All posts by karimcmahon2020

Lakeview garden center remains optimistic about summer business despite stay-at-home order

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

When the U.S. economy experienced the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009, Susan Brandstetter and her husband, Russell, felt the impact. The owner of a 25,000-square-foot garden center walked away from a commercial lease on their property. They were left with a garden center but with no one to run it.

The couple decided to take ownership of the garden center and reopened it in 2011 as Fertile Ltd. Under their ownership, the center in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood offers landscaping services and sells products ranging from flowers, shrubs, trees and garden tools to ornaments.

“I did not know what a petunia was,” said Brandstetter, who used to remodel and manage her family’s property rentals. “I just kind of decided I was going to wing it.”

Nine years later, the couple is potentially facing another recession, deeper than the previous one. The U.S. economy has declined significantly as states implemented stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country. The orders have changed how businesses of all sizes operate.

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The cost of not shopping around

By Kari Mcmahon
Medill Reports

Alyce Barry, a 68-year-old retiree from Evanston, stopped going to the grocery store in early March. As the coronavirus outbreak started to take hold in the U.S., she looked for alternate options.

At first, Barry tried online grocery delivery but faced long wait times. Since her 73-year-old husband has chronic asthma and is in the high-risk category for the coronavirus, she reached out to her local mutual aid group, which enables people in communities to request or provide help during the crisis, whether it’s running errands or providing masks. In April, through the mutual aid group, Barry found a personal shopper to deliver groceries.

Illinois’ stay-at-home order was implemented March 20 to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Under the order, residents must stay home with exceptions for essential activities, which include grocery shopping. Some residents have chosen to shop differently than they would prior to the order, so they can social distance and prioritize their health.

“[My approach to shopping amid the coronavirus] has changed more than I ever realized at first,” Barry said. “What I’m realizing is that going grocery shopping has been a coping strategy for years, and I hadn’t really realized until I suddenly couldn’t go anymore.”

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Would you take a job without knowing how much you will make? Uber and Lyft drivers do.

By Kari Mcmahon
Medill Reports

Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft provide their customers with an estimated cost of a journey before they order the ride. But their drivers only see an estimated duration, leaving them in the dark about how much they will make.

In Chicago, the median wage for a ride-hail driver per trip is $10.78, according to Gridwise, the developer of a ride-hail advice app. This is after the ride-hail company has taken its cut but before drivers’ expenses, which makes their earnings even lower.

Drivers said their take changes day by day depending on passenger availability, journey distance and hours worked as well as the cost of expenses, which can include insurance, cleaning, tax and car maintenance. They find it almost impossible to make a stable living.

Marcy, a full-time ride-hail driver in Chicago, said she was “really pleased” with her post-expense income from Lyft in 2017 and 2018. But then “everything changed drastically” when the company went public in 2019.

“The amount of money I could make on Lyft changed; it did a complete 180. They kept lowering the rate. They took away a bunch of bonuses and challenges,” Marcy said.

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Veo chief executive talks safety, regulation and Chicago’s second e-scooter pilot

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

In the summer of 2019, Chicago ran an electric scooter pilot program that examined whether scooters could be a viable alternative mode of transport for city residents. Out of the 10 companies that participated, only one was from Chicago.

The three-year-old electric scooter company, Veo, serves over 50 cities with electric scooters and bikes, which don’t require charging stations. This enables communities to implement Veo’s solutions for free. The company instead makes money through charging rental and membership fees.

This summer, Chicago plans to run a second e-scooter pilot program to implement lessons learned from the first pilot and test new features from e-scooter companies. Veo’s chief executive, Candice Xie, shared her thoughts on the pilot programs, scooter safety and the future of transportation.

Why did you choose to build out an e-scooter company in Chicago over somewhere like New York or San Francisco?

I studied at Purdue University, which is in Indiana, and since the Midwest has been my base for the past several years, we felt pretty confident and comfortable starting within Chicago. The talent pool in Chicago is pretty good and since we implement solutions around the country, it doesn’t matter too much where our headquarters is.

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Via no longer sees Uber and Lyft as direct competitors: Its operations chief discusses strategy and the future of transportation

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

Via, Chicago’s third largest ride-hailing service behind Uber and Lyft, expanded its reach in the city in August 2019 with novel strategies such as partnering with Northwestern University on a new and improved Safe Ride program, which provides free rides to students in the evening hours to prevent students walking alone in the dark. The New York-based company’s global head of operations, Alex Lavoie, oversees its business in over 100 cities. Lavoie provided his perspective on how the company thinks about technology, regulation and competition.

How is Via different to Uber or Lyft?

From the beginning, we’ve seen ourselves more as a public transit service than as a ride-hail equivalent. Our entire philosophy is aimed at providing an efficient experience for the rider, for the driver and for the city we’re operating in.

Via is purpose-built for shared rides. We think about efficiency as the number of riders that you can get into a vehicle while still keeping the trip optimal from a routing and timing perspective. We’ve worked for years to develop the algorithms and technology to ensure the route we’re choosing for you is an efficient one.

Why did Via choose to enter the Chicago market and what has the response been like?

We viewed Chicago as a really attractive market to launch our ridesharing product because it’s a large urban market and one where we think the type of service, we offer can be particularly valuable. We have seen a very positive reception from riders.

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Chicago ride-hail and taxi drivers unite over regulation

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

Out-of-state drivers for ride-hail services such as Uber and Lyft could be banned from driving in Chicago if 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack’s proposal is passed in city hall.

Waguespack’s proposal would amend the Transportation Network Provider ordinance, a Chicago law that was passed in September 2014, which provides a regulatory framework for the ride-hail services. The ordinance contains requirements such as taking an online course to attain a special chauffeur license to drive for a ride-hail service, meeting the city’s vehicle inspection standards and displaying a 311 sign inside the ride-hail vehicle so passengers know they can call the city with any issues.

If the city council passes the amendment, ride-hail drivers would need a valid Illinois license plate and vehicle registration to drive for ride-hail services. Those applying to become a ride-hail driver would need to have owned a valid Illinois driver’s license for at least a year.

Waguespack, who represents neighborhoods in north Chicago, has introduced the legislation in city council but is still waiting for a public hearing. In December 2019, there were around 60,000 active ride-hail drivers in the city. Out-of-state drivers put additional pressures on the increasing number of drivers.

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PGA Tour newcomer, former Northwestern student takes on the Genesis Invitational

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES — Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 25-year-old first-year PGA Tour member, returned quickly to the putting green after his first round at the Genesis Invitational on Thursday to work on his technique after a difficult start to the tournament.

Fitzpatrick teed off from the 10th hole with Jhonattan Vegas and Sam Ryder. Fitzpatrick hit three bogeys in the first nine holes, finishing the round tied for 42nd place with an even par.

“This is the first time I played here so I didn’t have too many expectations. I knew that it was a difficult course,” Fitzpatrick said. “I didn’t get off to the best start. Just trying to grind and get it back. Fortunately, I did on the back nine.”

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South Bay Lakers’ strength and conditioning coach emphasizes moving away from the traditional mobility model

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES — Basketball players are known more for speed than physical power. However, in the heart of El Segundo, California, lies the Lakers training facility containing two gyms filled with a variety of strength equipment where the Lakers’ G League team, the South Bay Lakers, are breaking the stereotype that basketball players aren’t strong with their nontraditional approach to strength and mobility training.

Misha Cavaye, the South Bay Lakers’ strength and conditioning coach for three seasons, provided insight this week into the importance of strength and conditioning in basketball and his unconventional thinking on mobility training.

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City’s new congestion tax puts burden on Uber and Lyft drivers

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

On a recent journey downtown local Uber driver Matt collected a fare of $10 but said he only made $4 from it. The city, which began imposing a new congestion tax a month ago, made $3.

Matt, who typically drives eight hours a night, said that working as a ride-hail driver was not an easy job. He said the congestion tax is just another challenge he has to deal with on top of ride-hail companies taking a significant cut of his fares and having to compete with thousands of other drivers for those fares.

“It really is just a cash grab for the city, cloaked under the guise of congestion reduction,” said Matt, who did not want to share his full name for fear of losing his job. “Now you just have the same number of cars looking for potentially fewer riders.”

 In January, the City of Chicago implemented a new congestion tax on ride-hail providers to encourage riders to either use public transport or shared trips in the downtown area. The thinking behind the tax was that it would encourage residents to use public transportation, thereby lowering the number of vehicles in the city center and reducing congestion.

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Uber targets profitability by the end of the year

By Kari Mcmahon
Medill Reports

Uber Technologies Inc., a ride-hailing company, reported a wider quarterly net loss, but its shares still rose as the company said it expected to meet their adjusted profitability target by the end of this year, a year earlier than previously estimated.

Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, said on the earnings call that 2019 was a “milestone year” for the company as they crossed the 100 million mark in the number of monthly active platform consumers and saw a 68% increase in the number of consumers using both their rides and eats services. He said the company’s progress in 2019 gave him the confidence to accelerate their adjusted profitability target from full-year 2021 to quarter four in 2020.

“We recognize that the era of growth at all costs is over,” Khosrowshahi said in a press release. “In a world where investors increasingly demand not just growth, but profitable growth, we are well-positioned to win through continuous innovation, excellent execution, and the unrivaled scale of our global platform.”

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