Uber accused of playing dirty in competition with Lyft

Lyft claims Uber is trying to lure away its drivers by ordering and then canceling thousands of rides.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at LeWeb 2013. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Uber and Lyft have been engaged in a public battle to win over more customers for years, but it appears this competition may have taken a turn for the shady.

Lyft is alleging Uber employees have been booking and then canceling thousands of rides over the last nine months, according to CNNMoney. All told, 5,560 Lyft rides have been allegedly canceled by 177 Uber employees since last October.

This tactic would be effective because booking a ride would make a car unavailable to other customers, which could then turn potential passengers to other car-sharing platforms. It also hurts drivers because they spend time and gas money on bogus rides.

"It's unfortunate for affected community members that they have used these tactics, as it wastes a driver's time and impacts the next passenger waiting for that driver," Lyft director of communications Erin Simpson said in a statement emailed to CNET. "We remain focused on growing the business faster than any competitor through better customer experience and innovation."

Lyft believes part of Uber's plan is to recruit away its drivers. The data revealed by Lyft shows that some users canceled hundreds of rides from several accounts, according to CNNMoney. For instance, one person's phone number was tied to 21 accounts and tallied up a total of 1,524 canceled rides.

Uber has called the allegations "patently false."

"Both riders and drivers help recruit new drivers to the Uber platform, where the economic opportunity is unmatched in the industry," an Uber spokesperson told CNET. "We recently ran a program where thousands of riders recruited drivers from other platforms, earning hundreds of dollars in Uber credits for each driver who tries Uber. Even Lyft drivers have participated in a successful campaign recruiting thousands of other Lyft drivers to Uber, where drivers make a better living than on any other platform."

This isn't the first time Uber has been accused of carrying out this dirty tactic. In January, the car service app Gett claimed about a dozen customers ordered almost 200 rides over a three-day period and then canceled them -- some when the driver had nearly reached the pickup destination. The company then cross-referenced the customers' names on LinkedIn and Twitter and determined they were Uber employees. After the rides were canceled, Gett drivers said they received text messages from the customers urging them to drive for Uber.

During the Gett debacle, Uber admitted the tactic was "likely too aggressive" adding that it "messaged city teams to curtail activities that seek lead generation by requesting transportation services."

However, if Lyft's allegations are true, it appears Uber simply chose another victim to prey on.