All the Bad Things About Uber and Lyft In One Simple List
February 11, 2019 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Streetsblog publishes a compilation of why the current explosion of unlicensed taxis is bad. One nice, easy read summarizing a bunch of things (with links, facts, and figures): vast increase in car driving; increase in new car ownership; >100% "deadheading" (cruising without passengers); cannibalizing transit; political effects; traffic fatalities; data opacity; financial unsustainability.
posted by splitpeasoup (62 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Again, the online livery services (and no, I will not call them "ridesharing", because part of how we got here is because we don't call them what they are) added nothing revolutionary - it was just the same service with an app attached and a culture of ignoring regulations that we are now learning actually served real purposes.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:49 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


Being able to call for a ride and have it actually show up in instead of blowing it off like the cab companies used to do is pretty fucking revolutionary. It is absolutely not "the same service with an app attached". These services have numerous problems but let's not try to pretend that cab drivers did not regularly: avoid going into non-white neighborhoods; refuse to drive across the Bay Bridge; were impossible to hail anywhere in the Bay Area except maybe Market street; only take cash &c.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:59 AM on February 11 [50 favorites]


But there are lots of reports of app-based cab services refusing to accept rides from people of color, so it's not like the service of "driving someone somewhere for money" is devoid of racism just because an App is involved.
posted by entropone at 10:08 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Oh for fuck's sake, did I say that there are no racist/ablist/sexist contractors for these companies? No I did not. But if I called a cab in West Oakland at 2am there was a 50/50 chance that I would wait for half an hour for it to never show up, and then I got to call again and hope the next one comes. And if it was a ride from SF to Oakland? Have fifty bucks in cash for that ride. Fun!

That's not the case now, and for a woman in an urban area who has not owned a car for ten years that is fucking huge. I don't know why I have to point that out any time someone says these are just "the same old services with apps". They are a game changer for me and many other people. they have numerous issues. These statements can both be true.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:17 AM on February 11 [45 favorites]


On racism, one recent paper found this:
Finally, audit data reveal high levels of discrimination against black riders by taxi drivers. Black riders were 73 percent more likely than white riders to have a taxi trip cancelled and waited between six and 15 minutes longer than white riders, all else equal. By contrast, ridehail services nearly eliminate the racial-ethnic differences in service quality.
Another study found that riders with Black-sounding names waited as much as 35% longer than white rider on Lyft (which shows names before rides are accepted, unike Uber.) Racism remains present in these serves at unacceptable levels, no doubt about that, but it's also demonstrably better than traditional taxis.
posted by mosst at 10:23 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


This article is just gold, really. The whole thing is quotable.

For example in Seattle, about half the rides taken in Uber and Lyft originate in just four neighborhoods: downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, according to David Gutman at the Seattle Times. These are some of the city’s most walkable and transit-friendly areas.

Worse is the tale of two cities effect: Relatively well off people in Ubers congesting the streets of Manhattan and San Francisco slow down buses full of relatively low-income people. By giving people who can afford it escape from the subway, Uber and Lyft also reduce social interaction between people of different classes and lead to a more stratified society.

~~
On another note, my only friend who regularly uses Lyft has had a lot of drivers fail to show up. I don't know if she's typical, but she nearly missed an absolutely critical thing recently because two drivers didn't show - and she lives in a fancy part of town.
~

It's pretty clear that whatever the solution to transit problems is, it's not private car services for the well-off and comparatively well-off plus decaying public transit for everyone else.
posted by Frowner at 10:23 AM on February 11 [14 favorites]


They do fill a very real market gap. This article has compelling information, but it’s hard to weigh costs without a serious attempt to consider countervailing benefits.

There are also conclusions that don’t quite match the evidence. That said, interesting information about car registration and especially about traffic deaths.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:28 AM on February 11


It's actually only a list of ways in which the services negatively affect transit: buses, trains, walking, number of cars on the road, etc.

The title is misleading. I would _seriously_ love a complete list of all the problems with these services.
posted by amtho at 10:28 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Yeah, pretending like these services have no advantages isn't going to help deal with their many disadvantages. Taxi service quality varied hugely by region, but there were definitely gaps & in many cities the existing system was corrupt & horrible. As we (hopefully) put necessary limits & regulation around Lyft/Uber/etc. we can do a lot better than what was there before.
posted by feckless at 10:30 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]



For example in Seattle, about half the rides taken in Uber and Lyft originate in just four neighborhoods: downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, according to David Gutman at the Seattle Times. These are some of the city’s most walkable and transit-friendly areas.


Right, because these people don’t need/want to own cars or bring those cars downtown. The question is where do these trips end?

I actually do think these services substitute for transit, but a lot of the evidence here is not particularly strong.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:32 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


Tech "disruption" is nothing more than an opportunistic infection, a disease that has found a way to bypass the regulatory immune system that had maintained a shaky status quo. They only way to combat them is to put financial pressure on them to compensate the public commons for the resources they're overgrazing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:33 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


There's nothing fundamental to a cab company that precludes them for actually providing a quality service for all customers. The app is not the thing that provides that. (Jitneys have been doing this forever.)

I live in a city where the actual taxi service is legitimately useless. They may or may not come when you schedule them, you can't hail them from the street (we had a big HOO HAH CELEBRATION a couple years ago when one of the companies finally introduced the groundbreaking service of "you can hail a cab from the street within these few square blocks in Downtown"), no one here takes cabs because trying to take a cab more often than not means hopping on a passing bus in a panic or calling a friend for a ride (in a panic). Jitneys have run here for a long time for this reason + racism.

That said, I'm just as resistant to use Uber or Lyft for the reasons outlined in TFA. But I am going to have to come to some sort of reckoning here because our city neighborhood is very poorly served by transit, we have one car, and a child who needs to get to the places he needs to go and literally the only thing right now keeping me from participating in his school's PTA (which I want to do) is that I can't figure out how to get home once the meetings are over.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:43 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Also seems like examples are cherry picked a bit. This is disappointing because you can compare city policies, transit, etc. to see what might work going forward. The subsidy issue seems like a big problem. When increasing price though one wishes for a program like food stamps to help those poor who will be fired for lack of a public transit backup they can call on twice a month. College students taking Lyft instead of walking is a bit absurd but are these campuses really walkable/bike-able? Is it just a UCLA thing because of terrible campus design or are students way too subsidized? Both?
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:43 AM on February 11


Does anyone know why unlicensed taxis (Uber/Lyft etc) provide better service to people of color than licensed taxis? (Not a rhetorical question, I'm genuinely curious.)
posted by splitpeasoup at 11:00 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


So I just an hour ago saved some random traveler from hailing an Uber/Lyft by pointing out that if he'd just gotten off the train and was looking to go somewhere within a mile or so, that little bus right there waiting would take him for free. He thanked me and walked right over to the bus and was on his way to his destination, with no additional fare to include in an expense report, and no expectation of a tip.

My local transit agency really needs to publicize that last-mile service a lot better.
posted by asperity at 11:04 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


What does ">100% 'deadheading'" mean? Are Uber/Lyft drivers somehow cruising without passengers more than all of the time? The linked article cites "estimates" of thirty to sixty percent, with the citation linking to the same site with (this time, sourced) numbers that come out to 36%.

The cited report breaks it down further: in NYC/Chicago/SF/Denver, the typical (presumably mean-) average total TNC mileage is 8.2 mi: 2.1 mi waiting for a trip, 0.9 mi to the pickup point, and 5.2 mi with a passenger; I don't see an upper estimate of 60% anywhere. (Skimming, I don't see comparison data for taxis or other modes either.)

Now, I'm fully on-board with sounding the alarm about TNC-caused congestion, etc., but playing fast-and-loose with statistics doesn't help.
posted by lozierj at 11:05 AM on February 11


">100% deadheading" is confusing, I admit; I was trying to compress this sentence from the article: "For every mile a Uber or Lyft car drives with a passenger, it cruises as many miles — if not more — without a passenger, a practice known in the industry as “deadheading.”"

I don't have a primary source for this, so you may be correct that this is an exaggeration or cherry picked.
posted by splitpeasoup at 11:14 AM on February 11


Does anyone know why unlicensed taxis (Uber/Lyft etc) provide better service to people of color than licensed taxis? (Not a rhetorical question, I'm genuinely curious.)

I suspect part of it is that you don't necessarily know who you are picking up until you're there. You can sort of guess by name and location, but that's it. Another part of it is that the drivers might not feel as financially secure about passing up rides, even if they're not in the best neighborhoods.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:19 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know why unlicensed taxis (Uber/Lyft etc) provide better service to people of color than licensed taxis? (Not a rhetorical question, I'm genuinely curious.)

A few things. They’re punished for turning down more than a certain percentage of rides which effectively lowers their ability to discriminate based on race. The app (at least for Lyft) doesn’t show a picture all the time so they may not even be able to identify the race of the person they’re picking up. Finally—and I want to be clear that I’m not endorsing this—some racism on the part of taxi drivers is based on ideas about who will/won’t rob you or who will/wont fail to pay. The app’s centralized cash-free service changes the perceived need for drivers to perform that calculus.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:22 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


That said, I'm just as resistant to use Uber or Lyft for the reasons outlined in TFA. But I am going to have to come to some sort of reckoning here because our city neighborhood is very poorly served by transit, we have one car, and a child who needs to get to the places he needs to go and literally the only thing right now keeping me from participating in his school's PTA (which I want to do) is that I can't figure out how to get home once the meetings are over.

Yeah. I think this is where we get at an issue that I see as being at the root of a lot of American policies and problems.

There are two questions that this situation asks:
1. In an area poorly served by transit, how do I get around when I need to get stuff done? A cab service with an app is a good answer to this.

2. How do we move a lot of people around safely, efficiently, and healthily? A cab service with an app is a really bad answer to this, for all the reasons the article outlines.

I think, in the USA, we're really good at finding solutions to answer the first type of question; we're really bad at even asking the second type of question. We see things through the lens of the individual consumer, not through the lens of a collective experience, collective determination, or aggregated outcomes. We don't believe in policy.
posted by entropone at 11:25 AM on February 11 [14 favorites]


It's not even that transit in my city is universally bad. It's actually pretty good and we have one of the highest bus riderships in the country. It's kind of uniquely bad in my neighborhood because it's one of the few 100% residential neighborhoods in the city and the density is fairly low (it's a weird slice of 50's suburbia stuck on a hilltop that used to be a golf course in the middle of the city). I'm surrounded by extremely walkable neighborhoods, but mine isn't (and the topography means that the walk from either of those places to my place involves a lot of gain in altitude which is great for one's calves but less great when you just want to get home at the end of the day).

Anyway, I take the bus all the time once I get out of my neighborhood. I have a free bus pass provided by my employer and I use the hell out of it. Once I get down off my lonely mountaintop, I bus it all over town. That last mile really is the issue. It's one that exists in a lot of places and every time I hear of some Great! New! Plan! to deal with this through transit, it never actually happens because it's by definition going to be a lower density. You can get lots of people en masse to various hubs, but the spokes have fewer people as you move outward.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:34 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I think, in the USA, we're really good at finding solutions to answer the first type of question; we're really bad at even asking the second type of question. We see things through the lens of the individual consumer, not through the lens of a collective experience, collective determination, or aggregated outcomes. We don't believe in policy.

It's more than that - it's that lower income people are shut out of the political process. "We" see expensive, individual solutions because "we" can afford them and "we" are uncomfortable with the hoi polloi. The hoi polloi, if asked, might have different views.

The actual solutions, which we won't get, would be a mixture of substantially increased public transit, tailored ride-shares for people going to out of the way destinations at odd times or people with disabilities/complicated situations, and the acceptance by able-bodied people who are not carrying heavy packages or wrangling children that sometimes we are just going to have to walk part-way.

Shifting the norms on walking and biking short-to-medium distances and integrating walking/biking with public transit would be great - not because everyone can walk or bike everywhere all the time, but because many people who easily could do not. Walking is like tipping cash - it's something that requires a little forward planning but that for many people isn't really difficult once you do the planning.
posted by Frowner at 11:35 AM on February 11 [10 favorites]


Planning and a lack of pedestrian safety is a substantial barrier to walking in a lot of places, though. I laughed to see Boston as a transit friendly city with the implication that it’s also reasonable to walk. The way traffic and sidewalks are laid out, it’s actively dangerous to walk in much of the Boston area. It was incredibly frustrating to live there as a non-driver. This is the case in a lot of American cities, even those deemed walkable. In Chicago, the lack of crosswalks on the north side is terrifying. Even in NY—a walker’s paradise—there’s a real failure to prosecute drivers who harm pedestrians.

I think attitude is relevant but often that attitude is shaped by real hostility to pedestrians in urban and suburban design.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:48 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


by pointing out that if he'd just gotten off the train and was looking to go somewhere within a mile or so, that little bus right there waiting

People overlook the crucial impact that knowledge has on what we use. We see this in transit, where using the bus is easy (if time consuming) to long-term users, but difficult for newbies -- you can set up a map system to help, but people have to learn to use the map, or the app, or download the app, or know how to choose a restaurant or grocery store or doctor's office or anything else that's convenient to transit. People are definitely smart enough to figure all this out, but there's a huge time overhead to figuring out every single thing the first time, and with transit, there are a lot of different first time things to figure out.

I think it's going to be really, really wonderful if we figure out how to combine the best knowledge transmission practices of the teaching profession with the knowledge transmission needs of technology. Rather than simplifying things to the point of uselessness, just let them be complex enough to be really useful, and let that complexity be approachable because of exquisite knowledge transmission mechanisms.
posted by amtho at 11:56 AM on February 11 [10 favorites]


What feckless said: Yeah, pretending like these services have no advantages isn't going to help deal with their many disadvantages.

"But the data shows that Uber and Lyft mostly 'free' people from walking and transit." What's with the condescending quotes around free?

People are choosing to use these services rather than walk, so our first presumption should be that they actually know what they prefer. Yes, the services should be regulated fairly; yes, they should pay their true cost through fees that correctly price their significant congestion and pollution costs; yes, public transit should be better funded, managed, and promoted, so that it attracts more riders.

But don't suggest that when people choose to take an Uber that they are somehow fooling themselves. Sure, in some cases they might not know about a convenient bus, but in the vast majority of cases, they are taking an Uber precisely because of their past experiences walking or taking public transportation (as it exists currently).
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:01 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


they are taking an Uber precisely because of their past experiences walking or taking public transportation (as it exists currently).

Or they just think it's gross to have to share a vehicle with people who might not be of their socioeconomic status, and are happy to let the service deteriorate because it's mostly used by people not of their socioeconomic status.
posted by praemunire at 12:07 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


(BTW, NYC solved the cash-only problem in advance of meaningful Uber operations by the expedient of, uh, requiring taxis to accept credit cards. There was a little bumpiness in the transition, but it worked just fine.)
posted by praemunire at 12:08 PM on February 11


I think we're not in the habit of questioning preferences, though. Like, there's a difference between "I prefer taking a Lyft to taking the bus because the bus runs once every hour, is often late and takes about ninety minutes to get to my destination" and "I like going from door to door because it's easier than walking a block to the bus stop and waiting five minutes for a relatively short, direct ride".

No matter how good public transit gets, it is never going to be a private car service, and I think that as a society we are far too ready to think that it's wrong to expect people to do something that is their second preference, no matter how much their second preference benefits society.

You may be completely right that speeding home by private car is better than waiting for the bus - for you. You don't need to be deluded to think that. But if it's worse for everyone, your preference isn't that important.
posted by Frowner at 12:09 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


people have to learn to use the map, or the app, or download the app

I'm cautiously optimistic about the Uber app showing transit options in Denver, except that I'm already familiar with Denver-area transit options and am unlikely to use Uber locally. I like the idea that it could inform people who aren't all that familiar with the area what options they have for the trip they've got in mind.

On the other hand, our land use policy is terrible and prioritizes storage for cars over destinations for people, and our transit system is underfunded and often poorly laid out. It's likely that a lot of Uber/transit comparisons will not show our transit system to good advantage.

I took my very first Uber last week, to the airport, because it was early, my employer would pay, and I didn't want to add the extra thirty minutes and a half-mile walk with luggage. I had to spend the entire trip talking to the driver in a bid to distract him from fucking around with his phones (this backfired when he decided to wave one at me to show me a photo.) Not worth it. I took the train/bus/walk option on the way home from the airport because I could not face one more minute in a car after a week of way too much of it.

I wouldn't hate the TNCs so much if they didn't require use of phones by people who are supposed to be driving.
posted by asperity at 12:13 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


But if it's worse for everyone, your preference isn't that important.

Driving (whether in a traditional car, a taxi, or an app-based service) absolutely induces a cost on others. That's exactly why the price of driving should be much higher. But if someone wants to pay whatever the true cost is of their ride, then let them. This is the basic idea behind Pigouvian taxes: We shouldn't be dictating private behaviors, but we should make people pay the public cost of their behaviors. (The Economist has a nice discussion here, including a discussion of the limitations, both theoretical and practical, of those taxes.)

I understand that many MeFi-ites don't agree with this principle, and that others might agree in theory but believe that it might be more politically feasible to just ban certain actions.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:21 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Being able to call for a ride and have it actually show up in instead of blowing it off like the cab companies used to do is pretty fucking revolutionary. It is absolutely not "the same service with an app attached". These services have numerous problems but let's not try to pretend that cab drivers did not regularly: avoid going into non-white neighborhoods; refuse to drive across the Bay Bridge; were impossible to hail anywhere in the Bay Area except maybe Market street; only take cash &c.

That's a local complaint about artificially capped licenses (and things that when reported should cause you to lose your license) rather than taxis vs unlicensed. I lived in the East Bay for a while but a lot longer in Dublin (Ireland not Pleasanton). Dublin had the same issues with taxis when license numbers were capped (and plates going for high multiples of €10k), with the addition of trouble when all the pubs closed at the same and everyone ended up in a big drunken queue for an hour.

Now that the artificial cap is gone, getting a cab is not an issue. You can only use a ride sharing app to hail a licensed taxi driver (because the law is not an optional thing you can work around). The main app, MyTaxi, isn't as good as it was when it was Hailo, but I've never had to wait more than ~3-5 mins for a pickup from my suburban apartment, and the GPS seems to be pretty accurate (certainly no phantom vehicles). If it's more expensive during off-peak hours it seems like a small price to pay to ensure that your driver doesn't have a conviction for assault. Also, fuck surge pricing.

In the long term though, a car is still a car, and a car takes up a ridiculous amount of street level space (both driving and parking) per passenger carried compared to virtually any other option.
posted by kersplunk at 12:28 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I am more sympathetic to the niche that Uber and Lyft fill in cities that lack for cabs and useful public transit (hello, most of the south.) When visiting a friend in Houston, there was literally zero public transit anywhere near his neighborhood, and you cannot just hail a cab downtown.

I am completely fed up with the Ubers and Lyfts stopping in the middle of streets and driving like robots through in my dense Philadelphia neighborhood, which is a little over one mile from the city center, well-served by transit, and full of street cabs. I am mystified as to why so many my friends have become converts to ridesharing services -- even they admit that their rationale doesn't really hold up, but the habit became ingrained so quickly. (And we're GenXers, y'all, this isn't a generation gap thing.)
posted by desuetude at 12:32 PM on February 11


Here's the problem: it's absolutely undeniable that Uber and Lyft are parasitic companies run by rent seeking scumbags and abuse their employees.

They're also the only form of transportation available to me when I can't take my car that doesn't utterly and completely suck.

I live in San Antonio TX.

Other than driving yourself there are three options:

1) Public transportation. this turns a 25ish minute drive to or from work into a 1 hour and 45 minute ordeal.

2) Taxis. The taxis in San Antonio are miserable, you call, you wait 15 to 20 minutes, you get a very expensive ride in a car that inevitably smells like an ashtray.

3) Uber or Lyft.

Of the three, only Uber actually reliably and even semi-affordably can transport me on the days when I don't have a car of my own to drive. Walking is not an option, I'm 16 miles by highway from my home. I've got no objection to walking a bit, but I don't think its reasonable to expect people to walk 16 miles on a daily basis.

Obviously better public transit would be the preferable option, but San Antonio seems devoted to a band aid on a horrible system rather than a much needed total revamp. The mayor is talking up Connect SA, but the plan is essentially a few more buses. And what we need, at the very least, is a bus system that's built on a nodal model with express buses moving between nodes an shorter bus routes around a node rather than the current ad hoc chaos that gets you nowhere and does it slowly.

I despise Uber, but when I don't have a car it is the best of the three available options.

If you want to kill Uber you'll need to do it by making public transit so good that their business model falls apart. I've lived in Tokyo, I've seen how a truly excellent public transit system can work, I'd love to see one put in place in the USA. But until that happens people will use the least bad available option, and right now that's Uber.

Taxis are an absolutely miserable shitshow everywhere in the USA. And instead of trying to fix the obvious, glaring, problems that drive people to Uber, the taxi companies are trying to tell us that we've got an obligation to use their shit service due to how awful Uber corporate is. I disagree with that position.

If any taxi company would like my service all they have to do is provide service (without the goddamn cigarette smoke) at similar convenience and promptness to Uber. And really, its the promptness that's the real big issue. If Uber can get a car to me within 6 to 8 minutes of me asking for one, there's no reason a taxi company should have to make me wait 20 minutes.
posted by sotonohito at 12:34 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Being able to call for a ride and have it actually show up in instead of blowing it off like the cab companies used to do is pretty fucking revolutionary

My first experience of using Lyft had the driver do another pickup and drive the opposite direction. My second had the driver miss the dedicated pickup zone at YYZ three times. I've had taxis grumble at short fares, but never actually balk at picking up.
posted by scruss at 1:01 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


If Uber can get a car to me within 6 to 8 minutes of me asking for one, there's no reason a taxi company should have to make me wait 20 minutes.

Do you understand the actual, practical mechanisms by which this is accomplished, and the costs they inflict on the drivers and the world around them? Do you think these mechanisms should be embraced and adopted by others?
posted by praemunire at 1:19 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


People are choosing to use these services rather than walk, so our first presumption should be that they actually know what they prefer.

Why? We often choose things things that are very much against our interests; we choose things that benefit us but harm other people, and we might not if we knew that they harmed other people; we choose things based on short term needs at the expense of long term needs; we choose things based on bad information or mistaken assumptions. This is all understandable, but so too is tilting the playing field to reinforce the better choices.
posted by entropone at 1:35 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


"But the data shows that Uber and Lyft mostly 'free' people from walking and transit." What's with the condescending quotes around free?

The full chunk was "In an ideal world, Uber and Lyft would be making good on their promise to reduce private car ownership because city dwellers would feel more comfortable selling their cars, thanks to the presence of Uber and Lyft. But the data shows that Uber and Lyft mostly “free” people from walking and transit." The quotes aren't meant to be condescending to users, but rather to call out the companies for claiming to reduce private car trips while actually doing the opposite.

I think that in this conversation, it's important to point out that Streetsblog (which I read daily for work) can be very wonky and sometimes assumes that the reader has knowledge or positions that a casual reader or a reader with a different ideological stance may not have.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:53 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


My personal position on rideshares is "these services are clearly filling gaps that people wanted filled. They also have a ton of negative externalities. We need to figure out ways to fill those gaps without so many negative externalities." I'm not anti-rideshare at all but I'm also not in favor of just letting them continue to operate as-is, because (for example) they are definitely increasing traffic fatalities and congestion in my city by a measurable amount.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:56 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


I've had good luck with the Curb app, which is basically Uber for licensed taxis. I don't know how widespread it is, however.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:39 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


sotonohito: "Of the three, only Uber actually reliably and even semi-affordably can transport me on the days when I don't have a car of my own to drive."

It's only semi-affordable because it is being subsidized by VC money. This is the big unifying factor in all comparisons between Uber and other options: Uber isn't even charging cost recovery for their service so naturally they can provide a higher level of service at any given price point.

sotonohito: "If you want to kill Uber you'll need to do it by making public transit so good that their business model falls apart."

Really one just has to wait. The VC money will eventually stop flowing; prices will go up; and suddenly they won't look nearly as attractive.
posted by Mitheral at 7:44 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I took a RideAustin this weekend (a non-profit ride hailing service that sprung up while Uber and Lyft were boycotting the city because it passed a law saying that drivers needed background checks), and the driver asked for driving tips because he wasn't a local. He said he just drives up from South Texas for the weekend. I wonder how common that is, and how that impacts the deadheading figures.
posted by aneel at 7:52 PM on February 11


Being able to call for a ride and have it actually show up in instead of blowing it off like the cab companies used to do is pretty fucking revolutionary.

The secret to the cab industry is that the cab companies can't actually control their drivers. In some jurisdictions, a license to operate a cab is genuinely pitched to drivers as something they can build a business around, and they pay the cab company for access to their radio room. In others, the cab companies basically employ drivers directly.

In either case, the control cab companies have over their drivers is not where people expect it is. You can tell if a driver doesn't go to the pickup through GPS, or went by and didn't stop, but you can't tell if someone jumped in the cab at the lights or whether the driver's just faked that to drop a cross-town job. No-one's got a good incentive for drivers to take small jobs - Uber's incentive, jacking up the prices, does not count. Any driver/passenger behaviour is, despite the cameras, the driver's word against the passengers'.

Uber and Lyft's four great innovations here are a) bullshitting their way past legislation, b) getting drivers in a predatory relationship so they have to do whatever the app company says, c) putting the driver's GPS on the passenger's phone, which the cab companies have been able to do for years but didn't, and d) putting the passenger's GPS on the driver's phone, so the driver can feel secure that they're actually going to get a fare. This aligns incentives nicely. Reason c) is why people like "ridesharing", because it makes them feel secure that they'll get a ride (with a healthy dose of b) because people don't realise those mints in the Uber are because if they don't give you a mint, they'll starve), but reason d) is the thing that makes the whole shebang actually work.

In my city, there's a "ridesharing" app that can connect you to just legal taxis, at legislated taxi rates, and they're still usually pleasant. The drivers tell me that knowing for sure the passenger is there is a big thing for them. Uber aren't doing anything special - you put some certainty underneath the taxi industry and drivers start taking it more seriously.
posted by Merus at 7:54 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


Really one just has to wait. The VC money will eventually stop flowing; prices will go up; and suddenly they won't look nearly as attractive.

Maybe, but the Uber strategy is to subsidize rides until they drive all competitors, especially taxis, out of business and suddenly they have a monopoly and riders will have no choice but to pay higher prices.

This is already working. I've been in some cities where taxis have virtually ceased to exist except in the downtown core. It's getting rare for taxis to even work the airport anymore.
posted by JackFlash at 8:18 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


JackFlash: "Maybe, but the Uber strategy is to subsidize rides until they drive all competitors, especially taxis, out of business and suddenly they have a monopoly and riders will have no choice but to pay higher prices."

But there is essentially no barrier to entry (leaving aside dying medallion systems) to the taxi business. There aren't any lock in network effects (to the point that drivers often drive for competing services at the same time). It's no surprise that a business operating at a loss is able to drive out businesses operating without alternative revenue streams but as soon as prices rise people will be falling all over themselves to get back in the business.

This is the whole reason medallion systems rose in the first place. It was recognized (along with a healthy dose of regulator capture) that something should be done to ensure taxi service made enough money that taxis were generally safe and not always slamming into the race to the bottom.
posted by Mitheral at 9:37 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]



Or they just think it's gross to have to share a vehicle with people who might not be of their socioeconomic status, and are happy to let the service deteriorate because it's mostly used by people not of their socioeconomic status.



This sounds like the "misery loves company" model of society you're promoting. But yours is kind of a bullshit read on other people's motivations. Perhaps it feels truthy to your world view, but frankly, every person I know who utilizes rideshare apps is exactly the person of socioeconomic status you're probably referring to. People who would otherwise take a bus, but need to be somewhere in a more timely fashion.

And if they really don't want to share a vehicle with people of a certain socioeconomic status, what business is that of yours? You're allowed to want to not associate with anyone you wish, as much as you're allowed to make any assumption about who exactly is using rideshare services.

I do wish we could all stop making assumptions about how stupid and evil people who *gasp* like using and working for rideshare apps actually are.


It's only semi-affordable because it is being subsidized by VC money.


And... so what? This concern troll point is made everytime the Uber/Lyft complaint session makes the rounds. But if you hate rideshare so much, isn't this a good thing? Shouldn't you actually use the services excessively in order to help burn though all that venture capital and hasten their demise? If the VC dries up, the cost will go up, and they'll go out of business. Then Yay! Uber/Lyft is dead! All those people will have to take buses and taxis and investing in their own cars again just like the good old days.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:30 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Mitheral Really one just has to wait. The VC money will eventually stop flowing; prices will go up; and suddenly they won't look nearly as attractive.

Well, sure, and that's great if your vision of the problem is that people are being mean to taxi companies and ha ha on them soon Uber will be gone and they'll have no choice but to take the rolling ashtrays that, if you're extremely lucky, might get there 30 minutes after you make a voice phone call and get put on hold for a while.

I don't see the problem as being that ungrateful taxi riders need to be bludgeoned back into doing business with shitty, awful, taxi companies. Rather, the problem is that taxis are so utterly awful and shitty and incapable of doing a decent job that a couple of techbros from the Valley were able to come up with a better service despite being just a couple of techbros.

Seriously, if your business model is basically "we're total shit but no one is allowed to compete with us so we get all the money anyway", which essentially describes every American taxi company, then your business should be eradicated and the earth salted so it never rises again.

Uber is awful, and yet it is **STILL** the objectively superior service. The solution is not to cackle with glee as commuters are forced to return to the shitty taxi "service" but to fucking fix the awfulness that is the defining characteristic of all taxis.
posted by sotonohito at 5:33 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]


Uber is awful, and yet it is **STILL** the objectively superior service.

It is? Because from where I'm sitting, it's been a logistical and environmental disaster putting more cars on the road when we need to reduce their numbers, has a corporate mentality of rulesbreaking that would put any local taxi company to shame (remember Greyball?), openly works to fuck over its drivers in a number of ways, has massive issues with data security (including quietly paying a ransom on stolen user data), and so on.

The only way you could make that argument with a straight face is by ignoring the massive pile of externalities that online livery services have been accumulating since the beginning.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:59 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Or, if you really need a service like it provides and would like to see those negative externalities fixed in a way that doesn't involve having your own life fall apart rather than simply cheering at the prospect of Uber vanishing and you being screwed as a result.

If you're applauding the idea of Uber dying without anything offering a similar service replacing it, then you're applauding making the lives of a whole lot of poor people vastly harder.
posted by sotonohito at 9:08 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it feels truthy to your world view, but frankly, every person I know who utilizes rideshare apps is exactly the person of socioeconomic status you're probably referring to. People who would otherwise take a bus, but need to be somewhere in a more timely fashion.

Keep telling yourself that, dude. It just somehow happens that it's never convenient for them to take the bus. Ever! It's shocking, really. Just a titanic coincidence.

I'm an ex-Biglaw lawyer living in NYC. I don't need the mysteries of the affluent explained to me.

And if they really don't want to share a vehicle with people of a certain socioeconomic status, what business is that of yours?

(a) That makes them shitty people. Admittedly, a private judgment of mine, but the fact that you're ready to effectively concede that makes a mockery of your earlier indignation;
(b) It's hugely my business, indeed everyone's business, if their choices involve externalizing costs on my city.
posted by praemunire at 9:12 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Worth noting that the whole reason that there was an unserved need for Uber/Lyft to fill is that local governments had long been aggressively targeting unlicensed taxi operators, taking cars away from working people trying to get by ("impoundment" and "fines" are the terms commonly used, but as with other Stupid Cop Tricks in this line, "theft" would be the more straightforward term). Without the coercive power of the state clearing the way for them, Uber and Lyft would never have had even the rather dubious pretext that supports their existence now.

One could certainly make some analogies to other other forms of mysteriously "unexploited" potential in other parts of US history.
posted by shenderson at 10:18 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I'm an ex-Biglaw lawyer living in NYC. I don't need the mysteries of the affluent explained to me.

And the fact that you live in NYC explains why you’re so quick to shame people for using these services. It’s always easy to have the moral high ground when you’re not actually making the same choice as the person you’re looking down on. That said, if you’re a vegetarian/vegan, I’ll take back my implied charge of hypocrisy regarding the externalities of your consumer choices.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:27 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]


Let me give a brief demonstration of why I'm using Uber tomorrow:

First and most relevantly: I live in San Antonio TX.

I am employed, thankfully, as is my partner. Until recently we'd been feeling as if we were not being good environmental citizens by having two cars. That ended with one of the cars being involved in a wreck that left it totaled and my partner and I deciding to experiment with just how bad having only one car would be.

The answer to that question is that it's pretty awful but so far we're making it work and giving serious consideration to not buying and using a second car. It is inconvenient, we both wake up about 30 to 40 minutes earlier than we used to so she can drop me at work and get to work on time. That leaves me killing time at my job for about an hour before I clock in, but fortunately I've got an office job so I can just read during that time.

Where things get sticky is when absolutely anything that disrupts our schedule happens, like my doctor's appointment tomorrow in the early afternoon.

San Antonio's public transit is, in a word, shitty. My apartment is 16ish miles from my job, it typically takes around 25 to 30 minutes to drive. Taking the bus would take between 1 hour and 45 to 2 hours assuming the buses run on time and there are no missed connections. I just checked and it'd be about an hour to an hour and twenty minutes to get to my doctor by bus.

It is very difficult to overstate just how horribly slow and poorly managed the San Antonio bus system is.

By Uber it's about 20 minutes to my doctor. I can get there, get dealt with, and get back to work in a long lunch. By bus I'd be gone at least half the day.

Personally I'd love it if San Antonio would completely restructure their bus system and have sufficient buses and drivers to operate on a system of nodes with local buses running short loops linked by express buses. But they aren't looking at spending the kind of money that owuld require.

I've lived in places with decent public transit and I've loved them. One of the best things about living in Tokyo was that I didn't have to drive or even get into a car during my entire time there. They had a nodal system with buses running local drop off from the nodes and each node linked by rail. It was fast, efficient, and always on time. Typically you're much better off, in terms of time spent, taking public transport in Tokyo than you are driving.

And I'm a strong advocate of getting a similar system into place here. But until that happens, Uber fills a gap that the taxi companies are simply unable or unwilling to fill.
posted by sotonohito at 11:46 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


But it's great for those who want to be self-employed, say internet pundits, pointing to articles like this one: A day in the life of an Uber, Lyft and Juno driver who makes about $6,000 a month in NYC (CNBC, 31 Jan 2019), which omits one key fact, which was included in a mostly repackaged/related article: I spent a day with a full-time Uber, Lyft and Juno driver in NYC—here's how much he earned in 9 hours (CNBC, 4 Feb 2019)
If Castillo earns $250 a day and works Monday to Saturday, that's $1,500 per week, which comes out to about $6,000 a month. He earns an additional $100 to $300 per month by using Cargo, which pays him a monthly rate for selling products like snacks and headphones to passengers, and Play Octopus, which pays him to mount a tablet that offers trivia games and plays ads.

That means he could be earning about $72,000 a year from rides and between $1,200 and $3,600 a year from Cargo and Play Octopus, for a total of about $75,000. That's before taxes, though, and doesn't factor in expenses like gas, insurance and maintenance, which can add up to nearly $20,000 a year.
Emphasis mine -- and it's also overlooking the part that Al Castillo doesn't get benefits, and the cost of living in NYC is pretty damn high.

$55,000 per year suddenly looks less like a golden opportunity, and more like you're hoping your car doesn't break down.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:54 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


It also doesn't allow Castillo to take any sort of vacation; his car costs him money even when it isn't rolling. It doesn't account for the self funding of SS or unemployment insurance (is that a thing self employed people can get in NY?).

Taking a four week vacation in a year means forgoing the $6Gs for that month and incurring essentially all his costs minus gas. And like you mentioned he'd working nine hours a day, six days a week (plus I bet he spends additional uncompensated time on business overhead like doing/paying taxes; shopping for a new car every few years; cleaning/waxing/vacuuming the car etc.) That kind of heavy work load makes sense if you are trying to get a business off the ground; it's crazy for a business hourly position that isn't going to grow. He also isn't getting stat pay when he works a stat holiday.

40 hours and long weekends are one of the basic things unions fought for and it's horrible to see that not even considered an expected norm.

sotonohito: "Well, sure, and that's great if your vision of the problem is that people are being mean to taxi companies and ha ha on them soon Uber will be gone and they'll have no choice but to take the rolling ashtrays that, if you're extremely lucky, might get there 30 minutes after you make a voice phone call and get put on hold for a while."

I don't have a dog in this fight. Uber et.al. aren't available in my community; the local taxi service the few times I've used it has been non-horrible. I just think it wrong to hold up Uber as an example of what taxi companies should be when their entire business is being propped up by outside money.

2N2222: " This concern troll point is made everytime the Uber/Lyft complaint session makes the rounds. But if you hate rideshare so much, isn't this a good thing?"

I don't hate ride share; really I have no animosity to these services in general. It is important though to keep in mind that the level of service they are providing isn't sustainable.

sotonohito: "Uber is awful, and yet it is **STILL** the objectively superior service."

They'd have to be trying not be because they aren't operating on a cost recovery basis.

sotonohito: "If you're applauding the idea of Uber dying without anything offering a similar service replacing it, then you're applauding making the lives of a whole lot of poor people vastly harder."

I'm not applauding anything but poor people are going to be screwed when Uber either flames out or changes their fee structure.
posted by Mitheral at 9:04 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I'm a bit surprised nobody who actually drives for Lyft or Uber has chimed in. I do. AMA.
posted by Melkor's Stupid Nephew at 5:40 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


It's only semi-affordable because it is being subsidized by VC money.
And... so what? This concern troll point is made everytime the Uber/Lyft complaint session makes the rounds. But if you hate rideshare so much, isn't this a good thing?
Calling it concern trolling is misuse of the term: it’s a statement of fact and there’s a reason why everyone should care. Right now a lot of other services are facing financial problems because of lost ridership and everyone is seeing the costs of the extra congestion and extra accidents.

It’s reasonable to ask what will happen when Uber’s backers start wanting profits and prices double. Public transit which has been getting cut for years, often explicitly citing the rise of Uber, has a ramp up time measured in years. All of the drivers are likely to depend on social services when their income drops to even less sustainable levels, and Uber’s VCs aren’t going to pay for that either. The companies with more realistic business models are currently suffering from subsidized competition and any one which fails before Uber stops running at a loss will take more time to replace.
posted by adamsc at 6:10 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Keep telling yourself that, dude. It just somehow happens that it's never convenient for them to take the bus. Ever! It's shocking, really. Just a titanic coincidence

Coincidence? Unless you're on some slumming adventure, nobody likes taking the bus. Rich or poor. It's almost always the least shitty choice among shitty choices. But of you enjoy it, more power to you.

(a) That makes them shitty people. Admittedly, a private judgment of mine, but the fact that you're ready to effectively concede that makes a mockery of your earlier indignation;
(b) It's hugely my business, indeed everyone's business, if their choices involve externalizing costs on my city.


(a) the shittiest people I'm seeing here are decidedly hostile to rideshare concept.
(b) there are external costs that never seem to be factored in when declaring the evils of Uber/Lyft. Those costs incurred by having those services disappear. Without such costs weighed, the calculation over externalities is incomplete and one sided.


It is?...

The only way you could make that argument with a straight face is by ignoring the massive pile of externalities that online livery services have been accumulating since the beginning


See point (b) above. If you're going to bring up externalities without factoring in the externalities of the alternative, you're not finished with your calculation.


It’s reasonable to ask what will happen when Uber’s backers start wanting profits and prices double
.

It is reasonable to ask. Seldom is it asked. More likely, it's declared with lips being licked in anticipation.

Here's the remarkable thing about the answer: if it's unsustainable, a question that's up in the air at this time, then it needs to fail. Such is the fate of a market venture that cannot fund itself. And this possibility hints at a result that is harder to swallow for many: if transportation is too costly for a particular region, how much money should be dumped into a publicly funded alternative? Is there such a thing as a metropolitan area that is too dense, too congested to encourage further consolidation? Do cities need to be as densely populated as, say Hong Kong? More? Less? Is there an optimal number? If there is, do we throttle transportation in an effort to maintain such a balance? Ultimately, would anybody ever be happy with those answers?

I'm a bit surprised nobody who actually drives for Lyft or Uber has chimed in. I do. AMA

Oh, Dog, thank you. One of the things that makes debate worthless is how often we make declarations based on one sided information. At best. First hand info is sometimes lacking, and in the absence, half informed grand unifying answers fueled by asymmetric information and passionate ideology can sometimes take on a life of its own.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:03 PM on February 13


Melkor's Stupid Nephew: Why did you start driving for Uber/Lyft, and what do you feel are the advantages/disadvantages for you as a driver?
posted by jb at 2:17 PM on February 13


(a) the shittiest people I'm seeing here are decidedly hostile to rideshare concept.
(b) there are external costs that never seem to be factored in when declaring the evils of Uber/Lyft. Those costs incurred by having those services disappear. Without such costs weighed, the calculation over externalities is incomplete and one sided.


Well yes, I'm hostile to the way online livery (and again, I refuse to call it "ridesharing" because that name is a lie designed to obfuscate what these businesses are) firms operate in a predatory manner, with a mentality that they should not be regulated at all.
As for your second point, it turns out that we actually have a case study in Austin, where the big companies left because of that belief about not being regulated - and what happened is that you got firms like RideAustin which operated in a more ethical and fair manner. Sadly, Austin also became a case study for what happens when you let the predators back in, thanks to Uber and Lyft lobbying the state government to override the city, and as a result those alternatives are struggling to compete now.

Also:

Coincidence? Unless you're on some slumming adventure, nobody likes taking the bus. Rich or poor. It's almost always the least shitty choice among shitty choices. But of you enjoy it, more power to you.

Speak for yourself. I've lived in cities, and one thing I miss is public transit of all sorts - buses, light rail, subways, etc. And I never saw using any of them as demeaning. If you see the bus as "slumming", that's all on you.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:33 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Being able to call for a ride and have it actually show up in instead of blowing it off like the cab companies used to do is pretty fucking revolutionary. It is absolutely not "the same service with an app attached".
My experience with Uber: I arranged for a ride from a major hotel in Philidelphia to get my disabled cousin and I. We stood in the rain and watched the clueless knob drive by and park a block away. I called him on the phone and told him we were at the front. He cancelled the trip and claimed we didn't show, and Uber charged me five bucks (which after two days they returned as an "Uber credit" that I will never use). Taxi I called arrived in three minutes and cost less than the Uber was supposed to. So, yeah, it isn't the same: it's worse.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:37 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I arranged for a ride from a major hotel in Philidelphia to get my disabled cousin and I.

Yeah, this may have less to do with Uber itself, and more with joining the wonderful world of trying to transit while disabled. :/ Unfortunately, the driver saw you, and decided he wasn't interested.

Rideshare apps are great as long as you're young, white, and able-bodied.
posted by hydra77 at 1:29 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Rideshare apps are great as long as you're young, white, and able-bodied.

But the thing is that online livery services sold themselves in part with the argument that their system would stop this sort of behavior. In fact, the argument was made repeatedly in this thread that we should ignore all the damage these services do because they don't do this sort of thing. But if the reality is that they have the same problems plus all the ones they've added - why are they better, exactly?
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:04 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


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