Uber

Killing Ride-Sharing Is Not the Solution to America's Transportation Blues

Transportation policy should encourage more options, not fewer.

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Ifeelstock/Dreamstime.com

Uber has come under fire for everything from its safety record to its disruptive effect on transit agencies. But those sins don't even scratch the surface, Steven Hill writes in The New York Times. The ride-sharing service is rotten to the core, he says, thanks to "a business model that harms drivers, and the environment, and drains away passengers and revenue from public transportation."

According to Hill, Uber is waging a "predatory price war" aimed at achieving a "transportation monopoly." It's shutting out the competition—in this case, saintly public transportation agencies—by charging artificially low fares. In the process, the company is worsening traffic congestion and harming the planet. Only by using regulation to forcibly dismantle Uber's business model can we right these wrongs and get riders back on buses and trains where they belong.

Or so says Hill. He leaves a few things out.

For starters, for all that he writes about Uber's low fares, Hill spills not a drop of ink on the fact that those public transportation services are themselves subsidized up to their eyeballs. Unlike Uber, whose losses are covered by shareholders voluntarily sinking cash into the company, transit subsidies come straight from taxpayers, whether they ride it or not.

I am aware of no transit agency in the United States that turns a profit. Few are even able to cover half of their operating expenses with traditional farebox revenue.

Take New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which runs the city's buses and subway system. It's the most heavily used transit system in the country, and it services America's most densely populated major city, yet it covers only 40 percent of its operating expenses through with farebox revenue.

Hill mentions a colleague who expresses a preference for a $5 Uber ride over a $2.25 bus ride. Hill asks his friend whether he'd make the same choice if that Uber ride was an unsubsidized $10. Given that MTA's bus service covers less than a quarter of its operating expenses with ticket sales, perhaps Hill should have asked his colleague whether he would prefer a $10 Uber ride or a $10 ride on the bus.

This example is telling in more ways than one. The fact that Uber rides—whatever their level of subsidy—are still more expensive than public transit suggests that price is not the only thing encouraging people to make the switch. Uber and other ride-hailing services offer added comfort while traveling, plus the convenience of being taken directly from point A to point B at a time of your choosing.

It also includes the numerous downsides of America's public transit systems. Ridership on New York's public transit systems dipped last year for the first time since 2009. In other words, ridership managed to grow for the first six years that Uber was operating in the city. That it fell in 2017 has at least as much to do with the failings of public transportation as it does with the benefits of Uber. 2017, recall, was the year of the New York subway's "summer of hell," which saw track fires, derailments, claustrophobic waits aboard broken trains, sewage spewing from station ceilings, and an on-time arrival rate of 65 percent.

Since then things have gotten worse. The New York Times reported this month that on-time arrivals now average 58 percent. Some lines are performing even worse, with less than 40 percent of trains arriving on time. The fact that ride-hailing companies are giving travelers an alternative to this dismal service is a positive development.

It is of course true that when more people ditching public transit for ride-sharing services, more cars are on the road, increasing congestion. But time spent in traffic is just another cost riders should be free to shoulder or shrug off, depending what works for them. For many New Yorkers, the 15 percent decrease in traffic speeds is still not enough to get them back on the subway.

That's not to say that policy makers can't do anything about congestion. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Fix New York panel has recommended a $11 charge for any vehicles entering lower Manhattan. This kind of "cordon pricing" is not a terrible idea and is already in place in cities as diverse as London, Stockholm, and Singapore. A better idea might be congestion pricing, where a variable toll is charged to drivers entering the city depending on the number of vehicles on the road. Virginia is trying this out on badly congested stretches of Interstate 66 on the approach to Washington D.C.

The revenue from these fares can then be spent on adding lane-miles to highways or subsidizing bus and transit service.

Hill, by contrast, recommends capping the number of ride-sharing cars, prohibiting "subsidized fares," regulating Uber like taxis, collecting drivers' contact information so that it can be handed over to union activists, and forcing the company to pay drivers more.

You'll note that these ideas have little to do with combating the supposedly negative consequences of Uber and Lyft, or even with improving public transit so that more people will consider it a viable option. They're all designed to limit transportation options that Americans have been freely choosing.

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  1. Only by using regulation to forcibly dismantle Uber’s business model can we write these wrongs and get riders back on buses and trains where they belong.

    Get an editor, Britchesguy. HAHAHAHA

    1. That’s not what I see written up there. It looks like it’s YOU, not the author, who needs a proofreader!

      1. It’s Britches’ apathetic slacker attitude that has him use the commentariat as his editor. I’m guessing Katherine got tired of hearing “yeah, whatever” every time she pointed out a mistake.

        1. Plus, he personally killed the PM links with his passive-aggressive minimalism.

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  2. “a business model that harms drivers, and the environment, and drains away passengers and revenue from public transportation.”

    Whatever you think of the first two is open to debate, the last though, isn’t a problem. And in fact, it constantly startles me that people insist that the State’s transportation solution should be the only option, even while admitting it’s inferior in every way.

    If your goal is to move people around efficiently, and Uber or Lyft or ArcadeCity does that well, then you have solved a transportation problem, period, the end.

    It’s also a little window in the mindset of people who believe in things like Single Payer. Nothing before the state, nothing outside the state– even if it kills people.

    1. Whatever you think of Uber (and I for one will never use them after their recent data scam which they tried to cover up), it scares people like this shitless because it threatens to expose the sweet deal the Democrats and the pubsec unions have set themselves up with. In any sane universe the dude whose entire job is to open and close train doors all day isn’t walking home with a six-figure salary and lush benefits, and there aren’t seven equally lavishly rewarded dudes standing around watching the one dude who is actually working on any given construction project. Hell, the NYT itself ran an expose on this shit, and now they expect us to sympathize with the MTA over lost revenue? Fuck you.

      1. At least some fuckwads like HIll are certainly true believers, and on their list of holy causes, “public” transport is usually in the top ten.

        As for leftist patronage, Hill is just a useful idiot.

    2. If your goal is to move people around efficiently, and Uber or Lyft or ArcadeCity does that well, then you have solved a transportation problem, period, the end.

      If, OTOH, your goal is to increase public sector union membership and waste taxpayer money on shitty services most of them don’t use, then it’s public transportation all the way.

      1. I work in public transit. Executive at local bus service. All funding comes with strings requiring us to provide:

        1) Prevailing wage – (whatever the state says that is)
        2) Special, complimentary personal taxi-like services for those who “can’t ride the bus”
        3) Be sure that our service doesn’t “unfairly penalize the poor or minorities” (Title VI)
        4) Provide reduced fares for low income and senior.
        5) Include “disadvanted business enterprises”.
        5) On and on and on.

        It’s so expensive @ $36/passenger trip to provide required paratransit services that we’ve partnered with Uber and Lyft to provide personal taxi service instead at a maximum cost to us of $16 per trip.

        Go figure.

        Your tax dollars at work!

        If I told you what I’m paid for my role, you’d puke and probably start a revolution. But then again, I have to get paid more than those union drivers. Right? Otherwise, why would anyone be management?

        If you really want mediocrity as a standard, just get a government subsidized program going.

    3. If you’re designing a transportation network from scratch, you’re wanting people to ditch single-occupancy vehicles for other modes of transit. Accommodating everyone’s cars is just damned expensive, and it’s all it impossible in any dense urban area.

      Certainly, if Uber etc. were efficient transportation modes, there’d be no reason to complain about their supplanting mass transit. But any place you want mass transit, it’s simply not going to be the case that SOVs will be an improvement.

      1. Except for subways in a very dense city core, mass transit is NOT efficient – unless you count the riders’ time as of no value.

  3. “You’ll note that these ideas have little to do with combating the supposedly negative consequences of Uber and Lyft, or even with improving public transit so that more people will consider it a viable option. They’re all designed to limit transportation options that Americans have been freely choosing.”

    I also notice it has a lot to do with generating revenue for the CITY.

    1. If you’d read the rest of the article, you’d note that public transit doesn’t even do that – it’s invariably a drain on city finances.

      1. Decreased ridership due to Uber would make it even more of drain on city finances.

        That’s still an incentive to kill the competition.

        1. It’s only taxpayer money, they can get more from the source,

      2. Not quite. It generates increased revenue for the city but costs it profit. If the city were a business (or even halfway sane), profit would be the metric that matters. In politics, however, what matters most is how big a budget you can command. It doesn’t matter whether you saved that budget, spent it wisely or wasted it entirely. If your budget is bigger than my budget, you “won”.

      3. Not just City. In fact, most public transit funding comes from the Feds.

        Here’s a breakout of for my agency:

        Operating:
        Fares – 14%
        Federal – 6%
        State- 70%
        Local- 6%
        Bridge Tolls 3%
        Other 1%

        This doesn’t even dent the $B going to the capital side – think CA high speed rail.

        Much of the funding passes through several governmental entities before it gets to us. Fed to state. Then, state to region. Then, region to County or City. Then, County or City to the transit operator. Of course, each takes a cut along the way.

        So see, the farmers in MN get to pay federal income taxes so the citizens in the SF Bay Area can ride heavily subsidized BART to work and back. (Or, MTA in NY City, or…..)

        The right way to fix this is to limit public funding to capital only and the operating costs must be 100% paid by the riders or else no funds.

        Watch how fast private industry fills the void, the tech companies start locating at least some of their workforce outside of the SV and the Peninsula due to physical limitations and the taxpayer burden is greatly lessened.

        1. The problem there is that, from what I’ve been reading, capital costs – specifically maintenance and replacement – are the majority expenses.

  4. Unfair competition! Market failure! Externalities!

    It should be obvious by now that we need some central planning authority — guided by the good intentions and the superior, public-minded values of the likes of Steven Hill — to correct the deficiencies of free markets. I’m sure they’ll do a fine job and nothing will go wrong. Look at how well they’ve done with health care and education, for example. Costs go up every year while quality languishes or even deteriorates and innovation is stifled.

    1. According to the majority of ignorants I deal with, health care costs only rise because those darn insurance companies are sticking it to us. And, a single payer system will fix all of that.

      Supply and demand play no part.

      Don’t even mention Medicare as an example of a government run, single payer system.

      Such is the price of living in CA where, everything governmental is perfect and, private industry is just greedy capitalists out to kill all of us.

      Full disclosure: I’m tickled pink when I see the tech giants getting hoisted on their own petards by the very government they so love to support. It’s the epitome of what goes around comes around.

      🙁 🙁

      1. One of the great ironies of the “young innovator/entrepreneur” model is that they innovate while still largely free of wide-ranging personal experience. They carry into billionairehood a shocking ignorance of the universal perfidy of governments.

        They seem to have absorbed the platitudinal proggressive teachings of the public schools that government is the only solution to public issues that is free from the evils of profit-seeking. All while accepting MBA advice on gaining a quarter-cent per unit with a corner-cutting measure, or decreasing cost-per-worker while maintaining plausible deniability. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t seem to be a big problem for them, perhaps taking a cue from the good-looking millionaires who lecture America about “oppression” at the Oscars.

        So it is decidedly appropriate to be tickled pink whenever any of that ilk runs face first into reality. There are parts of reality that can’t be handwaved, rationalized or “deconstructed” using the terms of their Narrative. It is rewarding to see the rational minds changed*, and entertaining to see the moebius twists and turns of the “more commited than sane” contingent.

        1. *-though this almost never happens. The hold the progressive culture has on people is really scary. Once they’ve virtue-signaled enough, once they’ve joined a few “braying choruses of hate-mob denunciation”, they know they’ve either got to go along 100% or fall off the cliff entirely. There’s only “with us” and “alt-right”. All the complexity of politics and public policy boiled down for them into a binary. What could possibly go wrong? Only choosing the side of the devils, whatever facts, and reality, say.

  5. One of the striking things about public transportation is how it seems to be viewed not as a solution to a problem, but instead a virtue in of itself.

    It seems like a lot of government programs. Performing a task and helping people is almost incidental to the pure and inherent good of it existing. It is living, (money) bleeding monument to government.

    1. Yes and, public transportation is the only government program I know of that goes around looking for new “customers” while bleeding money for each ride provided.

      Water districts don’t try and get more hook ups. Ditto for wastewater treatment plants. Cities don’t seek more residents. They can’t deal with what they already have.

  6. “”and drains away passengers and revenue from public transportation.”””

    Some people love government monopoly.

    1. Also, people are acting like Public Transportation was going great before Uber. It fucking sucked and bleed money well before it had meaningful competition. Which is besides the point, they don’t care about public transports revenue, they care that it is not the sole provider of a service to masses. They care that people are less chained to them then they were before.

      1. Because we’re forced into being a public welfare program. God forbid we actually attempted to cover costs with user fares and actually restricted the n’r do wells from riding, destroying property and causing issues for all the other riders.

        I can guarantee you’ll never have a urine soaked, homeless bum riding in the back seat of an Uber car with you. But, get on a BART train I can guarantee you’ll smell the bastard, sprawled across two seats at the end of the car as soon as the doors open.

        (Que Jethro Tull.)

    2. But don’t you see? Uber is trying to be a monopoly. AND WHO VOTED FOR THEM? WHO ARE THEY ACCOUNTABLE TO? Unlike public transportation, NO ONE.

      1. I recently started using Uber. What a pleasure! Taxis are a pain in the ass. Last time I needed to get to the airport, my driver was there to pick me up in two minutes, and it cost almost half of what a taxi would cost. Plus I got to talk to a Mongolian girl.

        1. “GOD MONGORIANS! YOU TEAR DOWN MY SHITTY WAWR!!”

        2. I love Uber. The difference between Uber and taxis for me has been astounding. Fuck the cab lobby forever.

          Taxis: Call them (no app!). Talk to surly dispatcher. Dispatcher hears wrong address twice; correct him. Wait 1/2 hour for arrival. The taxi reeks and who knows the last time it was vacuumed or cleaned. Driver has no GPS and gets lost en route to destination. Driver is on his goddamn phone in some foreign language the whole time. $18 for a ten-minute ride. You appeal to the taxi company for a partial reimbursement because the driver took you on a detour while getting lost; taxi company laughs at you, says “you’re just trying to get a free ride,” and hangs up.

          Uber: Pick your destination in the app. Ride shows up in 5 minutes or less (sometimes up to 10 minutes out in the ‘burbs). You have the driver name, pic, and plate #. Car is newer, comfortable, and clean. Driver has Google Maps or Waze or Uber’s own map (which uses TomTom, so I hear) up, and already has your destination mapped out. You’ve already paid ahead of time, so if the driver fucks up, you don’t pay extra. Driver is never on his/her phone. $6 for a ten-minute ride.

          1. I love Uber. The difference between Uber and taxis for me has been astounding. Fuck the cab lobby forever.

            It must suck living someplace where you can’t just street-hail a taxi down the street from your place when you want one.

            Are you a germaphobe? You seem to be unusually sensitive to foreign smells.

            1. You seem to be unusually sensitive to foreign smells.

              By which I mean, of course, “You’re an awfully big crybaby.”

      2. There are a lot more out there than Uber and Lyft. We’ve even coined a new acronym for them: TNC = Transportation Network Company.

    3. Some?

      The majority on the left coast.

  7. Also, how is it a monopoly. Lyft also exists and is hugely popular as well, and it seems unlikely Uber will suddenly kill them.

    What do people think Monopoly means?

    1. Well, some literate people think it means exclusivity granted and enforced by government force.
      Liberals, progressives, and others think it means ‘a successful company I don’t like, usually one with a high level of individual freedom associated with it, and no union’.’

  8. I used to support Uber and Lyft.

    Then they decided to do a lot of virtue signaling.

    So, yeah, you guys can go fuck yourselves.

    1. So your response to virtue signalling is…virtue signalling?

      1. It’s virtue signalling all the way down.

        1. What shape is in the middle of the giant virtue signal?

          1. A rat.

          2. Two butts pooping into each other, back and forth, forever.

        2. Is that what we are calling turtles these days?
          Hey, anyone know where I can get some good virtue signal soup?

        3. Sigh. Afraid this is now true.

      2. Nah. More like “Hope things go well for you, but I don’t care if you live or die”.

  9. I’ll never understand why the standard response to government agencies that deliver a shitty product for way too much money?Public transportation, public schools, the cops, the military, NASA, etc.?is that they need more funding.

    1. And that’s why you’ll never make it in politics. Well, along with your off-putting personality, hygiene issues, and criminal record.

    2. The fact that they deliver such a shitty product is proof that they need more money. /sarc

      1. CA:

        That’s actually not sarcastic. We think like that. When people complain about the service, they are told to tell the funding agencies to give us more funds so we can “improve” our service for them.

        I’m not kidding!

    3. Easy. We are a monopoly not subject to competition. Instead of trying to control costs by increasing efficiencies as we did in private industry, we spend all our time seeking more funding from any governmental source we can find.

      That’s why all the new tax schemes are on the ballot every election. More money is all we know in government.

      I spent almost twenty years in the private sector. I’ve spent the last 20 in the public sector. I’ve become the most anti-government radical I know.

      I used to be a libertarian. I border on anarchy now.

      Anything is better than a government run program. Anything.

      1. I love when they run some half empty or worse bus out to the burb so they can then justify taxing that burb for more transit funds.

        1. “Good news, everybody! We’re adding a new commuter-only route from Sunnydale to Capitol City, and it will stop a mere two miles from the major employer everybody is trying to get to. Oh, and it stops running at 2:30 p.m. on weekdays.”

        2. In most municipalities, there are a whole lot of incentives pushing for suburban annexation besides “more transit funds.”

      2. Welcome to the revolution!

    4. The things you’re talking about are irredeemably expensive for different reasons. We spend a ton of money on the military because it’s a backdoor subsidy for red states and conservative constituencies. We spend a ton of money on public education because we treat it as essentially a daycare service that can’t make up for poor parenting, but we somehow expect it to. We spend a ton of money on the police because they’re the only unionized workforce that conservatives seem to like.

      With public transit, a lot of times it’s just corrupt public union handouts. In NYC, astronomical construction and operating costs are linked to what for all intents and purposes is an organized crime ring. In reality, what public transportation needs is smarter management – better bus routes, more regular service, etc. Not too long ago Houston redesigned its bus routes to match patterns of demand and – surprise! – ridership went up. A few other cities are trying the same thing. NYC, notably, is not. The buses need to move faster, but our idiot mayor isn’t doing a thing to make that happen. Instead he’s, as you’ve said, called for more money.

  10. Steven Hill favors the carrot-and-stick approach to getting people to do what he knows to be for their own good – if you won’t buy his carrots, he’ll hit you with a stick.

    1. Which is why we have the Second Amendment. So we can hit him right back. And be sure he won’t be hitting us with his stick again.

  11. The Slimes author is also conveniently ignoring the fact that public transportation agencies are _real_ monopolies. Just try starting your own private bus service alongside the city busses and see what happens.

    1. But gubmit monopolies are just what we choose to to together!

      Therefore they are virtuous and pure as the driven snow – not like a greedy private sector service that wants to make a profit!

  12. The NYT has become shamelessly socialist over the past couple of years. They also forgot how Uber/Lyft have helped take drunks off the roads by offering free rides, and also are helping the sick get to the doctor’s office-certainly they are contributing to the common good I would say. But because the gubmmint didn’t think of it, it must be evil.

    1. Reason ran a story a few years back about a MADD group in Ohio that was mad at uber and/or taxis for offering sober rides. The reason being the drunks would get home unpunished.

      1. Mob logic for you!

    2. “The NYT has become shamelessly socialist over the past couple of years”

      Only the past couple of years?

      Paging Walter Duranty!

      1. Which makes their luxury goods ads and (post-modern) society pages even more preposterous.

        1. No. No. No.

          Socialism is just aristocracy is disguise.

          Do as I say, not as I do.

          Some animals are more equal than other animals. – Orwell

    3. The U.S. has become shamelessly socialist……………since about the time of the New Deal.

    4. Well yes, but all the “good” that Uber and Lyft provide for the actual citizens could NOT be provided at union rates, and is, therefore, evil. I love how they always talk about how the drivers WHO WILLINGLY CHOOSE TO DRIVE WHEN AND WHERE THEY DRIVE are being oppressed, abused or otherwise taken advantage of. Do you have to give up the use of reason entirely, to come up with shit like that??

  13. “Hill mentions a colleague who expresses a preference for a $5 Uber ride over a $2.25 bus ride.”

    Maybe some people like arriving to work and NOT smelling of piss. I’ll pay a couple of bucks more to not be covered in someone else’s fluids, but maybe that’s just me.

    1. Yeah, if you already have to fork over cash to get to work each day. Might as well go from doorstep to doorstep in climate controlled comfort.

    2. Several years ago when I regularly rode Washington D.C.’s Metro to work downtown every day, it was a rare month that I didn’t catch somebody’s cold, flu, or God knows what else that was being spewed into the air. In the summer the crowds were made worse by the tourists. And Jesus H Tapdancing Christ too many of those people wouldn’t bathe or use deodorant.

      1. I believe it’s a requirement in most cities that you must smell like ass before you’re allowed to board.

      2. I ride a commuter route with a bunch of Indian H1Bs who work in tech. These guys make plenty of bank, live in nice homes in the ‘burbs, carry backpacks full of expensive devices like iPhone Xs and the latest Macbook Pros. IOW there is no damn excuse for not bathing, using soap, applying deodorant. None. And they get on the 8:10 stinking like livestock. Not an exaggeration. The Indian dude who sat next to me this morning stank like a gangrenous buffalo. Seriously eye-watering. I pulled my T-shirt up over my nose for the entire trip. I don’t get it.

  14. I thought at first it said “bride-sharing.”

    1. heh

    2. An old, Norwegian custom I believe. 😉

      1. Esquimaux, I do believe. But still a cold-country custom.

  15. “Hill mentions a colleague who expresses a preference for a $5 Uber ride over a $2.25 bus ride. Hill asks his friend whether he’d make the same choice if that Uber ride was an unsubsidized $10.”

    Exactly how are Uber rides being ‘subsidized” at all?

    Who is subsidizing them?

    Some third party has to be paying something toward the cost for something to be subsidized. Like the taxpayers paying for the costs of mass transit services that they aren’t using themselves.

    Hill is an economic moron.

    1. Well, Uber is losing money, so Hill figures somebody is covering the loss and that’s a “subsidy”. His refusal to apply the exact same analysis to his beloved public transportation is just proggie insanity.

    2. I think Uber is ‘subsidized’ on the backs of drivers. Best I can tell, drivers are making a good bit less per mile than the common mileage rate paid by corporations for employees that use their car for company travel….it’s around $0.50/mile currently. This pay-out is for wear-n-tear and fuel and it is difficult to believe that large corporations shell out more then they have to for this. The rate is across industries, so it gives all appearances of being backed on solid accounting.
      It almost certainly depends on the car make and model and relative wear-and-tear and fuel costs, but it is difficult to see how Uber drivers are making money, except where they are taking fares to places they were already travelling to. Drivers get cash, but lose more then they realize in car life-span.

      I won’t use Uber, because I think the drivers are getting screwed. But I could certainly be wrong on that.

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  17. Two things that some people have to be deliberately ignoring. (1) Many people will go with the lowest cost option (even walking when possible), so the only way the $5 Uber service can displace the $2.50 bus service is if the bus service is so unimaginably bad that people rule it out as an option. (2) Some people who are immune-compromised, socially phobic, famous or infamous, etc., will never use public transportation, and shouldn’t; their alternative to ride-sharing will be driving–and some of these people should not be driving.

    Negative ads always have negative effects. For this driver-only-in-emergencies, the general rule of getting around Washington would probably always be “Use Metrorail when possible, then walk or have the client meet me at the Metrorail station when possible, then consider bus/cab/car-pool/car-rental options on a case-by-case basis”…unless Metro personnel were to attack Uber with nasty whining like the article cited, in which case I’d be motivated to not-reward-bullying by using Uber.

  18. In Austin you can hang your bike on the bus or bring it aboard the local train. But if I want to get to the GoCar parking from my house, Uber is the thing. There is no bike rack on a GoCar. Likewise the Megabus. The nearest stop is at the UT Campus and there is no Megabike rack. Uber fills the gap for bicycle riders in many different ways. Foreigners in the US also use Uber without having to know English. This lowers their risk of being kidnapped by ICE agents.

  19. When the Austin City Soviet interfered with Uber, underground rideshares immediately mushroomed.

  20. NYC politics, including in particular the furious buck-passing going on around the MTA, is not something for amateur commentary.

    The Uber crackdown/scapegoating is happening because (1) there’s evidence that its increasing use is contributing to traffic slowdown in the CBD, (2) the mayor and governor are fighting over what to do about the MTA, and who pays for it, and (3) congestion pricing/cordon tolling appears to be a non-starter for the foreseeable future. So the only thing people can seem to agree on is to charge Uber a per-ride fee and put it into the slush fund that the governor calls the MTA budget.

    As for the NYTimes, they simply lack the sophistication to comment intelligently on this issue and tend to be wowed by the governor’s gee-whiz approach to transit.

    It’s all complete shit. Don’t be surprised when NYC is a hellhole again in a few years. We’re dealing with a crisis of government with no apparent exit except, I guess, voting for Miranda for governor.

  21. That’s not to say that policy makers can’t do anything about congestion…A better idea might be congestion pricing, where a variable toll is charged…depending on the number of vehicles on the road.

    Is punishing drivers by throttling car traffic with steep tolls something the government should be doing? Why are we punishing drivers, exactly? To ask gov’t, of course, public transit – regardless of its reliability, efficacy, or comfort – is morally superior to car travel, and therefore it must be heavily promoted while car drivers must be punished.

    WA state has been doing the variable toll thing, too. They collect tolls of up to $10 in half-assed toll lanes on I-405, a stretch of road that was already paid for by the nation’s 7th highest gas taxes. The gas taxes didn’t drop, of course. And for the first 5 years (we’re now in year 3), the bulk of the tolls go to a TX-based toll collection vendor.

    Those people in their cars are aware of public transit, but find it lacking for various reasons, and have chosen their cars. As much as gov’t nannies want to attach some imaginary moral stigma to driving personal vehicles and “causing congestion,” there isn’t any. There’s no justification for punishing drivers. Either provide a more attractive solution or GTFO of the way and let people drive.

    If the government adds tolls, they should be compelled to take that money and build more infrastructure for cars.

    1. No one’s “punishing” drivers. They’re heavily subsidized, as well, besides which their driving has a host of externalities they don’t normally bear themselves. So really cordon tolls are just about evening out the incentives.

      In NYC, each minute that a driver spends driving in the CBD imposes 2.5 minutes of additional traffic time on everyone else. Driving is a nuisance. So, if anyone deserves to be “punished” in their choice of transportation, it’s drivers.

      The idea that any stretch of road has been “paid for” is just ridiculous. I’m not familiar with I-405 in WA, but it’s highly likely that it’s construction was paid for with a good sock of public debt and federal grants, and its ongoing maintenance is funded by gas taxes as well as income and sales tax revenue. Putting a price on a fast lane is just smart management.

      1. Hmm…nah. Describe how drivers are “heavily subsidized.” Also this “host of externalities they don’t normally bear themselves” doesn’t exist, either. “Driving is a nuisance” is a personal, moralizing opinion with no basis in anything but your anti-car fantasies.

        The only correct thing you’ve said so far is that you know nothing about 405. Not everybody lives in or even gives a shit about NYC. “Putting a price on a fast lane” the maintenance of which is already covered by gas taxes is essentially generating revenue to fund the collection of revenue. In other words, it’s theft.

        1. Gas taxes are not sufficient to cover the costs of road construction or maintenance. Zoning laws typically require new construction to include more parking than the market would otherwise demand, in order to ensure a surplus of free curbside parking. Massive amounts of public land is set aside for free parking and more road capacity than required to meet demand (because no one wants to hunt for a spot or sit in traffic). And on and on. Driving is convenient and affordable specifically because we have made it so. To deny this is just to admit your ignorance.

          Driving imposes externalities like air and noise pollution, increased risk of injury and death, and congestion on others. Again, to pretend that it doesn’t is just to admit you don’t know what you’re talking about.

          “Driving is a nuisance” is just a factual statement. If your next door neighbor forced you to breathe the same air you breathe walking along a well-used street, you’d be able to sue them.

          Take your toys and go home, chump.

          1. Again, you know nothing about anything outside NYC, “chump.” $0.47 per gallon in WA is plenty for road maintenance, and the state admitted the maintenance on this road was paid by gas taxes.

            Zoning laws typically require new construction to include more parking…Massive amounts of public land…and more road capacity than…demand

            The opposite of this is true in the Seattle area. Parking is neither free nor required for new construction. Where is this “public land” that’s being set aside for “free parking”? Didn’t you just say that driving is a nuisance and causes congestion? Either there’s “more road capacity than demand,” or there’s “congestion” and “additional traffic time.” Which is it?

            People like cars. They’re comfortable and convenient; they can manage multiple stops; drivers can transport their families in privacy and safety, and carry goods much more easily. What the market prefers gets more attention by taxpayers, more innovation by manufacturers, and becomes more convenient and affordable and safer over time. How do markets work again?

            “Driving is a nuisance” is just a factual statement.

            Your collectivist hate-on for individual choice is not fact. Cars are getting cheaper and safer, and the number of drivers will only rise. You’re going to have to find a way to calm your tits about it. The market says they want cars and roads.

            If your next door neighbor…

            I–I can’t even parse this; it’s unintelligible.

            1. This guy is an idiot. I’ve had the car conversation with him before I think. Zealots gon’ zel’!

              1. I perfectly well acknowledge that most people are so blind to the costs of car usage that they refuse to acknowledge they even exist (to say nothing of being able to argue that they provide benefits commensurate to their cost). It’s decades of marketing and political corruption to blame.

            2. Again, you know nothing about anything outside NYC, “chump.” $0.47 per gallon in WA is plenty for road maintenance, and the state admitted the maintenance on this road was paid by gas taxes.

              Unfortunately, confirming this independently would require far more effort than I’m willing to put into it. So, sure, Mr. Doesn’t-know-what-an-externality-is, I’ll concede the point. WA is the one state in the nation that has actually managed to charge a high enough gas tax to cover the costs of ongoing road maintenance and construction.

              The opposite of this is true in the Seattle area. Parking is neither free nor required for new construction.

              This, however, is easy to rebut: It’s just not true. Seattle has relaxed minimum parking requirements along transit corridors, but outside of them, minimum parking requirements still apply – as is the case in most parts of the country.

              Where is this “public land” that’s being set aside for “free parking”?

              Any place you can park for free along a curb. Virtually all streets, in other words. Are you blind?

            3. Didn’t you just say that driving is a nuisance and causes congestion? Either there’s “more road capacity than demand,” or there’s “congestion” and “additional traffic time.” Which is it?

              It’s a cycle. Roads are congested; public officials expand capacity beyond what is required to accommodate traffic, in order to relieve congestion; people drive longer and more frequently because it becomes easier to do so; roads become congested again.

              People like cars.

              No doubt. When you spend as much money and effort into making mass transit work for people as we already do making driving pleasant, people like mass transit, too.

              The market says they want cars and roads.

              I am simply making the point that “the market” preference being expressed does not emerge from some vacuum. People are just responding to the way we’ve already designed our cities and communities around car usage.

              1. Look dude, can you concede one thing:

                The BEST form of transportation is one that gets people from point A to B, exactly, with no BS in between, and as quickly as possible.

                Is that correct?

                Well, nothing other than a car or motorcycle can ever achieve that. That’s why people like them. So if that is the BEST form of transportation, should we not in fact figure out a way to make that work well? Many cities HAVE, and they don’t have horrible traffic. They just invest as needed. I would be MORE than willing to pay a LOT more money to improve the roads, if the government actually spent it on improving the roads. They could jack my tabs up to 3 times what they are now and I’d be glad to pay it if I5 here in Seattle had the number of lanes doubled!

                But the central planners here refuse to do this, because they’re anti car. Like you. Other cities have just expanded their roads as needed, and don’t have horrible traffic. This is how it should be done everywhere that it is physically possible. In 20 years with robo-Ubers it will probably require fewer peak cars on the road. But then again, maybe not. Maybe people will drive more, but either way we should try to make the BEST mode of transportation work well.

                1. The BEST form of transportation is one that gets people from point A to B, exactly, with no BS in between, and as quickly as possible.

                  If this were the only relevant metric, then we’d all be using helicopters.

                  The reality is that streets are expensive infrastructure with massive maintenance costs that supplant more productive uses of land. From an urban planning perspective, you have to weigh the convenience of personal vehicle use against these other kinds of considerations. Cars may serve an important gap-filling purpose in large urban areas, but generally, along major commuting corridors, you want to encourage people to take mass transit, which you do by making mass transit fast, reliable, and affordable.

                  That’s how it’s done in NYC, Chicago, DC, SF, and a number of other major metropolitan areas. It’s not about forcing people out of their cars; it’s about acknowledging that there isn’t enough room for all the roads necessary to accommodate cities full of car drivers.

                  And I frankly don’t give a shit if you think I am anti-car. I am. When you see and experience car traffic like I do – as a pedestrian, cyclist, and transit user – it’s only obvious how drivers and their cars harm vibrant communities and poison our air.

                  1. LOL

                    Fair point on helicopters! I would add jet packs actually too. But after that cars/motorcycles are the best.

                    “When you see and experience car traffic like I do – as a pedestrian, cyclist, and transit user – it’s only obvious how drivers and their cars harm vibrant communities and poison our air.”

                    Dude, I walk too! I’m a human being. I go for walks on nice summer days. I get it. The thing is that roads and wheeled vehicles traveling on them have been with us for thousands of years because they’re awesome. That’s never going to change.

                    You speak again of the few anomalously large cities in the USA and then pretend that is the norm. It is not. Most cities of even a million or two in the metro have very little in the way of major traffic issues.

                    You want the country to turn into all Manhattan? I think that’s a garbage idea. I think we need more 1-2 million people cities, which offer almost all the advantages of the mega city, but have cheaper housing, can have more green space, higher standard of living in general, and better transit possibilities.

                    1. As far as costs go, if citizens are willing to pay these costs, then what is the problem? I already said I would be willing to pay a lot more money if it went directly towards improved roads. So would many others. This is people voting with their cash.

                      People are literally willing to pay thousands and thousand a year extra to go from A to B versus taking some shitty train that doesn’t even get them where they want to go, then having to walk in the cold rain/snow like some friggin’ peasant. Screw that.

                      All we need to do is change the way funds are collected and spent if anything and all this can be done being supported fully by drivers and drivers only. I’m not opposed! I believe whatever services government does end up offering should be directly paid for by the people using such services. It’s the only fair way, and in its own twisted way it creates a sort of pseudo market even in a government service.

  22. Uber is a pretty crappy company, for a lot of reasons. And eventually they WILL have to stop subsidizing their rides, and probably raise driver pay in some areas. It varies by nearly 3x depending on where in the country you are.

    But none of those are reasons the guvmint should be getting involved. As annoying as Uber Pool and Lyft Line are, they’re actually solid options for getting people from A to B while reducing the number of vehicles. They’ve also experimented with almost bus like options that are are LOT more timely and direct than buses. They might get the kinks worked out of that sort of thing at some point too, which would be a vast improvement.

    All I know is every time I see a massive double length articulating bus drive by COMPLETELY EMPTY it just pisses me off to know I am paying for that waste. Mass transit in all its forms is simply a shitty way to do it. People want to go from A to B, and the BEST way to do what people want is to find an economically viable way for that to work. Uber/Lyft are darn near there, even if they do have to raise rates a bit. Someday when driverless cars don’t suck balls, that will probably be the final thing that makes that THE way to get around for those who don’t want to own their own car.

    1. Mass transit in all its forms is simply a shitty way to do it.

      A lot of bus systems are poorly designed. A well-designed bus system – connecting people with where they want to go, reliably and with frequent service – is one that will be used. Maybe not by you, maybe not by the super-unique suburban commuter who has to take Billy to soccer practice after school and then swing by the grocery store for a 7-bag haul on the way home from work, but by plenty of people who live along dense urban corridors.

      Private car usage, including Uber/Lyft and their more collective options, is simply no substitute for mass transit. Millions of people commute into Manhattan every day; you can’t accommodate them with cars. Now, maybe bumblefuck, Nebraska, with its homes and jobs spread out willy-nilly by haphazard urban design – maybe there, you can’t maintain a serious bus network that delivers value, and the Uber-vans are the best option. But any place where mass transit actually could work is poorly-served by for-hire vehicles.

      1. 1. Out of all mass transit forms I think buses are the best. Why? Because unlike fixed rail of all types you can change routes, you can change volumes, frequency, etc at the drop of a hat. They also use the existing road network, which allows you to reach far more areas than any system of rails ever could.

        So buses are the king if you ask me.

        You are correct that IN MANHATTAN there are just too many damn people to be in individual cars. The problem is you’re taking the exception, and trying to make it the rule. Outside of like a half dozen cities in the whole country, massive subway systems or whatever simply don’t make sense.

        Even in Seattle where I live, the rail stuff is totally bunk. The buses are far more useful and less costly. The thing about having “frequent” stops for buses is that it doesn’t make financial sense outside of peak hours. I don’t have a problem with a bus every 10 minutes or whatever during the peak of the day when they fill up, but doing one every 10 minutes at 12:30AM on a Tuesday for a single rider so it “encourages maximum use” makes any sense at all. It’s MORE wasteful than just telling people to take a friggin’ Uber late at night. This is the problem with subsidized government BS.

        Bus systems should ALL be required to be paid for by fares. If they ran them like that and people still rode them, I would basically not have a problem with them. But as long as they’re doing dumb stuff with my money, it’s going to piss me off.

        1. I agree that bus lines are preferable for their flexibility. The problem is that routes are typically poorly drawn and buses get mired in regular car traffic. Give them dedicated lanes and signal priority, and they’d be the mode of choice for many people.

          Fixed rail starts to make sense when the volume of people you’re trying to move reaches the point where buses can’t handle it. Again, a lot of issues we’re seeing with fixed rail right now are the consequence of poor design. Lots of streetcar routes fall into the trap of connecting essentially only tourist destinations. Those are pretty much useless.

          I agree that bus frequency should match reasonable forecasts of use.

          It might be different in Washington, but as a rule there is no mode of transportation that pays its own way. Drivers don’t pay tolls for most roads and their gas taxes only partially fund road maintenance; setting bus and subway fares at a high enough level to be self-sustaining, when there exists these massive driving subsidies, will only encourage people to use the more-subsidized mode.

          1. We have dedicated bus lanes and all that progressive stuff here in Seattle. It’s still pretty borked. And has actually mostly just made traffic worse because all the regular cars now aren’t allowed to use those lanes.

            I will agree that planning on buses and rail are probably all garbage… It is the government afterall. But expecting them to not be garbage is kind of wishful thinking isn’t it? Look at the NYC subway system. It works, ish, but has endless issues as well. And that’s about as good as it seems to get.

            I just don’t see where rail works in most of America because we’re just not as dense as Europe or Japan. Hence improved roads + buses= best case scenario. Maybe some metos can support a big X of rail cutting through the city or something, but nothing like the high coverage area in major cities abroad.

            As I understand it, IF fuel taxes were actually just spent on roads, they would more than cover the costs. It is that they’re used to fund buses, and trains, and everything else. Then there’s no money left for the roads. Some southern states also actually have fully funded road funds because they don’t pillage their gas tax money like the proggie states do. So there ya go. But any which way I’m fine with making the real costs be paid by those who use the services, whatever the cost. Then it shows the real cost to everybody and they can make a rational decision.

  23. The biggest problem statists have with Uber et al is that it consists of individual business making continuing agreement about who will and will not accept a ride request, and for how much money. Uber does not pay any driver anything. Each independent business determines if it wishes to contract with Uber as an agent for soliciting riders. They then determine if any given ride request is one they wish to accept, and are free to decline any or all. They accept ride requests in anticipation of making money, based on the unique circumstances of that ride request. Other than the mob rule aspect of being ‘rated’ by riders with agendas, they are in control of their own business.
    Of course this is a business model that must be crushed by the statists.

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