Thursday, September 22, 2016

Millennials love sushi, cha and boba

Let’s say you’re a 53-year-old man standing in line to pick up a honey green milk cha bottomed out with plenty of boba, plus a serving of crispy dumplings. You’re clearly a generation or two older than everybody else, except the occasional parent tagging along with the gang.

Back in the day, this sort of social gathering might have taken place at El Torito’s during margarita happy hour; or at Bob’s Big Boy with a tableful of college buddies waiting for a double decker combo coupled with a thick milkshake.

Yes, there I stand waiting to order dinner for a customer of the Postmates food delivery service, where you do everything on a mobile app. I’ll be standing on the sideline waiting and waiting for that meal to be bagged with an attached receipt. On a good day, I find a stool to occupy while playing Sudoku, sifting through news, responding to a text and an email, maybe chatting with a restaurant worker; and waiting, waiting, waiting.

Millennials love sushi, cha and boba. It’s not all about the iced milk teas. Like I said, it could have been about drinking together; it could have been shooting pool, going to a dance club, a coffeehouse, or eating at the latest fast-food startup. It’s a place to go out on dates, hang out with your school buddies, co-workers, or your best friend. It’s much better than staying at home.

I got hooked up with Postmates after a college student recommended I go for it during an Uber trip to Cal State Long Beach. I was trying to get her to class on time and not get plugged up in traffic. She told me that her best friend was making more money delivering meals for Postmates than picking up riders for Uber. Hmmm….. very interesting, I said.

So I gave it a shot and attended a delivery driver orientation at a Postmates office near downtown L.A. In a room full of about 75 “new hires,” there was a woman in her mid-40s and me; the rest were probably 20-to-35 year olds.

The Cal State Long student had informed me that the food delivery company needed more drivers in the Long Beach area. That turned out to be true, and it was appealing to me. Demand for Uber and Lyft trips could typically be a bit soft outside of L.A., so having steady work from Postmates had its appeal.

Just like the roomful of attendees at the Postmates orientation, and about 90 percent of the riders I’ve dropped off for Uber and Lyft, most all of the Postmates customers are Millennials. They’ve used Uber and Lyft many times, and heard through peers that Postmates is a good one to try out. Tapping into special discount offers, including free meals, helps win some of them over.

After a few months of Postmates deliveries, the age gap became less noticeable to me. It became more about the function of doing the work.

For example, there’s a young woman behind the cash register helping me get the confusing dinner order figured out; or me waiting for my meal with a gang of Millennials impatiently waiting for the food to come up. There might be a 20-something customer texting me on how to get past the security gate and find his or her apartment, buried way back in the complex on a dark, poorly lit night.

It’s all about the food.

It’s clear young people in Southern California love Asian food and beverage – from cha to milk tea; from curry veggies to orange chicken; and yes, there’s more.

When I was in college, we all needed to try out Thai food or Vietnamese, which we loved. Years later, we’d go to a Korean barbeque for lunch during workweek, and try out the new P.F. Chang’s restaurant that fused Chinese with California cuisine.

I’ve yet to be won over by cha tea and boba (also known as tapioca pearls; boba, that is). I tried a fruit flavored tea drink packed with boba a few years ago; it doesn’t stand out in my memory beyond chewing the boba pearls.

Millennials love Postmates. They might use another delivery service, too, like UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, Caviar, or a local joint like a pizza parlor. It usually starts out for them by taking Uber and Lyft trips. They quickly get hooked using a mobile app to get their mobility needs met quickly and seamlessly. Once they pushed the button, the driver would show up within 10 minutes. One of their friends, or someone they’re sharing an Uber ride with, or their driver, recommends trying out Postmates. One or two meals later, they love it.

Postmates and the other new food delivery companies have basically copied the Uber and Lyft business models, linking up drivers to customers through their own proprietary software and mobile apps. They also bring a few restaurants and fast food chains into their network, throwing in a few discount deals to attract new customers into their marketing programs.

You can also find a couple of good stories about driving for Postmates in Tales of UberMan

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why is Uber heading toward hybrids and electric cars?

Uber just made an announcement that its bringing in 20 Nissan Leafs to its fleet in London as a test project. It's being carried out to "look into the feasibility of running large numbers of electric private hire vehicles in the UK,” according to Energy Savings Trust, which is conducting the study.

The ride-hailing company says that 60% of Uber trips in London are being made in hybrids. Hybrids and electric cars have been visible for Uber in other trial runs. If you look at the Uber Partner website, you'll see a young woman leaning up against her Toyota Prius.

And here's another one: the partnership between Uber and Volvo will be carried out in Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrids. There are other similar examples out there in the market, including Lyft and General Motors preparing to test out self-driving all-electric Chevy Bolts.

Why are ridesharing companies using hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles in the test mode? Here's what I think:

  • Testing the economics. These cars are owned by drivers, who need to see financial gains from driving for Uber and Lyft. Hybrids and plug-ins means spending less on fuel. These cars, especially all electric, tend to need very little in maintenance and repair compared to gasoline engine cars; and less than hybrids and plug-in hybrids. 
  • Range is getting better: All electric cars have been getting better in the past couple of years. It's not just about waiting for the 200-300 miles per charge cars in the next couple of years. Plug-in hybrids are doing better, too, with more miles coming through the battery in the revamped Chevy Volt and other models. Hybrids themselves can do pretty well, especially the Prius. Mine can go about 475 miles on a tank of gas and get about 48 mpg.
  • Sustainability: Lots of consumers using Uber and Lyft, and car shoppers, are looking for clean cars that run on zero emissions, or near zero. It might be even more important than saving money on transportation. I've had a few riders tell me they love Uber and Lyft because they'll be taking cars off roads as more rides are shared; and if you ride in a hybrid or plug-in, that's less your emitting in greenhouse gases and air pollution. 
  • Trying out the new technology: Interested in buying/leasing a Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Toyota Prius Prime, or Chevy Volt? You can try renting one at Enterprise or elsewhere, but there aren't many available. Taking an Uber or Lyft ride allows you to take a ride and ask the driver a lot of questions on what's it's like to own the car. The driver will tell you - honest conversation is part of the experience.
  • Ties in well with self-driving cars: I've heard a couple of experts on urban mobility talk about how electrified and autonomous vehicles would go well together; efficiency in managing and maintaining these fleets is the main point made. Fuel cost savings comes to play, and you can monitor and manage the recharging process more efficiently. That will be something to watch. I would say that the future of city transportation will be shaped by electrified, autonomous vehicles tied into mobility services like Uber and Lyft. Ridesharing, carpooling, carsharing...... lots of sharing and less car ownership.
Electrified transportation is explored in my book Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders.