News & Politics

The War Between Uber and Lyft Is Getting Nastier

Uber is using contractors with "burner phones" to get Lyft's drivers to defect to its ride-sharing program, according to a report.

Photograph via Shutterstock.

Washington is one of the battlegrounds in the war for the ride-sharing market where Uber has deployed some of its more aggressive tactics to beat back rivals like Lyft, according to company documents revealed Tuesday.

According to The Verge, Uber used a company to hire “brand ambassadors” in big cities across the country to flip drivers associated with Lyft to its own UberX service, equipping operatives with pre-paid phones (also called “burners”) and credit cards to avoid detection by Lyft. The contractors would then talk up their Lyft drivers en route to their destinations, in hopes of getting them to switch sides and earn a $750 commission. 

The bulk of the activity, which Uber calls “Operation SLOG,” appears to have taken place in New York, but The Verge reports that the driver-recrutiment enterprise is quickly expanding to other major cities where Uber and Lyft are clawing at each other, including Washington. Details about the scheme come two weeks after Lyft accused Uber of having its employees order more than 5,500 rides only to cancel them moments later in an attempt to disrupt Lyft’s operations.

In a conveniently timed gesture at transparency, Uber published a blog post of its own describing Operation SLOG, which it says is an acronym for “Supplying Long-term Operations Growth.” (The word “slog” is also defined in dictionaries as hitting one’s opponent forcefully over an extended period of time.)

“With millions of riders and ever-increasing demand for more rides in even more cities, we are always working hard to recruit new drivers onto the platform,” the company says. (The post announcing the operation is topped by a photo of a friendly looking dude in a vest and aviator sunglasses standing in front of a Prius, which is more disarming than, say, a rabble of Uber employees hunched over a battlefield map.)

The company also makes a slight nod to the pushy measures The Verge’s report accuses it of taking. Under a header titled “Marketing 101,” Uber says engaging the competition’s driver corps is part of the game, but insists it doesn’t go as far as clogging Lyft’s system with phony ride requests that get canceled minutes after being booked.

“We can’t successfully recruit drivers without talking to them—and that means taking a ride,” the post reads. “We’re all about more and better economic opportunity for drivers. We never use marketing tactics that prevent a driver from making their living—and that includes never intentionally canceling rides.”

An Uber spokesman referred Washingtonian back to the Operation SLOG blog post when asked about The Verge’s story.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.