This just in:
This just in:
This proposal for New York City isn’t likely to be passed, but it raises the question: What should be the surcharge for ride-hailing services to use public infrastructure and to control congestion?
With Uber and Lyft cars taking over Manhattan streets, a state task force has proposed a surcharge of $2 to $5 on rides in for-hire vehicles as part of a broader congestion pricing plan to keep traffic moving and raise money to shore up public transit.
But now a prominent transportation expert, Bruce Schaller, contends that those fees are simply too low to deter most passengers from calling cars, and in any case, would result in only a temporary reduction in congestion before being offset by the rapidly growing ride-hailing services.
In a new report on Wednesday, Mr. Schaller calls instead for charging all for-hire vehicles — including yellow taxis and Uber and Lyft cars — $50 per hour to drive in Midtown Manhattan during weekday business hours, and $20 per hour in Lower Manhattan, the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. Mr. Schaller, a former city transportation official, said he based the fees on current parking garage prices in Manhattan.
“It takes high parking fees to really discourage people from driving into Manhattan,” said Mr. Schaller, who advised to the state task force. “Uber and Lyft and taxi passengers need the same price signals.”
The hourly fee would be passed along to passengers. By his calculation, the average fare for a ride that begins and ends in Midtown would more than double to $24 from $10. The average fare for rides from Midtown to other Manhattan neighborhoods, or vice versa, would increase to $28 from $14, he said.
It would also apply to vehicles even when they are not carrying passengers to discourage drivers from just circulating around Manhattan streets looking for business. Mr. Schaller said those fees would be billed to ride-hailing companies and taxi owners, who could pass that on to passengers through higher fares.
The result would be an immediate reduction in Midtown traffic since for-hire vehicles would make fewer trips, according to Mr. Schaller. He estimated that daily trips during the weekday would drop 11 percent to 64,000 from 72,000. He added that the top fee of $50 per hour would be charged in only a tiny fraction of the overall trips. …
Jon Orcutt, a spokesman for TransitCenter, a research and policy foundation, said that he supported Mr. Schaller’s approach of using an hourly fee rather than a per-ride fee to manage congestion “because I think we’re going to need tough measures to keep the streets moving.” He expressed doubt, though, that a $50 hourly fee would win approval from state officials, given that congestion pricing already faced significant hurdles in New York …
It’s likely a visible Mobility Decongestion Charge or Tax – call it what you will – isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The NDP, whenever the term comes up, reinforce their position that there will be no road tax – but they’re interested in what the regional mayors and the commission have to say. (“Interested” is a political term in this context. It means ‘we might read the report, but it isn’t going anywhere.’)
All the more reason to be thinking now of less visible ways to price for transportation. Like this.
The problem is that cities’ standard tools won’t work on the likes of Uber. Up until now, economists’ usual response to traffic has been to implement a congestion charge: set a zone where congestion is a problem, and then charge drivers a fee for driving there. …
Uber, however, breaks that model. Uber drivers aren’t using their car as a means of getting from A to B; they’re using it as a means of earning money. … Increasingly, they are the alternative to driving into town—only instead of driving in and then parking, taking themselves off the roadway, they drive in and then just continue driving, for hours and hours, making congestion even worse even as they effectively amortize the cost of any congestion fee. …
What’s more, if you charge Uber drivers, you’re charging some of the lowest earners in the city, people who really need the money they’re making. The tax might be effective, but it would also be regressive. …
What we need instead, then, is a real incentive for the puppetmasters—Uber and Lyft—to free up road space and get cities moving again.
Such an incentive would not need to touch regular car owners at all, and it wouldn’t even require local governments to define congestion zones or times. All those political decisions about who’s in the zone and who’s out, whether bridges are included, what happens at weekends—all of them could be rendered moot. After all, cities no longer need to work out ex ante where the congestion is going to be: Uber and Lyft have that information, in real time.
And so a tax naturally emerges. Every day, or month, or quarter, whatever makes sense, Uber and Lyft would need to make a tax payment to the city government, based on the number of hours its cars spent stuck in traffic. The tax could be quite simple: 10 cents per minute, say, for any time that any car spent traveling below 10 mph on surface streets or 40 mph on highways. Or it could be more complex, involving a sliding scale of higher payments for slower traffic speeds. Importantly, the tax would be paid by the companies—Uber and Lyft—rather than by the drivers. …
Such a tax would create all the best incentives. Uber and Lyft would start charging more for journeys in high-congestion areas or at high-congestion times, reducing demand and therefore reducing traffic. …
One of the big lessons that Uber has learned—and one reason why the company continues to lose money—is that its passengers are very price-sensitive. … If fares were significantly higher for people wanting to journey through a congested area and lower for everybody else, then two things would happen. Firstly, demand for cars would naturally shift in the desired direction. Then, inevitably, supply would too: drivers without passengers would gravitate away from the congested core, towards low-congestion areas which offered a higher likelihood of picking up a fare.
On top of that, the routing algorithms would change as well. Uber and Lyft would have a financial incentive to route cars around high-congestion areas, even if the journeys took a little longer. Meanwhile, people in congested areas who were thinking of ordering an Uber would have a choice: Either pay a bit more and wait a bit longer to get your car, or find alternative means of transportation. That might be unwelcome news to today’s Uber passengers, but it’s exactly the kind of incentive that cities want to provide to their inhabitants. …
Gordon: I’ve been predicting the emergence of the ‘Transportation Service Provider’ – an agent that will endeavour to acquire as many modes of transportation (with the potential for cash flow) as possible, in order to package and market a service much like telecommunications. For a single price through a single provider, the consumer would have access to multiple means of travel (bike- and car-share and transit, in particular), coverage for associated costs (parking, tolls, information, insurance) as well as servicing and technological upgrades. The provider would have the cash flows, the data, and ultimately control of the transportation network.
Perhaps we’d see a company like Uber or Google move aggressively to get in early, acquire as many public and private assets as possible in order to establish market dominance, if not effective monopoly.
Well, guess what.
“I want to run the bus systems for a city,” (Uber CEO Dara) Khosrowshahi said. “I want you to be able to take an Uber and get into the subway — if the trains are running on time, you’ve got real-time data — get in the subway, get out and have an Uber waiting for you for right now. Or know that there’s a bike right there for you that gets you where you’re going in the fastest manner.”
Lots of coverage of the legislative committee’s report on ride-hailing:
But this recommendation shouldn’t be missed:
The Committee recommends to the Legislative Assembly that the provincial government:
13. Require transportation network companies to provide data to government for monitoring purposes, including but not limited to: wait times; trip lengths; trip start and end locations; trip start and end times; accessible vehicle trip statistics; trip refusals; trip fares; drivers’ hours and earnings; driver and passenger demographics; and consider extending this requirement to the taxi industry.
It is critical that this data-provision requirement be put in place before the arrival of ‘Transportation Network Companies’ like Uber. They argue, after all, that they are not actually transportation companies, but instead the providers of apps, marketing, branding and information to independent contractors. Their product is in fact their data. Of course they would want to keep it proprietorial.
That in turn means power – power to control and manage part if not eventually all of the transportation system. If the public sector does not establish who is actually running the show – and has the information it needs to do so – then the power shifts to the TNCs and we are entering a very different world. And not a nice one.
Gord Price: I’ve been predicting the rise of the “Transportation Service Provider” – a consolidator of every mode of movement imaginable, integrated with technology, and designed to provide consumers with a suite of services for which they pay, as with telecommunications, one provider with a lot of money. Assuming a single provider or oligopoly can emerge.
So look to see some of the giants try to get even bigger and more diverse as fast as possible in order to dominate the market. Here’s the latest example.
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s Uber, but for bicycles.
For the first time in Uber’s history, the company is offering rides on roads in the United States using something other than cars. Starting next week, it will let certain users in San Francisco reserve pedal-assist electric bicycles through its app. The idea is that people will see the bicycles as a cheaper and faster alternative — not a huge stretch of the imagination for anyone who has been stuck in Friday evening gridlock traffic in San Francisco.
Uber is not supplying its own bicycles. It is working with Jump Bikes, a bike-sharing service that secured a permit in January to put 250 motorized bicycles — making it easier to tackle San Francisco’s steep hills — in locations throughout the city.
The pilot program is the latest indication of Uber’s ambitions to move beyond its ride-hailing origins. It is also working on autonomous trucking services, while aggressively expanding into the food delivery market with Uber Eats.
A new study in New York City says the growth of the app-based ride services could work against cities’ goals of unclogging streets and reducing vehicle emissions, as well as potentially undermine other transportation options, such as public transit and taxi services.
In Seattle, where congestion ranks high worldwide, transportation officials say transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft may worsen traffic during commute hours, but they don’t have the specific data to tell. …
According to University of Washington professor and traffic expert Mark Hallenbeck, Seattle’s dense neighborhoods have more at stake in terms of how the app-based services clog roads. People in those areas rely more on the companies compared with those in the suburbs to evade parking hassles, for example.
“Ride-hailing apps have potential to add to congestion,” he said in an email, as well as contribute to less curb space in busy areas such as downtown when drivers are picking up or dropping off passengers. That “puts even more pressure on the city to figure out how to use the limited curb space they have.” …
According to the New York City study, ridership with TNCs there tripled between June 2015 and the fall of 2016, when 15 million passengers used the services per month.
“The secret to success in New York City over the last 20 years is the transit system’s ability to absorb the growth in travel from population and economic growth,” Bruce Schaller, a former senior official at the city’s Department of Transportation and the report’s author, told The New York Times. “If all that growth translated into more use of private cars or taxis and Ubers, it’s not a sustainable way to grow the city.” …
In the Seattle area, transit ridership actually increased last year, nearly doubling that of any other U.S. metro area, according to figures compiled by King County Metro Transit, using preliminary data from the Federal Transit Administration.
Compared with less dense places, such as the suburbs, the UW’s Hallenbeck said neighborhoods such as Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Ballard, downtown and Pioneer Square provide more opportunity for ride-hailing trips to take away from transit.
“This is a price for service question. How much are people willing to pay for a faster, more direct service?” he said in the email. “My understanding is that this (Seattle) has not been a very big market.”
But Hallenbeck believes it will grow when or if the quality of transit service declines, such as when buses become overcrowded like in New York City.
From Joe Sulmona:
I predicted the harm that these peer to peer commercial ridesharing services will do to public transit…
Why do we need a Broadway subway when it might very well be cheaper just to subsidize the services instead… Oh, we might need to widen the streets for all the extra cars.
Nov. 27–OAKLAND — BART’s Oakland Airport Connector — the sleek trams that whisk riders from the Coliseum station — seems to be falling victim to the ride-booking phenomenon that has also bedeviled taxis, shuttles and other airport transit services.
The $6 one-way fare may not be helping fill seats, either.
Rather than making a projected $2 million profit in its first two years, the service has cost the agency $860,000. And ridership dropped 4.5 percent during the three-month period ending Sept. 30 from the same period a year earlier, as ride-booking services tripled their numbers over the same span.
Social justice advocates blasted the service when it was first proposed as a “shovel ready” candidate for federal stimulus funds, calling the automated people mover a “boondoggle” that does little to benefit the mostly low-income East Oakland communities the trams pass over. And several groups challenged BART’s assumptions that it could use the connector’s high fares to cover its operating costs.
Data recently obtained by this newspaper show those concerns have come to fruition, though not for reasons anyone suspected at the time. The introduction of ride-booking services, such as Uber, Lyft and Wingz, at Oakland International Airport last year have consumed nearly all of the new business from the airport’s growing passenger traffic.
The precipitous rise of ride-booking took everyone by surprise, including the staff at Oakland International Airport, said Stephen Gordon, the airport’s business manager.
“Anybody who said they saw this coming is full of baloney,” he said. “Every month, we continue to be astonished by the growth in the use of (ride-booking).”
Early yesterday, I saw an Uber ad which expressed the company’s intent to attract passengers from high-capacity public transit. The ad is below, and my post in response is here.
In my response I reminded readers of what it would mean to shift large numbers of people from big transit vehicles, like the subway pictured here, to individual Uber cars — in terms of outcomes for cities, society, and the environment.Within hours I got a Twitter message from a senior person at Uber, asking where I’d seen the ad and then assuring me the ad had been removed.
All good.But readers wondered if I was over-reacting to a mere ad, or if I regretted my post now that the ad had been taken down. No, and here’s why.
Advertising, like political speech, has a long history that we can study and learn from. Precisely because it seems so fleeting and insubstantial, it disarms our skepticism, exploits our desire to be “in” or “cool,” and thus shapes attitudes that will define the world of the future.This ad also had a context, as part of a torrent of messages — from many parts of the culture including the tech industry — that encourage contempt for public transit, or at least apathy about it, among the relatively fortunate. And when our transit systems are not what our cities need or deserve, that apathy is the main reason why. With that ad, Uber had identified itself as an advocate of that apathy.
The only way to disarm that ad was to take it seriously. Advertising always wants to engage us with a wink and a nod, so that we’ll forgive it for implying things that the company wouldn’t want to defend having said directly. So to confront it, you have to strip off that mask and make clear that you hear what the ad is saying, and what that implies.
It’s like what you have to do to stop any ongoing pattern of abuse. Sooner or later, you have to speak up about something that seems minor in isolation. You have to say: “I know you think this is isn’t a big deal, but in the context of 100 similar things that are being said, it’s doing harm.” You’ll sound like a killjoy, but you’ll sleep better knowing you did what you could.It worked. Somebody at Uber read my post, saw the problem and fixed it as a matter of urgency. Clearly there are people inside of Uber who want the company to be a more responsible player in urban issues. I look forward to meeting more of these people, and I hope they prevail in defining Uber’s future.
This is the stance that I encourage transit agencies to take toward Uber, Lyft, and similar companies. Negotiate from a position of confidence that demands respect for the things that only high-ridership transit can do. The companies worth working with are those that will be happy to meet you in that space, ready to collaborate to build better, more liberated cities.
UBER has a fleet of self-driving cars in operation in Pittsburgh. Several journalists have taken a ride. Read excerpts from their reports, with links, below. But first, some thoughts from Uber’s top dog.
According to Travis Kalanick (Uber’s CEO) in Business Insider:
It’s not just an engineering challenge that’s deterministic, and I know what I have to build. We are figuring out as we go what has to be built because, even when you have the world’s experts on this challenge, there are things that even if you’re Google, or even if you’re anybody, Apple, all the guys that are working on it, there are things that haven’t been invented yet. And that’s part of the fun. . .
. . . you’re still going to need a human-driven parallel, or hybrid. And the reason why is because there are just places that autonomous cars are just not going to be able to go or conditions they’re not going to be able to handle.
The first part of this quote points to the huge challenge of standardization, in a near-term future where an Uber car needs to communicate something about intent, timing, car-train cooperation or God-knows what else, to another robo-car made by Ford, Tesla, BMW, Mercedes, Apple, Google, Baidu, NuTonomy and so on. And it’s all been invented in-house, with key components guarded jealously as trade secrets that enable domination.
Mike Isaac in the New York Times writes about the test drive experience:
During my ride, most of which I spent as a passenger in Boron 6’s back seat, my safety engineer proved his worth. At various moments, he had to take over the wheel and turn through intersections where locals are known to speed. When a truck driver backed out into the road illegally, he put his foot on the brake, immediately taking control of the car. . .
. . . But for most of the ride, I felt safe. In self-driving mode, turns and stops were near seamless, and I often had to check in with my driver to see whether he or the computer was steering the car. I did grow a bit nervous a few times when watching how close the computer drove us to cars parked on the right side of a street. Though, admittedly, that could have been my mind playing tricks on me by being more vigilant than usual about my surroundings.
Nick Bilton in Vanity Fair has a different, but deeper, slant on Uber’s challenge from the robo-car. On the business side, Uber succeeds today by connecting cars (drivers) and passengers. But what happens when someone else owns the car, and the service. And what happens to a society, like the USA and Canada, that is dependent upon cars, and car ownership for transportation and big chunks of GDP? And what is the upshot when those vehicles, most of them currently idle and stored around 90% of the time, become much more effectively productive? Mr. Bilton digs into these ideas.
But back to Uber.
But if you think about it, Uber isn’t actually connecting passengers to cars. Instead, it is really connecting passengers to drivers. When those drivers are replaced by computers, Uber is a less important, and less valuable, middle man. Kalanick is fully aware of this reality. “We are definitely not building the cars,” he noted to B.I., “and I don’t know who is going to own the fleet.” That opportunity is open to a lot of other companies who are trying to not be erased by the approaching reality of autonomous vehicles. . .
. . . It seems that Uber is about to face the classic dilemma that stifles all big businesses as technology starts to attack them from the future: they must change in a way that eats away their core business, or someone else will. There are some businesses that can adapt quickly enough to the changes, and survive, and others that can’t. Steve Jobs was in the former camp when he released the iPhone in 2007, fully aware that it would kill the iPod, a core part of Apple’s revenue. In doing so, he was able to thrust Apple forward to become the most valued company in the world.