services went from 15% in 2015 to 36% in 2018. 

In Lyft’s third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, the company reported having 22.3 million active riders, up from 17.4 million in third-quarter 2018. Uber, in its third-quarter results, reported 103 million “monthly active platform consumers,” a number that includes consumers who use its ride-sharing service or receive an Uber Eats meal. 

According to Uber, consumers traveled approximately 26 billion miles using its ride-sharing platform in 2018. For the company’s approximately 4 million drivers, that represents tens of thousands of extra miles on their personal vehicles each year. 

And that’s where the automotive aftermarket comes in. A burgeoning army of independent contractors providing taxi service in their personal vehicles seems like a big opportunity for parts stores and repair shops. But how big of an opportunity remains to be seen. 

I just used the phrase “independent contractor.” That classification has become a hot-button issue in the ride-sharing industry, and it’s been the focus of lawsuits, fines and even regulatory action. In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5, which will reclassify Californians as “employees” unless a business can prove that the work they perform isn’t part of the company’s core business (in addition to two other criteria). “By applying a strict test to determine who is an independent contractor and making employment status a default under the law, working Californians who have been kept off payroll as employees will gain access to basic labor rights for the first time, including rights to minimum wage, overtime, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, paid sick days, paid family leave, workplace protections against harassment and retaliation and the right to form or join a union,” said California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the bill.

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I bring this up because if other states adopt similar language, that massive army of “independent contractors” could become “employees.” If Uber and Lyft are forced to reclassify their drivers as employees – and they will fight this with every lawyer and lobbyist at their disposal – I suspect they’ll be more likely to handle vehicle maintenance as any corporate or government fleet would, rather than leave it in the hands of the drivers. 

Lyft is moving in that direction already. In March, the company announced it is establishing a series of “driver centers” that will offer maintenance, repairs and carwashes at up to a 50% discount. “Drivers will be served by Lyft team members, including certified mechanics, selected for their expertise and passion for helping our community,” the company said. In April, Lyft launched a mobile service in the Bay Area, offering routine maintenance such as oil-and-filter changes, tire rotations and wiper-blade replacement.

It will be interesting to see how everything plays out. In the meantime, let us know if you’ve seen an uptick in Uber or Lyft drivers at your store (or if there’s anything else on your mind).

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