TIME Autos

5 Reasons You Should Download a Taxi-Hailing App

New York City Taxi Fares Rise
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A taxi driver pauses in his vehicle on September 4, 2012 in New York City.

Regular cabs are a great option even in the Age of Uber

For people who live in cities like San Francisco and New York, this era of on-demand transportation wars can be a fantastic time to take a regular old cab. That’s especially true because of apps like Flywheel and Arro—the latter launching in New York City on Wednesday—which allow riders to summon taxis from their smartphones and pay through the app just like they do when taking an Uber or Lyft.

Here are five reasons you should download a taxi-hailing app in addition to Uber or Lyft if you can:

There’s no surge pricing

Uber is fond of pointing out that its UberX service is cheaper than a cab. And that goes doubly for its UberPOOL option, which allows riders to get cheaper fares for sharing rides with strangers traveling in the same general direction. A trip from downtown San Francisco to the airport could be half the price via UberPOOL compared to what it is in a cab, saving a rider a solid $25.

But surge pricing, Uber’s practice of temporarily upping rates in times of high demand or low supply, requires a big asterisk on the company’s cheaper-than-thou talk. Right after work or on those late weekend nights, the rates for an UberX driver can quickly double or triple. And that probably means that taking a never-surging cab is now the cheapest option, even with a 20% tip factored in.

The below chart shows sample rates for a hypothetical trip (based on a recent one I took), which lasts six minutes, covers one mile and involves three minutes of idle time sitting in San Francisco traffic:

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The size of these bars will vary from city to city and company to company, but cabs remain competitively priced. And apps that summon them are worth having in one’s tool belt, if only so your wallet is not beholden to how many Uber drivers decided to go to work that day.

Customer service is (at least in some cases) getting better

If cab drivers in the Bay Area are any indication, these workers have never been more grateful for a fare. Taxis became notorious for providing terrible service in part because they could get away with it in times of yore. Riders had nowhere else to turn. But the competition from Lyft and Uber drivers—with their polite salutations and Starburst candy and free bottles of water—has shamed many taxi drivers into upping their customer-service game. Taxis in San Francisco are lousy with “How are you?”’s and “Which route would you prefer?”’s and “Have a wonderful night”’s.

Apps like Flywheel also inspire better service because taxi drivers are held accountable through a five-star rating system, just like they are in the Uber and Lyft apps. Bad ratings get investigated. Bad drivers get suspended. Apps allow for feedback and customer input.

“Because the idea of passenger and driver ratings is a new concept for taxis we will work with drivers before we kick them off the platform entirely,” says Flywheel spokesman Bob Patterson. “This could be a conversation with them or retraining.”

Either way, they’re likely to listen. Access to this much-needed lifeline in the Age of Uber isn’t something many are willing to risk.

Waiting times can be shorter

Polls have found that young people are more supportive of and familiar with Uber. At those times when this heavy-using demographic is likely to be summoning cars—like after partying on a Friday night or heading to work in the morning—cabs can be relatively easy to come by. In San Francisco, it’s not uncommon to open an Uber app and find that the closest available driver is seven minutes away at a peak time, while the closest cab is just two minutes off.

The hegemony and popularity of Uber is so great in the Bay Area that many young people aren’t even aware that Flywheel exists, even though it’s in more than 80% of the city’s cabs and has been live for more than two years. At the most recent Crunchies (a sort of Oscars celebration for startups) the first joke to fall flat from actor T.J. Miller was about the relatively unpopular and buggy ride-hailing app Curb, which began as a taxi-hailing app. He took a jab at them and was greeted with silence. Few in the highly attuned room—who had all strolled past anti-Uber protestors outside—seemed to be aware that such a thing existed. For now at least, that means more supply for the rest of us.

Cabs often have special access

Until July, it was illegal for Uber or Lyft to pick up passengers at Los Angeles’ LAX airport. When city officials voted to change that, Los Angeles became the largest U.S. city allowing full airport access for such companies. Yet even then, officials estmated that it would take months for those drivers to comply with all the rules about processes and fees that these highly regulated depots have in place. The month before, New York City seized nearly 500 Uber cars because drivers were taking illegal pickups, like disallowed street-hails and rides from JFK airport.

Though rules will likely change as these growing companies continue to lobby airport and city commissioners, for now cabs can get preferential treatment in big cities—whether that’s the ability to work airplane hubs or use special lanes on city thoroughfares. Against “Uber outcry,” San Francisco decided this summer to limit private-car traffic on its main artery, Market Street, leading news outlets to predict better service was in store for taxi customers.

You know what they say about experience

Part of the reason Uber is able to lure hundreds of thousands of new drivers to its platform worldwide every month is the low barrier to entry. It’s easy to sign up, and people can work whenever they feel like it, with no previous driving experience or formal training. In a white paper put out earlier this year, Uber surveyed its drivers and found that some were students, others were retired, others were stay-at-home parents. About 20% came to the job from somewhere in transportation services. But just over half, 51%, had never previously worked as a driver.

While there is a lot to say about the employment opportunities this provides people, especially those struggling to find work, there is also something to say for the experience of taxi drivers—who are less likely to be relying on their phones for directions and more likely to know a city and its traffic patterns well. When the city of San Francisco (whose “position is that there is a public good to having a regulated taxi industry”) teamed up with Flywheel to promote the service in 2014, they plastered messages like these on the sides of buses:

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 1.35.15 PM

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 1.35.05 PM

Of course, any individual taxi driver could still be rude, slow and expensive compared to the next new-economy driver on the block. But now is not the time to write off taxis or to forget that they’ll be rolling by—available via app—as you stare down at your phone, waiting for your Uber.

TIME Companies

Judge Lets Drivers’ Class Action Lawsuit Against Uber Go Forward

Uber
Eric Risberg—AP A man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco on Dec. 16, 2014.

The lawsuit could set a precedent that reshapes some of the world's most promising young companies

A California judge handed down an order on Tuesday that could spell big trouble for the on-demand economy. Northern District Court Judge Edward Chen determined that 160,000 current and former Uber drivers in the state could be treated as a class, which will allow a lawsuit against the company to go forward. At stake are questions about the future of jobs in America and potentially billions of dollars for one of the world’s fastest-growing companies.

The lawsuit alleges that those drivers were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees, and that Uber has thus cheated them out of things that employees get under California law, like reimbursements for gas, worker’s compensation and other benefits. The lawsuit also claims that the company failed to pass on tips to the workers.

Chen said in his order the court will allow four named drivers to stand in for the whole lot as lawyers battle over their worker status and tips they may be owed. He denied their request to seek reimbursements for things like gas as a class—saying the four drivers might not be representing everyone’s best interest—but he also gave Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer representing the drivers, 35 days to file arguments convincing him otherwise.

Uber itself has said that if the case doesn’t go in their favor, allowing them to keep treating drivers as contractors—which in turn allows them to avoid costly outlays ranging from payroll taxes to minimum wage—the company might be forced to change its entire business model. That kind of precedent could also send many other companies who have followed Uber’s lead rushing to revamp their business models, converting their booze deliverers or cleaners or handymen to employees. And it would likely influence judges overseeing more than a dozen other cases about the status of workers in the on-demand economy.

At a hearing in early August, Uber’s lawyers argued that their drivers are too diverse—and have such various relationships with the company—that they cannot reasonably be treated as one class. There is no such thing, they asserted, as a “typical” Uber driver. If that argument had prevailed, those 160,000 people would have been left to bring lawsuits on their own, a costly and time-consuming task most likely wouldn’t pursue.

But Chen said that the company was taking an impossible position: asserting on the one hand that all drivers are categorically contractors and then also asserting that they’re so wildly different that no court could treat them all the same. “Uber argues that individual issues with respect to each driver’s ‘unique’ relationship with Uber so predominate that this Court (unlike, apparently, Uber itself) cannot make a classwide determination,” Chen wrote.

A further conference regarding the case has been set for October 22.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

TIME cars

Shift Review: There’s a New, Easy Way to Sell Your Used Car

Courtesy of Shift A photographer creates images of a Shift user's car before it's listed on their site, a peer-to-peer marketplace that announced $50 million in funding on Sept. 1.

For people in San Francisco, Los Angeles and nearly 20 more markets by the end of next year

When Minnie Ingersoll tried to sell her BMW on Craigslist, she thought it would be a cakewalk. But after four test drives, financing snafus and distress over how fast strangers drive cars they don’t own, the former Google product manager gave up and went to a dealer, knowing she would get less money. That was the moment she realized that an idea her colleague had been pushing might really change the roughly $350 billion peer-to-peer car sales industry.

That colleague was George Arison, now the CEO of Shift, a San Francisco startup that announced a $50 million funding round on Tuesday morning. Shift’s mission is to make it easy for one person to sell their used car to another person, without all the trust issues and amateur photography and insecurities about what the right price really is.

“People voiced this massive frustration with the existing system, the fact that there was so much work to do to get the car,” Arison says. “We wondered if we could build a marketplace for party-to-party transactions, that mimics what, say, Airbnb does.” The new funding round led by Goldman Sachs will help the company expand from their current two markets — San Francisco and Los Angeles — to another 20 by the end of next year.

Like other new-economy players, Shift is not interested in owning things. They don’t ever hold the titles to the cars that they help sell — much like Airbnb does not own deeds for the charming bungalows that their guests book. No one working there has a dealer’s license and no one is paid on commission. In fact, having previously been a car dealer is sure way not to get hired. “Our goal is to be really transparent. If you’ve got an extra thousand miles or dents, those things matter,” says Ingersoll, who left Google to become COO of Shift. “We’re not trying to screw anybody.”

Here’s how the process works, as tested out on my 2011 Prius (because the shame of owning a non-hybrid car in the Bay Area is topped only by that of openly smoking tobacco and/or using plastic bags).

As a seller, you first go to their website and enter some basic information like the year, mileage and trim level to get a preliminary quote and “guaranteed minimum.” The quote is preliminary because the information is inevitably incomplete, given that few humans can recite from memory every single option or flaw their vehicle has (part of what makes it hard to correctly price yourself). Those details can make a huge difference for buyers and sellers: In my case, Craigslist ads offered that make and model in the Bay Area for prices ranging from $12,000 to $17,000. Shift’s algorithms spat out a guaranteed minimum of $13,100, with a likely sales price of $14,700.

Next Shift dispatches a person — who, in an oh-so-Silicon-Valley way, they call a car enthusiast — to come to your home at a time you pick and look over the vehicle. Stewart Ford arrived at my building a week later and five minutes early, carrying a tablet that would spit out a new, more precise estimate after he entered all of my car’s truth. He got in the driver’s seat, checked the lights and windows and mileage. He inspected all the panels and the doors and the engine. He politely barraged me with questions. “We try to put ourselves in the buyer’s shoes,” Ford said, meaning he checks for everything they might want checked and asks everything they might want to ask.

Ford said the scratches by my rear left wheel (which I forgot to mention on the site), could likely be touched up for about $300, and some wheel rash would cut my quote about $200. The repairs from a rear-end accident (totally not my fault) would also cost me. All in all, they’d list the car for about $15,000, he said, and I’d walk away with at least $12,000. With the demand for Prius’ in the Bay Area, he guessed they’d hold onto it for about two weeks. The story would be different in Detroit, he said. And if it took longer than a set time to sell — 60 days in my case — I’d get the minimum and be done with it.

Had I continued this charade and let the enthusiast take my car, he would have driven it to “The Hub” in South San Francisco, where Shift details and professionally photographs vehicles — including all their flaws — after mechanics give them a 150-point inspection. If they find a flaw related to safety, Shift will not sell the car until it’s fixed. In the case of something like my cosmetic wheel rash, they’ll offer the option to fix it, something they can provide at a lower-than-average price, because they get high-volume discounts from local mechanics.

Copywriters would have dealt with the listing and other SEO-related tasks that Ingersoll says are better handled by professionals. Then an Uber driver would have probably bought my car and renamed it something silly, unlike her current name, Destiny. Shift would take care of all the DMV dealings and other paperwork, the mere thought of which still exhausts me as I type.

On the buying side, Shift is pushing the convenience angle hard. All an interested party has to do is go on their site, peruse the listings and request a test drive. An enthusiast will bring the car to wherever they are in that local market — though some enthusiasts have driven up to two hours away — in as little as 45 minutes, for nothing and with no catches. When I made a request, which they get more than a dozen of each day, an enthusiast named Ed Yuen brought a black-on-black 2013 Porsche Cayenne to my office and let me tool around town pretending to be a Secret Service agent for a good hour (while covered by their insurance policy). He didn’t pressure me, in part because he’s paid hourly. Had I decided to buy it, as about one out of five Shift customers does on the spot, I would have been assured it was in good shape and given a seven-day window to return the car.

The big question, of course, is whether is whether I could have sold my Prius for more or gotten the Cayenne for less if I had gone through all the headache of a pure peer-to-peer transaction. The answer is probably yes, though perhaps by just hundreds of dollars. Arison will say on the record that the price points they offer both buyers and sellers are better than what anyone could hope for at a dealership and more accurate than anything they’ll get from Kelley Blue Book, because Shift is constantly tuning algorithms to learn from comparison prices in local markets.

If Shift’s business model pans out, that amount will decrease as the company grows. At this stage, the gap between the projected sale price and guaranteed minimum (about $3,000 in my case) is how Shift makes money. If Shift can sell a car for more than the minimum, the company and seller split that profit 50/50. But they plan to eventually make their cash from other services, possibly setting up their own in-house body shop, likely providing on-demand oil changes and definitely offering financing.

The latter is already happening and was the original mission of the company founded in 2013. Arison had tried to get his own loan for a peer-to-peer purchase and was told by banks that he had to go through a dealership (who could, essentially, vouch for the worth of an asset banks aren’t set up to assess). He says he found that silly, giving dealerships control over people’s access to financing. Yet he says when he set out to offer people another option for capital, what they really wanted was to wash their hands of the whole process, except the part where they make or save a lot of money. So Shift pivoted, as startups do.

“Being able to buy a car online is great,” Ingersoll says of other startups trying to disrupt the used car space with technology. “But you don’t get the education, you don’t get the white-glove treatment, the convenience that we’re aiming to provide.”

TIME language

Oxford Dictionaries Adds ‘Fat-Shame,’ ‘Butthurt’ and ‘Redditor’

Many terms reportedly 'butthurt' after not being included in the latest update

Oxford Dictionaries announced its latest additions on Wednesday, highlighting the things we were talking about in the summer of ’15—like angry Internet commenters, gender identity and what a sweet time of day “beer o’clock” is.

Oxford Dictionaries is the branch of the Oxford family that focuses on modern language—words that people are using now and how they’re using them—which makes their barriers to entry different than the venerable, historical Oxford English Dictionary. Their new words often arise from fresh technology and pop culture and might include Internet slang (like new entry pwnage) that would get laughed out of the OED’s admittance office.

As with every update, the additions reflect who English-speakers are. Sometimes we are microaggressive brain-farters. At other times we are butthurt pocket-dialers. At others still, we are simply hangry fat-shamers or rando Redditors.

Among the lessons about who we are right now: The addition of Mx., a gender-neutral honorific for those who do not want to be referred to as Mr. or Mrs., reflects today’s more thoughtful conversations about gender identity, spurred on by the likes of Caitlyn Jenner. Grexit, a term for referring to the possible exit of Greece from the European Union, points to how global our economy is becoming. And the addition of barbacoa illustrates how much people like Chipotle.

Here is a selection from this latest update, including definitions of all the italicized words above:

awesomesauce (adjective): extremely good; excellent

bants (noun): playfully teasing or mocking remarks exchanged with another person or group; banter

barbacoa (noun): (in Mexican cooking) beef, lamb, or other meat that has slowly been cooked with seasonings, typically shredded as a filling in tacos, burritos, etc.

beer o’clock (noun): an appropriate time of day for starting to drink beer

brain fart (noun): a temporary mental lapse or failure to reason correctly

Brexit (noun): a term for the potential or hypothetical departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union

bruh (noun): a male friend (often used as a form of address)

butt dial (verb): inadvertently call (someone) on a mobile phone in one’s rear trouser pocket

butthurt (adjective): overly or unjustifiably offended or resentful

cakeage (noun): a charge made by a restaurant for serving a cake they have not supplied themselves

cat cafe (noun): a café or similar establishment where people pay to interact with cats housed on the premises

cupcakery (noun): a bakery that specializes in cupcakes

deradicalization (noun): the action or process of causing a person with extreme views to adopt more moderate positions on political or social issues

fast-casual (adjective): denoting or relating to a type of high-quality self-service restaurant offering dishes that are prepared to order and more expensive than those available in a typical fast-food restaurant

fatberg (noun): a very large mass of solid waste in a sewerage system, consisting especially of congealed fat and personal hygiene products that have been flushed down toilets

fat-shame (verb): cause (someone judged to be fat or overweight) to feel humiliated by making mocking or critical comments about their size

fur baby (noun): a person’s dog, cat, or other furry pet animal

glanceable (adjective): denoting or relating to information, especially as displayed on an electronic screen, that can be read or understood very quickly and easily

Grexit (noun): a term for the potential withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone (the economic region formed by those countries in the European Union that use the euro as their national currency)

hangry (adjective): bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger

kayfabe (noun): (in professional wrestling) the fact or convention of presenting staged performances as genuine or authentic

MacGyver (verb): make or repair (an object) in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand

manic pixie dream girl (noun): (especially in film) a type of female character depicted as vivacious and appealingly quirky, whose main purpose within the narrative is to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist

manspreading (noun): the practice whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats

meeple (noun): a small figure used as a playing piece in certain board games, having a stylized human form

mic drop (noun): an instance of deliberately dropping or tossing aside one’s microphone at the end of a performance or speech one considers to have been particularly impressive

microaggression (noun): a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority

mkay (exclamation): non-standard spelling of OK, representing an informal pronunciation (typically used at the end of a statement to invite agreement, approval, or confirmation)

Mx (noun): a title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female

pocket dial (verb): inadvertently call (someone) on a mobile phone in one’s pocket, as a result of pressure being accidentally applied to a button or buttons on the phone

pwnage (noun): (especially in video gaming) the action or fact of utterly defeating an opponent or rival

rando (noun): a person one does now know, especially one regarded as odd, suspicious, or engaging in socially inappropriate behaviour

Redditor (noun): a registered user of the website Reddit

social justice warrior (noun): (derogatory) a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views

subreddit (noun): a forum dedicated to a specific topic on the website Reddit

swatting (noun): the action or practice of making a hoax call to the emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to a particular address

weak sauce (noun): something that is of a poor or disappointing standard or quality

wine o’clock (noun): an appropriate time of day for starting to drink wine

Read next: 15 Words You Need to Eliminate From Your Vocabulary

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TIME language

Why Dropping ‘Anchor Baby’ Is a Problem for Politicians

Dictionary
JGI/Jamie Grill—Getty Images/Blend Images

Language experts share their thoughts on how politicians and dictionaries have treated a heated term

Jeb Bush’s recent references to “anchor babies”—meaning certain children of undocumented immigrants, who are granted American citizenship by virtue of having been born within the nation’s borders—have landed the 2016 candidate in hot water, even after his attempt this week to clarify that was referring to isolated cases of Chinese “birth tourism” rather than to Hispanic immigrants. The outraged response was swift. “No matter which ethnic group you’re referring to, ‘anchor babies’ is a slur that stigmatizes children from birth,” California Rep. Judy Chu said in a press release.

Crucial to Bush’s defense of the term is the idea that it’s simply what you call the phenomenon he’s talking about. “You give me a better term and I’ll use it, I’m serious,” he told reporters. But, in fact, the phrase is a relatively recent coinage and, though it might seem cutesy—the type of thing that Stephen Colbert can use to make puns about children who steal microphones from newscasters on live TV—its history is anything but.

Many people trace the idea’s origins to the 1980s, when the term “anchor people” or “anchor children” was used as an epithet for Vietnamese youth whose families sent them to the U.S., with the hope that they could make money and then sponsor relatives back home for citizenship. (When these kids arrived in shabby vessels in Hong Kong, seeking asylum before traveling across the Pacific, locals called them “boat people.”) However, those early uses were not expressing the same idea that’s up for discussion today: the “anchor children” of that era were relatively older refugees, following in the footsteps of countless young people throughout American history who have set up homes in their new nation before helping their families immigrate.

It was years later that the new model of “anchor baby” started to take off, with a new meaning: infants conceived specifically so that their families could somehow benefit from their birthright citizenship. In the mid-2000s, proponents of strict immigration laws used the phrase to make arguments for keeping the doors closed tighter. Mainstream usage was spread by outlets like Newsmax and Fox News giving a larger platform to those voices, according to research documenting that spread. (The anchor baby’s more extreme cousin is the “terror baby,” the hypothetical kid who is birthed in America to more effectively carry out home-grown terrorism later on.)

The term really took hold in 2011, when the American Heritage dictionary sparked a controversy by adding an update with this definition:

anchor baby, n., A child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially such a child born to parents seeking to secure eventual citizenship for themselves and often other members of the family.

The dictionary’s editor said on NPR that they had attempted to “objectively” define the phrase. And it’s true that the two words on their own are each innocuous. Being an anchor can even be a compliment. “There’s nothing specifically about the words themselves that makes them offensive,” says linguist Ben Zimmer, executive producer of Vocabulary.com, “but the idea that people are trying to find a devious way to get into the country by having children here basically dehumanizes everyone involved.” Advocates at places like D.C.-based Immigration Policy Center called the dictionary’s entry “poisonous and derogatory” for lacking the “offensive” label that is attached to definitions of taboo words.

In a few days, the definition was updated:

anchor baby, n. Offensive Used as a disparaging term for a child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially when the child’s birthplace is thought to have been chosen in order to improve the mother’s or other relatives’ chances of securing eventual citizenship.

This about-face stirred debates about who should decide what’s offensive and who shouldn’t. Was an American institution kowtowing to liberals? Or was a dictionary being descriptive about how a word is truly perceived among English-speakers? When Oxford Dictionaries quietly added their definition after that controversy settled, they tagged it with a bright orange offensive label. Those signs are, Oxford editor Katherine Martin says, not chosen by lexicographers making emotional decrees but affixed as guidance for people who want to use the language intelligently.

Often when language gets accused of being offensive, public figures and media shift to more neutral ground, which can lead to some exhausting phrasing. (When the AP banned their journalists from using undocumented immigrant and illegal immigrant, for instance, standards editor Tom Kent suggested to TIME that a more precise description might be “foreigners in the United States in violation of the law.”) Martin says one problem with anchor baby is that there is no natural alternative, overwrought or otherwise—and not for the neutral reason suggested by Bush, whether or not he meant to insult anyone. “There is no neutral term for this because it is a term that is intended to be derogatory,” she says.

One indication of that intention, as the Washington Post‘s Amber Phillips points out, is that the idea it describes doesn’t entirely make sense in practice. As TIME explained in 2011, “the law says the parents of such a child must wait till she is 21 for her to be allowed to sponsor them to live and work legally in the U.S., and research shows that the vast majority of children of illegal immigrants are born years after the mother and father have arrived in the U.S.”

Regardless, the phrase has stuck. And, while debate over its use can actually lead to discussion of important issues like candidates’ positions on birthright citizenship (Bush is for it; Donald Trump, who also uses the term, is against it), that stickiness is just one more reason for conscientious politicians to steer clear of it, says linguist Zimmer. “The difficulty is that those pithy words and phrases are much more memorable and work their way into the public consciousness,” he says. “And once they’re there, they are difficult to dislodge.”

TIME Travel

‘Airbnb for RVs’ Launches Nationwide

Winniebago Camper Van
Andrew Watson—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Embrace your inner Airstream

Have you ever wanted to take an RV on a camping trip without having to actually own an enormous vehicle? Do you own a $90,000 RV that spends 11 months of the year languishing in your driveway? Then the startup for you has just gone live.

Outdoorsy emerged from its beta stage in California and launched nationwide on Thursday. In the words of co-founder Jen Young, the company is a “a community-driven marketplace for renting RVs directly from local RV owners, making sure everyone has access and opportunity to get outdoors.” The company currently has 2,300 RVs listed on the site, with about 75 more being added each day. Options range from low-fi models for $65 a day to full-on glamping machines for nearly $650 a day.

Co-founder Jeff Cavins says that the owners might not be the fanny-pack-clad grandparents you’re picturing. Of the 16 million registered RVs in the U.S., the average owner age is 48, he notes, meaning that these are people still working full-time, perhaps putting kids through school, folks who can likely use some extra cash for an expensive commodity otherwise lying idle. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, the average RV owner is only out and about in their land cruiser for three weeks out of the year.

That makes RVs ripe for collaborative consumption, getting more out of things already filling up the world instead of drumming up demand for more things. So far, Outdoorsy’s average rental has been for six days, which has added up to about $2,400 total, or $400 per night. The price, Cavins says, is often puffed up by renters adding options ranging from paddle boards to BBQ kits. And even at that price, it might be an affordable option for groups and families, given that cost includes transportation (minus gas), lodging and some entertainment for what could be six people. Young says the freedom to be spontaneous with a vacation rather than meticulously planning out a trip is another key selling point.

Cavins says that current options for renting RVs from companies are like impersonal “bowling shoes.” And he emphasizes that, unlike Craigslist, their marketplace for peer-to-peer rentals provides insurance coverage for both parties, as well as a cashless payment system.

Outdoorsy takes a cut from the RV lender, about 15%, and they charge the renter a service fee of about 10%. That’s money they may use to help the listers with their photography or other practices that boost their profiles, much like Airbnb quasi-trains their hosts in how to treat and please their guests.

“The founders are most excited about building this company because it will decrease waste,” says Young. “It provides an opportunity to be enterprising to people who never would have thought something they owned for their own enjoyment could provide financially life-changing benefits.” And for everyone else, it—at the very least—provides more reasons to say the word Winnebago.

TIME LGBT

Why Transgender People Are Being Murdered at a Historic Rate

The number of transgender people murdered in the U.S. this year is at a historic high of 15, activists say — with over four months still to go

In the windows of some small cafes and churches around Central Brooklyn, there are little white stickers with rainbow-colored writing. These signs put up by the Audre Lorde Project say “Safe Space,” designating those buildings as places of sanctuary for LGBT people who are experiencing harassment or violence on the street.

Despite New York City’s inclusive policies for LGBT residents, the borough of Brooklyn still saw four “hate violence” incidents against them in the space of just two weeks this summer, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). People were threatened with death, they report, punched in the face, slurred at, socked with rocks.

For one particular community, these instances of violence happening around the country have higher chance of becoming fatal. On Aug. 14 the number of transgender people murdered in America this year hit a historic high of 15, according to advocacy organizations like the National Center for Transgender Equality. This somber milestone was hit when the remains of Elisha Walker, 20, were discovered in a North Carolina field several months after she went missing. Like the majority of the other victims, Elisha was not just transgender but a young transgender woman of color.

“These are all characteristics of people in the United States who are more susceptible to violence,” says the Center’s Mara Keisling, “of people who are more marginalized economically and educationally, people who end up having a bullseye on their back.”

The legal victories and increased media coverage of LGBT people in recent months has been largely positive for the community, experts like Keisling say. More people feel comfortable coming out, giving others the chance to meet and befriend someone who is transgender or gay, building the personal relationships that activists say are often the foundation for acceptance.

But the heightened visibility has also put more people at risk of being harassed or hurt. While images of Caitlyn Jenner receiving a standing ovation accepting an award in a Versace dress might seem to herald a sunny time for transgender Americans, most of them are still greatly disadvantaged socially and economically.

“Right now we’re experiencing a Dickensian time, where it’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times at once,” says transgender rights advocate Masen Davis, who formerly ran the Transgender Law Center. “We’re seeing a marked increase in the public awareness about transgender people and really incredible progress for trans rights, especially from a legal perspective. At the same time, we still represent and are part of a community that experiences incredibly high rates of unemployment, poverty and violence.”

Transgender people are four times more likely than the general population to report living in extreme poverty, making less than $10,000 per year, a standing that sometimes pushes them to enter the dangerous trade of sex work. Nearly 80% of transgender people report experiencing harassment at school when they were young. As adults, some report being physically assaulted trains and buses, in retail stores and restaurants. Greater awareness has not yet translated into broad acceptance, says Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center: “The majority of society does not understand who transgender people are in ways that lead to the violence and the murder and the harassment that we’re seeing.”

The risk is even greater for transgender women of color, who often grapple with both transphobia and racism. Sixteen of the at least 20 LGBT people murdered in 2014 were people of color, according to the NCAVP; 11 were transgender women, and 10 were transgender women of color. “People who are marginalized both because of their race and being transgender, it’s like a double whammy,” says Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

These figures likely don’t give a full picture of violence against the transgender community. Though a federal hate crimes law requires the collection of some statistics related to violence against transgender people, experts are dubious about the numbers they’re getting. “A lot of jurisdictions report zeroes, even in places where we know there are hate crimes,” Keisling says. Most state laws don’t require the collection of such statistics, according to Minter.

He says numbers are often misreported too. Incidents may not be determined to be hate crimes because there was no investigation, for instance. Crimes against transgender men like Brandon Teena—who was raped and murdered in Nebraska before his story was told in the film Boys Don’t Cry—may be recorded as crimes against women because many don’t have the money (or desire) for medical intervention.

The NCAVP, which collects the most complete figures on hate crimes against LGBT people, notes that the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated there may be 40 times more hate crimes occurring nationally than the FBI reports. Overall, the NCAVP has been receiving far fewer reports of hate violence toward the LGBT community in the last two years, down to 1,359 incidents in 2014. But they say this is a result of the collection process, not “an actual decrease of bias-based violence,” and they say their statistics do not represent exhaustive national numbers.

Minter says that the murder rate, as well as the chronic harassment many transgender people face, is best tackled through better education and more community-based programs, like those white stickers in Brooklyn windows that create networks of support among people who walk the same streets each day. Hate crime legislation is helpful in sending a message about the value of lives, he says, but it’s not going to solve the problem.

“We all have a responsibility to stop this violence,” he says, “and that means if you see a transgender person being harassed, we all have an obligation to speak up, to do something.”

TIME justice

California Court Gets One Step Closer to Deciding Uber’s Fate

An Uber ride in Washington on April 8, 2015.
Andrew Harrer—2015 Bloomberg Finance LP An Uber ride in Washington on April 8, 2015.

Lawyers argued over whether 160,000 Uber drivers in California can be treated as one class

For Uber’s lawyers, the case heard before theirs in a San Francisco courtroom on Thursday may have looked like a harbinger of future woes.

California Northern District Judge Edward Chen was going over the details of a $227 million settlement that FedEx, a 44-year-old company with close to the same value as 6-year-old Uber, agreed to pay earlier this summer. That payout should end an argument over whether FedEx misclassified 2,100 drivers as independent contractors in California and thus denied them benefits that employees get like overtime pay, reimbursed expenses and meal breaks. Soon Uber’s lawyers would be before the same judge arguing about the same classification question — with respect to about 75 times that many drivers.

At stake in a suit that could shape the future of the on-demand and sharing economies was the question of whether 160,000 Uber drivers in California can be treated as a single class. Uber’s lawyers argued that they cannot, that there is no such thing as a “typical” Uber driver and that it would make more sense for each driver to bring their own case — an expensive undertaking that most drivers likely wouldn’t pursue.

On the other side was Boston-based lawyer “Sledgehammer Shannon” Liss-Riordan, who spent a long, heated afternoon arguing that three Uber drivers should be able to stand in for all current and former drivers in the state. If Chen sides with her when he rules in the coming weeks, that would make this single suit potentially worth billions and capable of setting a precedent that sends other startups reeling to revamp their business models.

Following in Uber’s tracks, a long string of startups have shaped their business models around treating drivers or couriers or cleaners as independent contractors rather than employees. That’s a much cheaper proposition but it requires that companies give up control. While contractors legally can’t be told when or how to work, they also don’t have to be paid minimum wage or given money for the gas they use on the job. Uber doesn’t have to shell out any payroll taxes for independent contractors or pay them workers’ compensation.

Liss-Riordan, who was given her nickname by American Airlines skycaps after winning them a six-figure settlement in a wage-and-hour case, argue that Uber is really an transportation company using technology to pose as mere software licenser in order to save money and unfairly compete. The company exercises the kinds of control that employers do, she has argued, setting the rates that drivers earn per mile, telling them which models of cars they can drive and kicking them off the platform for getting low ratings.

In the arguments over the diversity of Uber drivers in California, questions arose about what all the drivers want — and whether it matters. Theodore Boutrous presented some 400 declarations from drivers who said they loved being contractors, that they didn’t want their status to change, that they cherished the freedom that their status affords them. If they were employees, “the business model would have to change,” Boutrous warned, “and there would be rigid schedules and this flexibility and this autonomy couldn’t exist.”

Liss-Riordan countered by offering a declaration from her paralegal, who had called about 50 of those drivers to ask if they understood the stakes. “They didn’t realize they could be reimbursed for expenses,” she said. “They didn’t really understand what this was about.” Chen questioned Boutrous’ claim that their flexibility would have to evaporate if they were reclassified, saying those drivers may have been under the impression that things would have to change rather than be within Uber’s discretion to change.

A growing group of startups who began their lives using the contractor model are reverting to more traditional employment, saying that they’re willing to pay the extra costs to have more direct control over their workers and their process. Curtis Lee, CEO of on-demand valet company Luxe, says that they hope that as employees their valets will be more likely to stick around and be more dedicated to the company. They still will not be required to work a minimum or maximum amount of hours as employees, he says, though they will start scheduling them in shifts. Lee also says that he doesn’t think the conversion is right or fair to force on every company. “For Uber, it’s a totally different situation,” he says.

Boutrous spent his day arguing that point, cataloging how some the 160,000 have agreed to 17 different terms of agreement, some of which forbade them from driving for other companies like Lyft while their Uber app is on (which many drivers do). He detailed how some have used Uber to start their own small businesses while others turn on the app just a few hours per week. While some of them do rely on Uber to make a living, others use it for a little extra cash or to make their car payments. “These are real live human beings who vary widely,” he says. “It’s a hornet’s nest.”

The day ended with Chen inviting the lawyers for the two remaining cases on the docket to approach the bench. Like Liss-Riordan, both of them were arguing cases against Uber, involving issues like how the company conducted background checks. Boutrous stood and reintroduced himself as the counsel representing the company in case after case. If Chen rules that the 160,000 drivers can go ahead as a class, that might make Uber more seriously consider settling that suit amidst its own hornet’s nest of legal troubles.

TIME privacy

These Companies Have the Best (And Worst) Privacy Policies

TIME teamed up with the Center for Plain Language to rank privacy policies from readable to ridiculous

Only the most diligent among us actually read technology companies’ privacy policies, though we all should. They lay out what the companies that we interact with daily are collecting and sharing about us—not to mention, in some cases, about our families and friends and everyone else we happen to correspond with.

But it’s not just on us, the users, to make an effort. Companies can package this information in a place that’s easy to find and in way that’s easy to understand and act on, or they can bury it beneath mounds of tedious legalese in some cobweb-strewn corner of their website.

In an effort to assess, exalt and shame some of the world’s leading tech companies for how they’ve presented privacy information to millions of users, TIME reached out to the Center for Plain Language. Every year, this non-profit grades government agencies on how well they’re following the spirit and letter of the Plain Writing Act—a 2010 law designed to eliminate bureaucratic gobbledygook. The Center also works with businesses, with the mission of teaching the powerful among us about how important it is to communicate in clear, comprehensible English.

We asked the Center’s experts to judge and rank the privacy policies of seven tech companies that most consumers know. They did this on several levels, assessing everything from design and tone to how many words writers tried to pack into each sentence. They also examined the more subjective “spirit” of their policies. Does the policy, for instance, make it easy for people to limit the ways in which the company collects their personal information? Or are instructions about opting out obscured in the policy’s hinterlands with no hyperlinks?

Here are their results, ranked from the company with the best-presented privacy policy to the worst, according to the Center for Plain Language:

  1. Google
  2. Facebook
  3. LinkedIn
  4. Apple
  5. Uber
  6. Twitter
  7. Lyft

To be clear, this is not an assessment of what data these companies have decided to collect from users or what they’ve decided to do with that data. Instead, it’s about how obvious they have made those decisions to the users affected by them. The companies who did this the best avoided jargon and confusing sentence structure, clearly organized their information and used a lively tone. The policies that did not rank highly contained 100-word-long sentences, obtuse explanations and little sense of design.

“A privacy policy that consumers are unlikely to read or understand provides no protection whatsoever,” the Center’s experts write in their report. “The results of our study are quite consistent, especially at the top and bottom of the rankings: Google and Facebook do a good job of communicating their privacy policies in a way that allows consumers to understand and make decisions—at least motivated consumers. And Lyft and Twitter do a poor job of communicating those policies. The remaining companies—LinkedIn, Uber, and Apple—do better in some areas than others.”

The Center used both expert judges to assess policies at a high level and software to evaluate the policies at the sentence level. Here are some telling comments about each company’s policy from judges Deborah Bosley, Meghan Codd Walker and Jeff Greer—all members of the Center for Plain Language Board. You can read the full version of their report at the bottom of this post.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 1.16.04 PM

#1. Google: No privacy notice is perfect, but Google has created a good model for a clear, plain language approach. I’m at times skeptical/concerned about how much access Google has to my personal information, but this notice’s audience-focused approach actually increased my trust in them.”

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#2. Facebook: “I think we should note the difference between the Apple and Facebook policies. Apple [simply] points out how they minimally store customer data. Facebook, in the “What kinds of information” section, documents just about every interaction a customer has, and then talks about how those interactions are collected and stored. I’m marking this as above average not because I agree with Facebook’s practices, but because they’ve clearly communicated those practices.”

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#3: LinkedIn: “I appreciate LinkedIn’s obvious efforts to make their privacy policy easier to understand . . . But when you dive deeper into the more thorough policy, I think the language and structure leave something to be desired. The sentences should often be shorter, and the lack of headers and bullets within sections make wading through the content harder—even if it mostly avoids jargon. I would use this privacy policy as a ‘good intentions but not quite there’ example of plain language.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 1.27.40 PM

#4: Apple: The notice seems to have some respect for the audience and feels credible. But I don’t think they genuinely want people to read the notice, given how they’ve hidden the paths for adjusting how you share your information.”

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#5: Uber:Outside of the short introduction, there’s nothing here that distinguishes the tone. It feels and reads like a document written by lawyers for people who don’t really read this kind of document. This could be softened with the use of contractions, or better yet, a plain language translation of the legalese.”

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#6: Twitter: There are occasional moments of clarity, but many of the sentences and paragraphs are long and hard to read . . . this is mostly a black and white wall of text.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 1.34.57 PM

#7: Lyft:The only decent parts of this notice are the clear headings they provide for each section. Readers can tell what should be in that section, but then the writing is so unclear, they likely won’t find the information they need . . . Everything about this notice screams, ‘We don’t want you to read this!'”

The report ends with the Center noting that all the policies show room for improvement, though they realize only a certain amount of candor is likely to come from such tech companies.

It seems unlikely that a business would give its customers this very plain message: “By reading this policy, you agree to let us keep track of you, your email and photos, where you go, your devices, the Internet providers you use, and possibly the same information for everyone in your social network. And if we decide we want more information, we will let you know—in some way—maybe before we start tracking that, too.”

On the other hand, the use of plain language tends to build trust between a company and its customers . . . the market will likely dictate when and the extent to which the companies improve.

Here’s the full report from the Center for Plain Language:

Center for Plain Language Privacy Policy Analysis

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