Here’s a little update on my thought stylings regarding Uber, Lyft, and ultimately self driving cars. A neighbor needed help on a work project this morning so we headed off to his office. There was a momentary debate about the relative merits of taking the bus, biking, or getting an Uber. I was inclined to ride my bike. But my neighbor shrugged, whipped out his cell phone, and in thirty seconds an Uber rolled up. C’est magique!
Here are two points I think are worth pondering. First, public transit only works in places where there’s broad middle class buy in. London, New York, Boston, Toronto, San Francisco… these are transit towns where everyone uses trains, buses, and streetcars on a daily basis. If a significant chunk of the middle class isn’t actively using public transit in any given location it’s almost always pathetic. Auto dependent landscapes are where the unfortunates of society can be seen on the side of the road. They wait for long periods of time for a bus that may or may not ever appear. Whatever. I mean… really. These people don’t matter. Who cares? Transit is a waste of taxpayer money. Duh.
Uber fills a peculiar niche. It’s better than waiting for a bus. But it’s more expensive. Middle class people can hop an Uber without thinking about it much. People lower down on the food chain typically can’t. If you live in a place that doesn’t yet have great transit Uber just made it a whole lot more difficult to get started.
Here’s something else to mull over. Whenever I find myself in an Uber, Lyft, or taxi I ask the driver where they live and what it’s like driving people around. Today the driver confirmed what a lot of drivers say. He lives in a suburban part of Oakland near San Leandro and commutes in to San Francisco to take fares from 4 AM to 10 AM (the most lucrative hours) and then heads back home when he’s done for the day. He said he can make more money in the city since Uber structures fares differently for different locations based on supply and demand. San Francisco pays better than the suburbs. There’s also more volume. In the city there’s a continuous churn of passengers. The numbers just aren’t as good elsewhere.
Car services like Uber and Lyft work best in places where there’s already a robust pedestrian culture and where a large percentage of the middle class population doesn’t necessarily own a car. The suburbs? Not so much.
By the way, we walked home from the office since it was such a beautiful day.