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​With Uber's misdeeds, Lyft aims to look like the good guy

Reeling from scandals, including an alleged incident at a karaoke-escort bar, Uber appears to be back-pedaling while Lyft is on a positive PR campaign.

Lyft rolls out a new feature that lets passengers round up their fare to the nearest whole dollar and donate that remainder to a favorite charity.


As Uber's scandals mount, Lyft appears to be taking this moment to cast itself as the nice ride-hailing company.

Lyft announced a new program on Sunday called "Round Up & Donate," which lets riders round up their fare to the nearest whole dollar and donate that remainder to the charity of their choice. This program will be rolling out to passengers within the next few weeks.

"Treating people better along the way is just the way we do it," Lyft wrote in a blog post Sunday. "Whether you tap in, or just keep doing your bit riding, you're sitting on a changemaker. All you gotta do is take a seat to take a stand."

Lyft also pledged in January to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union over the next four years for the legal defense of immigrants and signed amicus (friend of the court) briefs protesting both of President Donald Trump's travel bans.

Uber, on the other hand, has experienced a rocky past few months. It all started with a #DeleteUber movement in January centered on the perception that the company was not doing enough to protest Trump's travel ban. Uber reportedly lost 200,000 customers and things just got worse from there.

In short: female employees accused the company of sexual discrimination; investors lambasted Uber for have a culture "plagued by disrespect;" a leaked video showed company CEO Travis Kalanick telling off a driver; Google filed a lawsuit against the ride-hailing company claiming it stole self-driving car technology; a New York Times expose uncovered Uber's secretive Greyball tool meant to thwart police; and a long list of top executives have stepped down.

The pile-on continued over the weekend. It started with one of Uber's self-driving cars being involved in a crash in Tempe, Arizona, causing the company to temporarily pause its autonomous vehicle program.

Then, The Information published a report alleging Kalanick and other Uber employees visited a karaoke-escort bar in Seoul, South Korea, during a business trip in 2014. Women at the bar wore numbered tags and four male Uber employees reportedly called out the numbers to select which women they wanted to sit with them.

A female Uber employee who was with the group reportedly felt uncomfortable and later relayed the incident to the company's human resources department. This story came out now only because Uber's senior VP of business, Emil Michael, reportedly attempted to cover it up. He allegedly called Gabi Holzwarth, Kalanick's ex-girlfriend who was there that night, and asked her to not speak to the press about the incident and to say that the bar was just a normal karaoke bar, without escorts.

"Given the intense news cycle I thought it was the right thing to do to reach out and let her know that reporters may try to contact her directly," Emil Michael told The Information. "I have known her for a long time, consider her a friend and did not want her to be taken by surprise. Her recollection of this conversation was different from mine and I am very sorry if the purpose of my call was misunderstood."

Despite its long list of scandals, Uber says the company is doing better than ever. During a media call on March 21, head of US and Canada operations Rachel Holt said Uber saw more rides in the past week in the US than it's ever seen before.

"We've grown faster in the first 10 weeks of 2017 than in the first 10 weeks of 2016," Holt said. She declined to disclose specific numbers, however.

Since both Uber and Lyft are private companies, they're not obliged to make their data public. So, it's unclear if Uber's scandals have affected its business and whether Lyft has gained from them.

"Seventy-five percent of ride-sharing app users report using Uber, while only 26 percent report using Lyft," said Jennifer Kent, director of research for market research firm Parks Associates. "So, Lyft absolutely has a market share gap to close."

"Exploiting Uber's poor press in recent months can only improve Lyft's brand reach and perception," Kent continued. "However, availability, pricing and app functionality are likely much more impactful on users' decision making than brand perception when choosing their preferred ride vendor."

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