Is Uber’s ultimate goal taking over public transit and, if so, why? In this week’s roundup, senior RSG contributor John Ince explains two articles that seem to show Uber heading in a strong public transit direction. Plus, how NYC is not helping the gig economy workers and more.
Uber’s Goal Is Not to Operate Alongside Public Transit but to Replace It [The Bold Italic]
Sum and Substance: Uber has built its reputation on being a 21st-century alternative to the taxi. Its supporters praise its lower fares, driver ratings and the convenience of being able to see where one’s driver is located directly on the app. There’s no question that Uber has brought some improvements to the taxi industry, but it would be wrong to believe that that’s where Uber’s ambition ends. …
Buses and subway systems can move people much more efficiently than individual vehicles, making them a threat to the company’s survival. Uber has no intention of operating alongside public transit; it intends to replace it.
…The lower-priced uberX, which allows people to offer rides in their own vehicles, was launched in 2012, directly taking on taxi companies, and it was followed in 2014 by uberPOOL, which further lowered prices by allowing drivers to make multiple stops to pick up other passengers along a given route — kind of like a bus. …Uber is taking riders from public transit, which is reducing the quality of transit and could potentially lead to less investment because of lower ridership numbers, creating a downward spiral in Uber’s favor.
…In developing countries where cities are growing quickly and many governments don’t have the money to meet the transportation needs of its citizens, Uber sees an opportunity to get in early before high-quality systems can be established.
… Cities in developing countries will likely be larger and denser than most Western cities, which makes the need for public transit all the more necessary. But if Uber becomes the primary provider of transportation, it’s likely that the poor will be left out and that traffic congestion — already a major problem in these cities — will become unbearable. …
My Take: If the author of this article is right, then Uber is in trouble. Public transit is not a business any sane entrepreneur would want to be in. Public transit is subsidized, hence the name “public” transit.
Right now, Uber investors are subsidizing their gambit, but that can’t last. Witness their $4.5 billion operating loss last year. When Uber officially rolled out Uber Express POOL nationally after testing it in San Francisco, it was one more sign that Uber has it sights on public transit.
From the driver’s perspective, Uber Express POOL is just one more disguised form of a price cut. Why Uber wants to be competing with publicly subsidized services is a mystery to me. See: Uber Express Pool offers the cheapest fares yet in exchange for a little walking
New York Is Confiscating Delivery Bikes, Hurting Immigrants, And Helping No One [Fast Company]
Sum and Substance: The city’s crackdown on electric bikes is destroying the livelihood of people who make deliveries for a living–and shows how the gig economy platforms that pay them abdicate any responsibility to help.
Yidi Zhu is 41 years old and has worked as a delivery cyclist in New York City for 16 years after arriving in the country from China. His shifts are 12 hours long, he tells Fast Company through a translator, and during that time he’ll sometimes make as many as 200 deliveries. The city is familiar to him now; he’s traced every imaginable route from the lower end of Manhattan to 14th Street. But lately, he’s been nervous during his shifts.
Zhu’s e-bike, which he bought for around $1,000, is his lifeline. … But under a revamped policy recently implemented by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, Zhu could face fines, or even confiscation, for riding his e-bike in the city. Technically, due to a mismatch in the law, electric bikes are legal to own but illegal to operate, in New York. (Federal law treats motorized bikes like regular bikes. New York state law considers them vehicles, but there’s no way for riders to register them.)
The New York Police Department has variably enforced this law over the years; there have been previous incidences of crackdowns on people who ride e-bikes, but this one is different: It was declared as official policy by the mayor.
It’s also been received with total silence from delivery companies like GrubHub, which have facilitated the massive boom in delivery work in cities like New York. The company issued a statement to Fast Company stating that all workers and restaurants that use the platform are obliged to follow local laws, but GrubHub has largely skirted commentary on the e-bike ban, particularly its effect on workers (the company did not respond to multiple attempts for further comment). This silence testifies to a fundamentally untenable problem within the gig economy–the distance between the big tech companies at the top, and the often vulnerable workers that power them on the bottom…
My Take: If one simply substitutes car for e-bike, this article could be about the plight of Uber/Lyft drivers. This legal fiction of “independent contractor” leaves gig workers exposed – whether they be delivery on e-bikes or drivers using their own cars.
These are not easy issues to sort through, especially for those who are designing regulations or fashioning legislation. As soon as you think you’ve got things figured out, the gig economy takes everybody in a different direction, and the older way of treating workers is suddenly no longer relevant. In this instance, I can’t see how confiscating these e-bikes is helping anybody.
Why Uber is in favor of congestion pricing – For-hire vehicles would be charged, but they would also have more business [CityandStateNY]
Sum and Substance: Earlier this month, Uber threw its support behind the Fix NYC congestion pricing plan proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s task force. The ridesharing giant, which has previously worked to stifle regulatory legislation in elected bodies across the country, has joined forces with a group of advocacy organizations and unions to form a coalition to promote congestion pricing in New York state’s 2019 budget.
The plan, as announced in January, proposes a daily charge of $11.52 for all passenger cars in Manhattan below 60th Street, and a $2 to $5 surcharge on every taxi and for-hire vehicle ride in a similar area.
While Uber’s support for such a scheme may be surprising, it’s something they’ve backed in theory for at least a year. “Less traffic means more fares for the companies: the owners as well as their drivers,” said Alex Matthiessen, director of the Move NY campaign, which has advocated for toll reform since 2010 and is also a member of the coalition advocating on Fix NYC’s behalf. He added, “You want to pick up your passenger, discharge them, and pick up the next ride.”…
My Take: Strange bedfellows indeed. Who would have expected Uber to be favoring legislation that essentially charges Uber drivers for the privilege of using NYC streets? But when you delve a little deeper into this, you see it makes perfect sense, both for Uber and the city and its desire to reduce congestion.
With fewer private vehicles on the road, the demand for Uber/Lyft services goes up. It’s a win-win, right? Unless you own a private vehicle and want to drive it in New York City.
How to build a six-figure side hustle [ABC7 News]
Sum and Substance: Tens of millions of Americans have adopted a side hustle to bring in extra cash, but some have found a way to supercharge it. One San Francisco mom says she made $115,000 in a year and a half. A tech worker in the South Bay made $16,000 in a year. Both say that perhaps nowhere is a side hustle more necessary than in the Bay Area, and now they are sharing their secrets…
A full time tech worker, Mark Ferguson says he applied his analytical mind and love of spreadsheets to make the most out of his side hustle. For him, delivering food through the app Door Dash was born out of necessity.
“In the Bay Area, it’s very expensive to live… I have kids that are going to want to go to college one day,” said Ferguson. “I quickly found out that there are various steps and tricks that you can use to maximize your success.”
He says that he’s fully focused on his main job while he’s at work, but he spends hours that would normally be used for decompressing, exercising or socializing to turn extra profit. He can make up to $200 a day.
“There’s an appeal to turning ‘down time’ into extra cash. If I can go out for another two hours and make another $40, then I can go out to dinner, or I’m closer to a plane ticket for my next trip. The fact that the money is out there, and all you have to do is sign in and go earn it, is appealing.”
My Take: Our very own Dash was featured in this article on side hustles, complete with a shout out to his articles on RSG! While Dash primarily drives for DoorDash, he recently started a series on delivering for Instacart.
Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up?
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-John @ RSG