There is an old saying that ignorance is bliss, and perhaps you’re one of the people in America that is blissfully ignorant of politics. If you are, God bless you, although, I suppose you shouldn’t be voting. However, if you are interested in politics, you may be wondering what exactly happened on Super Tuesday; I know I am. Senator Bernie Sanders seemed to be chugging forward under a full head of steam, whereas former Vice President Joe Biden had only just gained a foothold through his first big victory in South Carolina.
However, after the dust cleared, Biden was in the lead of the total delegate count, although not by an overwhelming amount through his own earned pledged delegate. Nonetheless, it “felt” that he had simply staged an amazing comeback and that Sanders might now be reeling on the ropes. This left me asking, do the data support this perception?
I decided to take a look at the numbers. What I found, may surprise the reader, but somewhat makes sense once you let it sink in. It turns out that both candidates did better than expected. Biden’s outperformance was simply larger than Sanders. How did I arrive at this conclusion, let’s look!
Biden outperformed the polls (especially polls over a week old)
I had been watching the polls develop over the last few weeks before Super Tuesday at realclearpolitics.com. Using this data, I decided that the relevant period to look at would be after the Nevada primary until super Tuesday. One might ask, why not after South Carolina? That is a valid question and as we will see, it does matter. However, there just was not a lot of time to get new polls between South Carolina and Super Tuesday, so I extended the period a bit. My hypothesis was that changes right before super Tuesday (e.g. Biden greatly outperforming in SC, most other neo-liberal competition dropping out) would have been too late to have enormous effects.
Next, I graphed the result in that State for each of the two candidates, versus what the polls had predicted. Figure 1 shows the result for Biden. Note that the states are sorted on the graph from left to right by the which state awarded the most delegates. The solid orange square represents the actual percentage of the vote that Biden received in each state. The markers in blue show up to the last six polls which polling periods closing substantially after the Nevada primary, but before the voting on Super Tuesday. (Note that I have use the intensity of the color, marker size, and marker shape to indicate how near the pole was to the Super Tuesday Primary. For example, the dark blue big open square is the most recent poll to the primary for each state.). The grey footballs below the graph show the intermediate results of the analysis. For each state, I subtracted the actual vote percentage the candidate received from the average, the median, or the most recent of that State’s polls.
So, how did Biden do? Well, in most states he over-performed polling expectation. However, he tended to over perform a lot more in states with fewer polls. We would naturally expect statistically that the more polls over a longer time period that a state has, the wider the range in these polls would probably be. However, we don’t necessarily see that pattern consistently. For example, California’s six polls have a pretty tight range. Compare this to Utah, which only had two polls, bounding an even wider range (see also CO and MA which have less polls, but wide ranges). We also see, not surprisingly, that the most recent poll (except ME) was the most accurate to the performance. In general, the over or under performance to the most recent poll is smaller for the states that had more delegates, and therefore, got more attention.
Sanders slightly beat recent poll expectations in States with lots of delegates, but under performed smaller States
Let’s consider senator Sanders and his performance as well. As indicated earlier, people have the feeling that Senator Sanders under performed expectations. There is some truth to that in the data. However, most of the under performance was versus older polls or versus polls in States with lower numbers of delegates. This is why there is a greater amount of under performance to the average poll.
However, if we look at the most recent polls in four out of five of the biggest delegate states, Sanders beat expectations, including Massachusetts. Considering California and Texas represent almost 50% of the delegates that were awarded in super Tuesday and included in this analysis (Figure 3), Sanders actually overperformed the expectation of the last poll before the election, and in the case of Texas only slightly underperformed the second to last poll. Interestingly, the biggest underperformance of Sanders was in his own home state of Vermont! However, what really hurt Sanders was his big underperformance to earlier polls in California.
California and Texas dominate delegates, but the rest of the field has a long tail
It matters which states have the most delegates. As we can see on Figure 3, like many things in nature, the political power of the Super Tuesday States follows a fairly steep Pareto trend. California and Texas hold almost 50% of the delegates by themselves. Obviously, they are less powerful when taken in context with all States in the nation. The fact they are included in super Tuesday is a choice, perhaps an engineered political choice. But we can also see a fairly long tail of delegate drop-off, after you get past Texas (approximately half of the states in super Tuesday represent 81% of the votes).
On a weighted-average basis by number of delegates, both Biden and Sanders overperformed
Given the Pareto, in order for us to understand the overall meaning of this analysis, it’s important that we use a weighted average by delegates to interpret the results. Figure 4 shows a graph with the weighted average of the under or over performance for each candidate versus the average, median, and recent poll. Because people were so negative in polls on Biden, up until the last few days before Super Tuesday, this gives Biden the appearance of over performance (almost 10% considering the weighted average of each states poll average). This is not dissimilar to non-weighted average or median of all state averages. Biden’s almost 10% overperformance to expectations would be much higher, if we excluded the most recent two or three polls. However, because polling organizations will tend to wait until close to a state’s primary to poll them if they only want to expend resources for one poll, Biden’s overperformance from a median point of view was much more modest. However, the ex-Vice President was able to overperform where he needed to, so that on a weighted average basis he did a lot better than the median, over performing bye 3.5% versus the most recent poll.
Senator Sanders also outperformed on a weighted average basis, regardless of whether you weight average the average, median, or most recent for each state’s individual over performance. In other words, by the time that Super Tuesday happened, the polls did somewhat accurately correct expectations, at least in the states that really mattered. However, it is likely the older poll expectations were still in many people’s minds.
Without the weighted average, it does appear that Sanders missed expectations by a little bit. Once again, if we look back to Figure 2, Sander’s underperformance was worse versus older polls and in states where there were few polls (many Southern and New England states). This probably led to the perception that he had performed badly overall, although this is not borne out by the weighted average results.
Biden is in a commanding position, including his gifted delegates from others, but 2/3 of the game remains to be played
Every main player at the poker table folded his or her hand before or right after Super Tuesday, except Sanders and Biden. Everyone except Warren openly tried to give their cards and chips to Biden. Figure 5 shows the delegate counts after Super Tuesday as of press time for this article. The first thing we note is that most of the delegates pledged delegates were indeed earned by the two candidates we are discussing. This is shown in dark blue. However, what happens to the delegates from the candidates who have dropped out, which at this point is everyone but Tulsi Gabbard. According to the article listed in the sources, candidates are allowed to choose what person is a delegate. However, they cannot officially control who delegates vote for. On the other hand, according to the DNC rules, the delegate is supposed to agree to vote for whoever they, in good conscience, believe their candidate wanted them to vote for.
Given that, I assumed that all the delegates for Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar will vote for Biden. Not only did these candidates endorse the Ex-VP, but the candidates themselves are much more ideologically similar to Biden than Sanders. On the other hand, Elizabeth Warren dropped out endorsing no one. I assumed that her candidates delegates would go to Biden and Sanders in a ratio of 36% versus 46%, based on the article listed in the sources. That leaves us with the two delegates held chosen by Gabbard. I made the bold assumption that Sanders will get. And, just because he seems to need the help, I assigned Sanders those candidates.
Even before we reapportion the other candidates’ delegates, Biden has a definite, but not insurmountable lead over Sanders (6%). Add in the delegates from the candidates who dropped out, and the gap widens to something that is starting to look big (12%). But once again, it is still fairly early. There is a total of 3,979 pledged delegates to be allocated based on the primary and caucus process. So far, 34% of those have been claimed. Leaving 66% still to be earned by the candidates. In general, one would think that as candidates drop out there will be voters who will become uninvolved, because there are less change the remaining candidates matches them ideologically. In that scenario, perhaps Senator Sanders supposed passionate base could help him. Now that the other neo-liberal candidates are gone, some of their voters may simply not vote at all.
How is the prediction playing out?
As of press time (March 20, 2020), Figure 6 shows the new delegate counts. The model in Figure 5 underpredicted Bidens power. He now has 57% of the pledged delegates, not including picking up other candidates delegates, and if the predictions above on delegate transference hold true, he now has 59% of the votes.
Biden needs to not mess up; Sanders needs to super-activate his activists, but they will be hampered by other events
We can synthesize several strategic conclusions from the analysis of Super Tuesday’s results and the subsequent primaries in Figure 7.
First, the neo-liberal wing of the party is definitely more loyal to ideology than to a candidate, because some many voters were clearly willing to coalesce on Joe Biden almost instantly after their candidate dropped out. However, Biden’s wing of the DNC may be pretty much out of dry powder. All their candidates are gone, so from this point Biden is on his own (no more gifted delegates). Also, we don’t know how many of Warren’s candidates will actually go to one candidate versus the other, or if she will have a change of heart and actually endorse someone later.
Also, momentum does matter. It seems that Biden’s overperformance in South Carolina had a much more powerful effect than many people would have expected, given how strong Sanders seemed going into the day. The Chinese Corona Virus is a gift to Biden and the neo-liberal wing of the Democrats. It has effectively blocked Sanders from increasing his momentum.
However, there are other wildcards such as the age of the people left in the primary. Both Biden and Sanders are older men with known health problems. Will a health problem or perhaps an unforced or forced error on the debate stage stop one or the other? Biden survived the latest debate with Sanders 1:1. Biden looked visibly more engaged and the lack of a real audience may have helped him focus; it certainly hurt Sanders who is able to engage a crowd.
The response of the Democratic primary voters may be of concern to the Republican Party, as well. Many may find it surprising the Democratic voters, even primary voters, were listening so attentively that with such short notice of other candidates dropping out, they were able to shift support to Biden. These people are clearly watching the campaign with rapt attention and picking up on the signals that their candidate and others are giving them. The question is, who will start talking to them now with the other candidates losing authority? Will other light houses to the Democrats, such as the Clintons and the Obamas, step up to advocate to voters?
Finally, Senator Sanders is legendary for having a passionate fanbase and great ground game. However, his progressive support is clearly not as strong as people thought. He did not get his full vote out that he was predicted to have just one or two weeks before super Tuesday. He did slightly overperform, but he should have done far better according to the analysis. Although there are theoretically over half of the pledged delegates left, Sanders would have to win great majorities. Some organizations would become demotivated from the loss, but that is the modis operandi of Sanders active supporters. He might have activated them into a 2-minute drill mode, in which they doubled down on their efforts to get him elected. They probably feel like they were robbed of victory on Super Tuesday, but can they get non-active Sanders voters to the polls? Sanders voters are known to be younger people, and statistics show that older voters tend to vote in larger percentages.
But although Senator Sanders has not been personally afflicted by the Chinese Corona Virus, his campaign has.
- It effectively neutralizes Sander’s best weapon – his passionate army of ground infantry.
- No one is going to go to Sander’s rallies.
- No one is going to go to Biden’s rallies, but that is probably a welcome gift to Biden’s handlers. It allows Biden to avoid many appearances that give him more opportunities to gaffe.
- In a crisis, people tend to want safety and stability, which probably favors the moderate Biden over Sanders, who although his ideas are very old (he has been consistent), they are new for the American voter base to actually consider.
To those who are passionate about either of the two front-running remaining candidates, best of luck in your campaigning and in your decisions. For those who are part of the opposing party waiting to see who will face the President, sit back with the popcorn and enjoy the show. And for everybody else, I guess you can just Netflix and chill, and ignore it all.
Hello again cost management aficionados!
I would like to announce the first in my series of deep dive profiles on specific product cost management software solutions. You all may remember that I did a two-part series on the history and landscape of PCM and Spend Analytics solutions with our good friends over at SpendMatters.com in December. You can find those jumping off point analysis here and here.
As of late last week, we posted the first of our deep dives on one of the solutions, What’s the Price (WTP). Please check it out over at Spend Matters. One caveat: I have been the victim of my own success in that Spend Matters thinks the article such good content that you will see a teaser article and then need to pass through their paywall to see the full analysis.
WTP is really intriguing as a software solution, so I hope you enjoy the analysis!
Here’s a teaser of some of the insight that you’ll get:
Eric A. Hiller
Summary for Lyft CEO
Ride-hail is not going away, but it must to get profitable. You can try to “grow to profitability”, but as was have learned in the past, that is a risky proposition.
Uber is expanding, but it is already bigger than Lyft. Is that strategy profitable, and if it is, is there enough room for two players in it. Simultaneously, the path to profitability is getting harder with cities pushing back on Lyft and Uber, and as Lyft and Uber attract new customers, they may be less profitable riders. Consider another option: an alternative targeted and differentiated strategy:
- Lyft should double-down on a long-term strategy of letting Uber attempt to own the market… but in reality, building the interstate for Lyft to toll
- Continue to build cultural allegiance driver, rider, and city — which will differentiate and win in a commodity market in the longer-term, as Lyft captures share in an increasingly regulated environment
- Follow to profitable geographies
- Long term invest in autonomous public transport, leveraging massive experience with app / software and routing vehicles to individuals
Ride-hail – an establish Wall Street darling, dominated by two players
If you live in a city of any size over 50,000, it’s likely you have access to or ridden with a ride share / ride-hail firm — a firm that uses the vehicles of private people (being driven by those people) to synthesize a taxi-cab company. I certainly have used them extensively in business travel, and some for personal trips, too.
These services have changed the way that people experience big cities, and serve many important use cases, such as the following:
- Much less expensive alternative to a cab for those already using cabs, if you are concerned about money.
- Often a more pleasant experience than a taxi cab, even if someone else is paying for the ride (e.g. business travel)
- A not-that-much-more expensive option to public transportation (as public trans gets worse in many cities). This has been advance even further with the shared ride options on these apps
- A safe option for people (especially women) going home at night, in lieu of walking or public transportation
- Another excellent option to protect the public by giving another alternative to drunk driving
- A way of reducing parking fees, and sometimes even needing a car at all for consumers
- A method to take the load off of limited (and expensive) urban parking for municipalities
- In some cases, reduction in traffic
The 800 pound gorilla that rules the space is Uber, but there is a wiry and strong orangutan in the asphalt jungle as well: Lyft.
Today, we want to look at the Ride-hail market from both an industry perspective, but also from the standpoint of the Lyft CEO.
Ride-hail is a growing market, with broad customer appeal
As of July 2019, the ride-share market had grown to $184 billion (See Figure 1). This is predicted to grow, but with a diminishing year-over-year percentages of growth. The amazing thing is how much the US market is truly a duopoly, and it is getting even more so. In 2019, only 1% percent of revenue was from other companies, down from 4% just two years before.
Looking at Figure 3, we can better understand the customers of the Ride-hail revolution. Not surprisingly, the users are predicted to go up handsomely through through 2023, although revenue per user does not seem to go up by a lot. For example, from $184 in 2019 to $208 in 2023, that seems like it could only be 1-3 extra rides per user (and how much of that would be inflation)?
Figure 3 also shows us WHO the users are. Not surprisingly, younger people are using Lyft and Uber more than older people. That is to be expected for a couple of reasons:
- Younger people tend to be more comfortable with technology and new ecosystems
- Younger people tend to live in urban areas, whereas there is a general trend when one gets older and is married (and especially with children) to move out to the ‘burbs or even more rural areas, where traffic is lighter and parking is plentiful, easy, and cheap.
However, the age demographic trend probably goes beyond this. The Wall Street Journal in 2019 noted a shocking fact that:
“about a quarter of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2017, a sharp decline from nearly half in 1983”
Whoa… as someone who grew up in a rural area, this is shocking. Everyone I can remember in my high school viewed driving through the same lens: driving was cool; driving was a rite of passage to adulthood; driving was independence; driving was all American; driving was… personal freedom! However, the WSJ article does not shock me, because I have heard several people tell me about their kids or grandkids who have no interest in driving. If that is the case, then one would think that these as Zoomers become older, that average revenue per user would skyrocket (i.e. it’s pretty difficult to accomplish your transportation needs on $208, or even 2-3x that per year).
Interestingly, men use Ride-hail more than women. That was very counter-intuitive to me, but maybe that is because this is worldwide data, not only US. On average, the guys I observe in the US are cheaper than the girls (e.g. more likely to drive their own car and look for cheap parking rather than pay for a ride). And, one would think safety would be a greater concern for women in general (or they are more reasonably aware that it should be a concern than for some men). However, this probably means that there is good market growth potential as women’s share of usage increases, maybe past men’s.
However, the most encouraging demographic slice if you are the Lyft or Uber CEO is that the service seems to have broad appeal to all income levels. While it does skew to the high income earners, medium, and low income earners also have a substantial slice of the pie. Note though that it is probably not as “egalitarian” as it looks, depending on how these classes are defined. For example, if the high income group is 10% of the population then the revenue per user is much higher for people in the high income groups than that of the middle or low income groups.
But, Lyft and Uber’s thirst for growth makes it hard for investors to believe their claims of near-term profitability
This all looks great, right? Well maybe, but this ride could also be more of a Delorean, taking us Back to the Future… back to about 2001. Remember, the “Internet Bubble” and its bursting? If we look at Figure 4, we see that while growth is very good on Figure 1 and 3, these are FAR from profitable companies, despite their IPO glamor.
While Uber seems to be doing better than Lyft on Operating margin, Operational Net Margin, and EBITDA Margin both are extremely negative. However, when Lyft calculates their version of adjusted EBITDA, they claim that it was only -45% in the 3 months ended September 2018 and now is a mere -13.4% for the 3 months ended September 2019. You can see how Lyft gets to its number on Figure 4, which shows it’s adjusted EBITDA calculation. Lyft claimed in October 2019 it would be adjusted EBITDA positive by end of Q4 2021. Uber is doing worse (-15% adjusted adjusted EBITDA margin) per their own EBITDA numbers for Q3 2019, although it is interesting to see how it breaks out by business line. The core business of rides does have positive EBITDA, but all the other business lines are in the red.
So, why doesn’t Uber just divest these unprofitable new ventures (or at least quit dumping so much fuel into their tanks). Some believe, it is the insatiable need for growth to stave off investor confidence loss and the bursting of the next potential bubble.
There is a concern that the most lucrative markets are becoming saturated and that municipalities are about to strike back
There is some potential worry over global revenue by country (Figure 7). It’s amazing that 91% of the ride-hail revenue is from only three countries and 97% from five. On one hand that seems like an opportunity for Lyft and Uber. I.E. can’t they reap massive growth by opening up LATAM and the EU? Maybe, but there are concerns:
- Opening up new countries requires expensive fixed cost investments to be made
- Just like secondary locations for a franchise, the “B and C” tend to be more expensive / less profitable than the A sites.
- Different geographies can bring different competitive threats. For example in the EU, competitors are focused on profit and efficiency more than the US Silicon Valley heavy-weights.
In other markets, saturation could become a limiter. For example, in the Ride-hail markets biggest geography (China) the market is already 36% saturated. Granted, it is controlled 90% by Didi, which Uber partially owns. But, the question on my mind remains: is the other 64% of the market (a) real and (b) able to be served at reasonable profitability? Supply and demand tells us that profitability will suffer as ride-share penetration goes up.
In the US, it would appear that ride share penetration has a lot of room in the trunk still. It is only 22% penetrated on average, per Figure 7. And according to certify.com, many large cities have lots of share left to take. However, one wonders how long Uber and Lyft can go before suffering more profit and demand-damaging actions from cities. For example:
- California is trying to bend Lyft and Uber to their will by forcing drivers to be treated as employees, not independent contractors.
- Chicago’s mayor just tripled taxes on Lyft and Uber for downtown rides and raised them elsewhere.
- Many cities are upset, because they believe Lyft and Uber are causing more traffic and congestion, not relieving it. As rides get cheaper, more people, they believe, are being wooed away from public transport. And, as anyone who lives in a major US city knows, public transport is already rarely profitable, and often a quite unpleasant experience.
There are big differences in Uber and Lyft, not apparent to outsiders on first glance
So, what do you do if you are Lyft’s CEO? To answer that question, we should go beyond the financial numbers only, to more fundamental differences. Figure 8 shows us some operational data. Uber has a much more massive international footprint and is expanding into lots of revenue streams. If Uber and Lyft are both about “get big fast,” Uber wants to be the BIGGEST and the fastest. That shows in its driving metric of number of users on its platform. On the other hand Lyft seems much more concerned about profitability (for themselves and their drivers). Although, from previous figures, we can see their own concepts of adjusted EBITDA do not really vary much in the end result. This should give us a clue to a hypothesis, i.e. maybe Lyft should focus on being efficiently fast drivers, not reckless speed demons, as Uber seems to like?
To confirm investigate further, let us take a look at a cultural snapshot of these companies (Figure 9). I always like to say, “Everything has a genesis from people to software.” That genesis typically has long lasting and inherent influence on who we grow up to be and how we grow up to be. Uber spawned from the idea of improving black car service; Lyft was was more personal and folksy, about public transit and car-pooling. This helped forge each company’s values. Lyft is “your friend with a car,” where Uber is more the slick velvet rope service, without a VIP price.
SOURCES for Figures 8 & 9:
A common complaint in both companies cultures, but that seems worse in Uber’s, is the feeling that most drivers have that the compensation they make is very murky. It is not transparent to the driver and, especially on Uber, it seems to be constantly changing. This gives Ride-hail compensation the gestalt of a shell game or a pyramid scheme sales contest. In fact, many drivers are getting an MBA from the school of hard knocks in the difference between cash flow (which they see) and profit (which they are uncertain they are making).
To [over?]abstract and synthesize these two competitors (which can look identical to many users, investors, and casual observers), we could put Lyft and Uber on a a trusty 2×2 matrix (Figure 10). The axes would be the financial strategy to win vs. the cultural strategy to win. NOTE: on this 2×2 matrix which quadrant in which a competitor resides is only strategically positional. It does not imply better or worse (e.g. top-right quadrant is not necessarily better.).
Uber started off at the top right, which is:
- Financial strategy: Get big, fast / 1st mover (geographic scale and platform breadth)
- Cultural strategy:
- For rider: reliability, formality, hospitality
- For driver: provide the volume of riders
On the other hand, Lyft is in the opposing corner:
- Financial strategy: More steady & safe risk valuation growth (higher rev. / rider, fast follower to Uber)
- Cultural strategy:
- For rider: authenticity, fun, ethics
- For driver: transparency, higher-profit rides
However, Uber struggled at the end of the founding CEO’s tenure with some alleged internal cultural challenges that eventually led to a CEO change. The new CEO seems to have nudged Uber’s cultural position in the direction of Lyft. However, how much of this was reactionary vs. strategic is unknown.
Looking at the service itself, Ride-hail is mostly a commodity at the end of the day. In a commodity, market, who ever has the lowest price, wins. Often, having a lower price is dependent on scale, because then overheads can be amortized more efficiently. Uber is ALREADY much bigger than Lyft, even in the US alone. Therefore, it is a risky / unlikely proposition that Lyft can overtake Uber to be the low-cost producer in a commoditized market.
Lyft needs to structure its go-to-market on it own terms as a differentiated and city/driver-friendly player, letting Uber be the commodity business and high-end player
Lyft needs to DE-COMMODITIZE the market by leveraging its natural cultural strengths and accumulated good will with drivers and riders. There are 3 stakeholders (outside of Wall Street) it needs to win:
Figure 11 has recommendations for each of those areas. Long term, it is likely there will be less need for drivers, if autonomous vehicles do finally become technologically and financially feasible. However, many think that is 10-20 years away, and until that happens, why not have drivers who want to take your rides first, before accepting Uber’s? Uber may still have the volume, but Lyft is continuing to grow that. Lyft needs to give drivers more and simpler choices. For example, they could offer drivers who prefer more steady income a more set salary, while allowing others to take more reward with risk. Either way, the driver needs to feel that he (/she) is in control and certain of how much he’s making on the fare. In fact, the Lyft’s driver app team needs to work very hard to offer the driver simple to use graphical tools on the driver app to intelligently make that decision.
Happy and more loyal drivers can help with the other two constituencies, especially municipalities. Ride-hail drivers are not the wealthy. Lyft needs to educate municipalities that a good number of these drivers are lower income, and if not for Lyft, they could not afford their own vehicle and/or would be using more city resources for the poor. That would play especially well with more socialist regimes like California and Chicago, who are the vanguard that is harrying Lyft and Uber
Lyft should also should be partnering with cities where Lyft can do the city cannot. The big difference between Ride-hail and public trans, is that public trans has a set course, where ride-hail is on demand and creates custom routes. But, there are positions in between on this spectrum. For example, Lyft could allow enterprising drivers to buy or lease mini-buses, custom designed for rapid ingress / egress (e.g. every row has a door on each side and there are 3-5 rows with easy to maintain but study individual seats). These buses could be Geo-fenced to areas with high densities of riders. Think of the possible advantages for the stakeholders:
- Rider, gets to stay inside in the warmth (winter) or cool (summer) until the mini-bus arrives (same as ride-hail). Compare to the frigid experience at a Chicago El or bus stop!
- Rider pays less, becuase the mini-bus or ride-hail van is a logical extension of the shared ride idea that Lyft Line uses already
- Cities like it, because every ride-hail van takes 3-4 individual cars off the road, reducing traffic and the need for parking
- Cities like it, because it helps the environment. These ride-hail vans could even be electric, charging in the bus lanes if there are already tram cables and / or with fast swap batteries that are replaced at a few swap stations around the Geo-fenced areas, while the driver takes a break, eats, etc.
- Cities can use it for multi-modal travel. At the end of the night, if someone lives outside the mini-bus radius, the bus can drop them of at a charging station with a warm and safe waiting room to be picked up by an individual Lyft to complete the trip home (coordinated to arrive, at the same time the mini-bus does). These charging / transfer stations could also be located close to subway or buss stops in various directions.
- Cities could be convinced by Lyft that this is “hybrid-public” transportation and tax it, but in return, all the ride-hail mini-buses get to use bus lanes and other priority traffic mechanisms
- Driver makes less per rider, but is getting many more riders per hour, because the pick-ups and drop-offs are very close to one another and fast, due to the design of the vehicle.
- Driver spends less time in traffic and waiting for the next ride and more time with paying passengers.
What is the barrier to entry? Only someone with the experience and technology of a Lyft and Uber has the tech ecosystem (app for drivers, servers to plot routes, past learning, network of drivers, etc.) to make this work. Individual cities can’t do this themselves, but they could using Lyft’s technology. Alternatively, they could pay a SAAS subscription or revenue royalty to use the Lyft tech platform and staff it with their own public trans employers and owned ride-hail vans. There are many options, but this would be a “sticky” partnership, i.e. once a city sets this up with Lyft, they would have a lot of natural disincentives to stop the relationship. For example, hundreds of their citizens would be employed in this Lyft/city ecosystem and tens of thousands would be happy users of the network. Is a mayor up for re-election going to mess with that? In fact, instead of cities fighting to keep Lyft out, or Lyft waiting for the 800 pound Uber to kick down the door into a new city, new cities may invite Lyft in to start such a partnership.
The last stakeholder is the rider. We have discussed some benefits to the rider already. Lyft may be ceding some of the high income / business class to Uber in this strategy, but maybe not. Given the younger demographics of ride-hail, Lyft can leverage its car-pool / environmental / fun image to younger riders. As they age and get promoted in their jobs, they likely will have loyalty to the Lyft brand, when they graduate to the more expensive and exclusive private ride-hail vehicles.
In traditional private car ride-hail, lyft should double-down on a long-term strategy of letting Uber attempt to kick down the doors first and then come into the market after it is proven possible and profitable.
Ride-hail is here to stay. Literally millions of riding customers would be angry, if it stopped. But, it has to get profitable. Uber is 150% wed to its get-big-fast and become a travel and freight conglomerate strategy. The questions are: is that strategy profitable, and if it is, is there enough room for two players in it. Both are murky questions, but there are other, less risky options for Lyft to pursue. Simultaneously, the path to profitability is getting harder with cities pushing back on the ride-hail players and the ride-hail players likely suffering less profitable riders as they penetrate the market and his supply / demand constraints. If Lyft pursues an alternative targeted and differentiated strategy, it can re-route around the jammed-up main traffic arteries on which Uber and it are currently driving together, and take a short cut to a profitable and sustainable destination.
Eric Arno Hiller is the managing partner of Hiller Associates, the leading consulting firm specializing in Product Cost Management (PCM), should-cost, design-to-value and software product management. He is a former McKinsey & Company engagement manager and operations expert. Before McKinsey, Mr. Hiller was the co-founder and founding CEO of two high technology start-ups: aPriori (a PCM software platform) and TADA.today. Before aPriori & TADA, he worked in product development and manufacturing at Ford Motor Co., John Deere, and Procter & Gamble. Mr. Hiller is the author of the PCM blog ProductProfitAndRisk.com. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a master’s and bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.