Lyft and Uber Won’t Release Data to Shed Light on How They Affect Traffic

As ride-hail services like Lyft and Uber have boomed in San Francisco and other cities, proponents claim they help reduce demand for parking and road space by making it easier for people to own fewer cars. But very little data has been released by the ride-hail companies that would allow experts to assess their impact on streets and traffic.

Photo: Jason A. Staats/Twitter
Photo: Jason A. Staats/Twitter

In a panel discussion yesterday, Lyft’s Curtis Rogers emphasized that reducing car ownership is “our end goal that we think we share with the city.”

But when Thea Selby of the SF Transit Riders Union pressed Rogers for data to show whether Lyft might be substituting for transit trips more than car trips, he said he couldn’t provide it. Rogers insisted, however, that Lyft doesn’t want to compete with Muni, walking, or bicycling. “We think we’re just one more piece to the puzzle.”

“We celebrate Muni getting better,” said Rogers. “We’re well aware that if we pulled everyone off of Muni and put them in Lyfts, we’d all be going two miles per hour on the road. That’s not the solution.”

While thousands of ride-hail drivers are estimated to be on city streets every day, Lyft and Uber keep a tight lid on the numbers, usually citing privacy concerns.

Kate Toran, the SFMTA’s director of taxis and accessible services, said that any data submitted by Lyft or Uber to government agencies is “under seal,” meaning it’s not available to the public or city transportation planners.

The lack of data makes it “really challenging to make planning decisions,” said Toran. “Reducing auto dependency is a really great goal, but when there’s no barrier at all to entry for anyone who wants to drive their personal car into San Francisco and make some money, I think that outweighs the numbers of people who are shedding their vehicles. But again, we don’t know.”

Lyft's Curtis Rogers speaks at a forum hosted by Livable City yesterday. SFMTA's Kate Toran sits to his right. Photo: Folks for Polk/Twitter
Lyft’s Curtis Rogers speaks at a forum hosted by Livable City yesterday. SFMTA’s Kate Toran sits to the right. Photo: Folks for Polk/Twitter

An August study from the University of California Transportation Center [PDF] did shed some light on the use in SF of ride-hail services.

The study said the effects of ride-hail services “on overall vehicle travel are ambiguous,” but that the findings suggest it “has a small but not inconsequential (8%) induced travel effect” of increasing driving.

Researchers conducted 380 surveys at three ride-hail “hot spots” in SF in the spring of 2014. They asked respondents if they would have still made their trips if ride-hail wasn’t available. Of those who would have, only 6 percent said they would have driven instead, while 39 percent would have used a traditional taxi. Twenty-four percent said they would have taken a bus, and 9 percent rail.

In an op-ed in the SF Chronicle last week, SFTRU’s Daniel Sisson wrote that while ride-hail services can be useful, he’s worried their widespread use might reduce the pressure on city officials to improve Muni.

Even I, an avid transit supporter, often take Lyft or a Scoot [scooter-share service] when I’m running late, need to go diagonally across town, or it’s late at night. I shouldn’t have to, though — public transit should be a reliable option. The transit startups should just be one small slice of the transit pie.

As to whether ride-hail apps — or “ridesourcing” services, to use the UC study’s term — are helping to reduce car ownership, the study authors said 90 percent of vehicle owners “said they had not changed their ownership levels since they began using ridesourcing, and those who did were as likely to own more cars as those with fewer, so the change likely had little to do with the presence of ridesourcing.”

In March, Lyft announced that for a majority of Lyft trips in San Francisco, customers enable the “Lyft Line” carpool feature, meaning most passengers are open to sharing rides with other people taking similar trips. But Lyft Line users aren’t always matched up and the company wouldn’t tell us how many Lyft trips are actually shared. Uber hasn’t released stats on its similar UberPOOL service.

At yesterday’s panel discussion on making it easier for commuters to get to rail stations, Rogers said that 25 percent of Lyft trips on the Peninsula are to or from Caltrain stations.

Rogers manages the “Lyft for Work” program, which lets employers give credits to employees for Lyft rides shared with co-workers, often to get to and from stations.

While more employers are interested in the program in the Bay Area than in any other region, he said, many still offer free parking to their employees, which is the largest barrier to enticing commuters to get to work without driving.

Free parking is “the problem we’re all trying to solve,” said Rogers. It’s “a legacy more powerful than I ever imagined.”

  • Mike

    A – They’re operating illegally in a number of ways in many international jurisdictions. The jury is (literally) out on some issues, but these companies are breaking many, many traffic, labor, and regulatory laws.

    B – I read it, and I’m aware they offer various services. None of them operate, for the vast majority of their operations, as ‘rideshare’. That is, sharing rides that would otherwise be made. It’s really simple. I’d be willing to bet that greater that 75% of Uber trips do not count as ‘ridesharing’ under the definition of a trip that would otherwise be made by an individual. There’s just *no way* that they would be valued at $50B if that was their primary business model.

    And there is *plenty* of information on how these companies are increasing congestion and putting more cars on the road, they’re just refusing to share it with regulators. Did you read the article? The headline, even?

    There’s a reason why the number of taxis licensed to be on the road is regulated by basically every major city in the western word: because cars-for-hire place an increased burden on infrastructure than a private car, cause congestion by circling around waiting on fares, therefore also cause quite a bit of air pollution, and need to be regulated and kept track of for safety / training purposes.

    You did get at least one thing right – I do want to ‘slam the “sharing economy”‘ because it’s a sham. There is no ‘sharing’ here, it’s selling. These guys have fooled you. Uber / Lyft’s claim that they take cars off the road is greenwashing a greedy, middle-man, fuck the rules business plan. You seem like an apologist for these companies, though not to the extent that I suspect you’re one of their many paid shills…

  • jk

    There is a vast world of difference between “making end runs around existing laws” and the fact that no existing laws *fit* their service offerings. Moreover, in EVERY completed case to date, city and/or state officials have AGREED with Uber and Lyft that they do not fit extant definitions for any means of ground transportation, and thus the passage of new ordinances and statutes regulating them *is*, in fact, necessary.

    Furthermore, your mafia comparison is patently absurd. Mafia companies are mostly fronts for money-laundering operations. Uber and Lyft … provide inexpensive car services! Oh, the horror!! They are not “deceiving” anyone with anything, nor have they been accused of such (except by self-interested taxi interests and conspiracy-theorist lunatics).

  • laughtiger

    The point is, they need to RELEASE data to be independently analyzed by regulators, researchers, etc. Lyft making a powerpoint with some claims about service is not the same thing as actually releasing data. You really can’t trust anything that they say after all (example: “we’re not taxis we’re ridesharing”)

  • jk

    “They’re operating illegally in a number of ways in many international jurisdictions.”

    Uber is up and running in 57 COUNTRIES. They’ve encountered regulatory challenges in FOUR. Even if you stretch the word “many” to its utmost limit, it still doesn’t work.

    “I’d be willing to bet…”

    Translation: you’re making wild-ass guesses based on *no* actual proof.

    “There’s just *no way* that they would be valued at $50B if that was their primary business model.”

    Please. Snapchat is valued at nearly $20B – and they have NO REVENUE WHATSOEVER. Uber, in contrast, provides over a MILLION rides PER DAY, and takes a 20% commission from each. In any event, attempting to divine the valuation methodologies of Silicon Valley VC firms is a fool’s errand, seeing as there is *no* real logic behind it.

    “they’re just refusing to share it with regulators. Did you read the article? The headline, even?”

    Yes, but *you* appear to have missed the part that their trip data IS shared with STATE agencies — specifically, the California Public Utility Commission, which regulates all ground transportation in the state — to ascertain both their impact on traffic levels and to ensure that they are not engaging in “redlining” (in a nutshell, refusing service to racial minorities). Yes, this information is under seal and not shared with the SFMTA or any other city-level agency, but it IS in the hands of the primary arbiter of ground transport in the state.

    “There’s a reason why the number of taxis licensed to be on the road is regulated by basically every major city in the western word”

    Indeed there is, but it has absolutely *nothing* to do with ANY of the four reasons you cited. Taxis were originally regulated as a means of consumer protection, but much like, say, the Teamsters, good intentions eventually transmogrified into corruption, graft, and forgetting the entire *point* of why they were instituted in the first place. The *only* city that heavily regulates taxis on an environmental basis is NYC; all new taxi vehicles put into service must be chosen from a list consisting entirely of hybrid vehicles.

    “You did get at least one thing right – I do want to ‘slam the “sharing economy”‘ because it’s a sham. There is no ‘sharing’ here, it’s selling.”

    Actually, I completely agree. I don’t know who coined this ridiculous term, but “sharing economy” is total bullshit. And no, I haven’t been “fooled” by anyone, and I’m certainly not a “paid shill.” I happen to be an analyst (no, not in the financial sector), and one of the areas I cover is TNCs; that’s explicitly why I know most of what’s being said about them is total bullshit.

    The stupidest part is that there are plenty of REAL reasons to criticize them! Not one of the TNCs offers workers’ comp insurance. Not one of them offers drivers anything other than liability insurance; if they’re in a wreck on the job, they can only hope and pray that their employer will cover collision/repair costs. Uber has one of the fastest burn rates (the rate at which their VC funding is spent) of any startup in GLOBAL HISTORY, despite the fact that the main *point* of their business model is ostensibly the fact that it’s supposed to be extremely low-overhead. There’s been virtually *no* analysis in the media of the fact that they’re gearing up to go head-to-head with Google in the self-driving car space, and that EVERY indicator points to Google beating the living shit out of them in it! Uber’s valuation means virtually nothing considering the amount of ACTUAL LIQUID CAPITAL Google can readily access. Then there’s the not-so-small fact that Google has perfected GPS-based mapping AND self-driving cars, and the *only* major attempt to compete with them on that score — when Apple replaced Google Maps on iPhones with its homegrown system — turned out to be one of THE biggest flops/epic-fails in Apple’s post-2000 history (and one of the *only* such flops).

    I’ll stop here, but I’ll conclude merely by noting that California already has *the* strictest air regulations in the *world*, and as such all cars sold in the state today have virtually nonexistent emissions. That goes doubly so for hybrids, which in California comprise the majority of TNC fleets across the state. Pollution is thus not a terribly strong argument with which to attack Uber or any other TNC, and in terms of larger importance, California has VASTLY BIGGER problems (like, oh, running out of water and stuff).

  • jk

    The data *is* being released; it’s just not being released to municipal officials. Re-read this part of the article more closely:

    “Kate Toran, the SFMTA’s director of taxis and accessible services, said that any data submitted by Lyft or Uber to government agencies is ‘under seal,’ meaning it’s not available to the public or city transportation planners.”

    Uber and Lyft are regulated at the *state* level by the Public Utility Commission, as is every other ground transportation company in the state. In accordance with state law, TNCs have to supply the CPUC with a VAST amount of data of all types, including detailed trip data. Taxi companies have long had to provide these same types of data sets with the agency, and TNCs must as well. When Uber *attempted* to wiggle out of providing the data last year, an administrative law judge threatened to hold the entire company in *contempt* AND revoke their operating license! (Needless to say, they quickly backtracked.)

    In any event, it’s the CPUC’s call whether to require TNCs to supply data to cities as well as themselves, and for whatever reason they’ve elected not to.

  • Jame

    Not that many of the uber/lyft drivers are former cab drivers. They exist, but I find one optimistically 10% of trips. Far too often I get someone who barely knows there way around the city.

  • jk

    In my experience the mix of drivers varies a lot by neighborhood and time of day. Former taxi drivers often “stake out” the hotels near Union Square hoping to land a lucrative SFO fare, for instance, knowing it’ll pay very well (plus they can almost always get a return fare into the city).

  • Kris

    Just want to add a few anecdotal data points on behalf of myself who has lived in the Outer Richmond for about 7 years:

    1.) Cabs NEVER come out to this neighborhood. Before apps like Uber, if we tried to call a cab, it would either take 30-40 minutes to show up or it just wouldn’t show up at all and there would be NO WAY of knowing either way. Uber shows up for me in 5-7 minutes of less, every single time. (been using the app for a few years now)

    2.) If we tried to use one of those apps that would hail the nearest cab, it would never work because no cabs would be circulating out here.

    3.) If I was in a more cab dense area like downtown, drivers would often keep the doors locked and ask me where I was heading before letting me in. When I said Outer Richmond it was not unusual for them to just plain say no.

    P.S. It used to cost me about $30-35 to get across the city in a cab to or from my neighborhood, in an Uber it costs $7 if you pool, $15 if you go private. (both driving times being the same if you don’t count time spent just trying to get the cab)

  • mx

    In this discussion, I think people often ignore the fact that Lyft and Uber didn’t magically become popular by themselves. These services became massively popular in SF because many thousands of people were looking for a better way to get around. People didn’t just choose them because they can be cheaper than taxis; we choose them because they work. As a result, what’s left of the SF taxi industry has developed Flywheel (which still doesn’t come remotely close to cutting it, in the times I’ve used it, but they get a point for trying) and worked to step up their game.

    Uber and Lyft aren’t going to go away because you happen to dislike them or you disapprove of the way they entered the market. They are here providing transportation options for a lot of people. Wringing our hands over these services as if they were somehow inflicted upon us, rather than something we’re choosing to use, isn’t helpful. There are plenty of areas we’re still trying to solve around fair compensation for drivers, workers’ comp, insurance (though California has done a lot on this), safe places to pick-up/drop-off passengers, providing accessible services for the disabled, etc… I’d much rather focus on making sure the system works as well as it can in these areas than arguing over whether it should exist at all.

  • murphstahoe

    It’s just freaking annoying that Uber and Lyft didn’t just take care of this in the first place. There is no love lost for cabbies in SF other than by cabbies. So here was this wide open business opportunity, they walked through the door, we welcomed them in, but there was no need to act like jerks.

    They are basically foisting off all this work onto the state/cities. What a pain.

  • Mark Theil

    Hi mx, care to give Zailoo – Rideshare companion a try, it does the cost and time comparison for all ridesharing services for you, so you dont have to do it in multiple apps. Let me know how you like it. http://www.zailoo.com

  • jk

    “I don’t understand this. Shouldn’t the end goal be to reduce car trips?”

    No, it should be reducing trips *and* ownership. Personal cars have to be parked somewhere, and tens of thousands of them end up being parked on city streets. This causes myriad problems, including but not limited to GHGs emitted while driving around trying to find a parking spot; streets being effectively limited to one lane of traffic thanks to cars being parked on one or both sides; and reductions in the ability to offer bike lanes and/or dedicated bus lanes because a street has parking spots that for one (usually political) reason or another can’t feasibly be eliminated.

    “Also, services like Lyft and Uber (and taxis for that matter) can actually increase miles driven over someone who owns a car since the car has to drive to pick the person up in addition to driving the trip itself.”

    I don’t think that’s true, at least in SF. Uber and Lyft are ubiquitous to the point of a car being 2-3 minutes away from just about any point in the city, so there really aren’t that many extra miles being driven. Furthermore, as already noted, most local car owners lack off-street parking, so they often have to drive around hunting for a place to park, both near their home and near wherever their destination might be.

  • Andy Chow

    The problem is not the app but the service delivery model. Their delivery model depends on externalizing the costs that other carriers have to pay for. Cabs and limos have dedicated vehicles, full time insurance, employment protection/benefits, etc. TNCs require drivers to use their insurance first and have to cover expenses on their own.

    There’s nothing preventing those companies from buying their own fleet, and hire driver as employees. But Lyft in particular started to use private automobiles which set this downward trend.

  • Andy Chow

    There’s no new regulation needed for them to buy a fleet of cars and hiring drivers. They need laws changed in their favor because their business model is exploitative. They were told no and keep doing it until the regulators give in.

    Customers generally cannot tell the difference in quality (and whatever they see is basically on the surface) between under-insured unregulated TNCs and insured carriers, just as they cannot tell the difference between unlicensed and licensed contractor, and between other unqualified or qualified professionals. Even before TNCs there have been illegal cabs around, but they weren’t just got legalized not without equaling the playing field.

  • Mike

    Wow, you’re loquacious.

    – Uber has broken laws and regulations in pretty much all 57 countries they operate in. Only difference is how visibly the authorities go after them.

    – I’m making educated deductions, you’re making wild-ass accusations.

    – None of these companies are actually worth the billions cited by VC funding, and Uber operates at a loss:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-30/uber-bonds-term-sheet-reveals-470-million-in-operating-losses

    – If you’re an analyst who covers TNCs, you must’ve forgotten the adjective ‘unemployed’, because you’re reeeaaaallllly bad at your job. I suspect you’re lying.

    – Just skimmed your little temper-tantrum of reasons to criticize Uber, as you cite at least a few ways they break laws and regulations, undermining your first point. Ironic, isn’t it, ‘analyst’?

    – Thank GOD you’ll stop there. BTW – Uber doesn’t require drivers use hybrids. And yeah there are children starving in Africa too, but thankfully we have people smarter than you in this world, so that as a society we can do more than one thing at a time!

  • jk

    “There’s no new regulation needed for them to buy a fleet of cars and hiring drivers.”

    Um, neither Uber nor Lyft owns any cars … which is part of my whole *point* that they’re fundamentally different from taxis.

    “They need laws changed in their favor because their business model is exploitative.”

    Of whom? Are you assuming that their drivers are all idiots who can’t perform basic math? (and btw the taxi industry is VASTLY more exploitative of their drivers on whole) Or that they’re all utterly desperate and resort to driving for Uber as a last-ditch effort, despite the facts that a) unemployment in the U.S. is at a seven-year low and b) unemployment in SF specifically is nearing an all-time low of 3%?

    “Customers generally cannot tell the difference in quality (and whatever they see is basically on the surface) between under-insured unregulated TNCs”

    Once more, with feeling: TNCs ARE *NOT* UNREGULATED. They also ALREADY carry MUCH more insurance that 95% of the country’s taxi companies. Further, you’re also clearly assuming that TNC customers are just as idiotic as TNC drivers. (And lemme guess: who’s the *one* person who’s smarter than everyone else and understands the whole thing is a sham? You! By God, you’re an unappreciated PRODIGY!)

  • jk

    “Uber has broken laws and regulations in pretty much all 57 countries they operate in.”

    Really?! Wow! Please enlighten us with this information that somehow you and only you possess! I’m aware of their problems in India, South Korea, France, Italy and Germany, but how on *earth* could I have missed all the OTHER 50-odd countries where they operate illegally?!?

    “I’m making educated deductions, you’re making wild-ass accusations.”

    I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around, given the incredibly obvious fallacy in your next statement…

    “Uber operates at a loss”

    ON PURPOSE! Good God, did you even go to college?? Do you know *anything* about the economics of startup ventures? (For that matter, did you even *take* Econ 101?) Or – wait, lemme guess – am *I* am absolute idiot (in your opinion), despite having worked in the tech industry since 1995; co-founding two of MY OWN startup companies; *and* having a law degree?

    “None of these companies are actually worth the billions cited by VC funding”

    Ah, I get it: all venture capitalists are idiots (in your deluded worldview), too! This despite most of them (or at least the ones in Silicon Valley investing in Uber and the like) having net worths in the nine-figure range! Despite their Stanford and Harvard MBAs and decades of experience in the industry, *you* know vastly more than *them* that none of their investments are worth jack shit!

    “If you’re an analyst who covers TNCs, you must’ve forgotten the adjective ‘unemployed’, because you’re reeeaaaallllly bad at your job.”

    And you’re reeeaaaallllly bad at reading comprehension, seeing as I already stated that I’m not a financial analyst. You’re also apparently willfully ignorant, seeing as you’re inferring unemployment has much of anything to do with TNCs. Back in the reality-based world, however, unemployment is at a seven-year-low, and a large majority of Uber drivers are not only *not* unemployed, they’re employed *full-time* elsewhere! (and driving occasionally on the side) See, this is one of those things you learn as an *actual* analyst, not someone that just shoots random unfounded bullshit out of his head…

    “Just skimmed your little temper-tantrum of reasons to criticize Uber, as you cite at least a few ways they break laws and regulations, undermining your first point.”

    Temper-tantrum? Hmmm. Do you infantilize everyone who points out you’re full of it? Clearly you didn’t notice that absolutely nothing in my last post was indicative of Uber breaking any laws or regs; I was merely pointing out where one could make an argument that they *should* be regulated, instead of relying on the same false tropes cited time and time again (e.g. “Uber is unregulated”), despite them being unequivocally false.

  • Jesse

    jk, it looks like you fell into “Mike’s” trollish trappings. He’s just an angry short/short-sighted little man with a grudge against everything tech-related while living in one of the biggest tech cities in the world. For all his complaining about Uber/Lyft, proliferation of tech workers and their coaches, phones and watches and glasses shoved in everyone’s faces, his “friends” (I’m not sure he has any) and neighbors getting pushed out of their housing, and the prices of coffee and toast, I’m not sure why he hasn’t moved to backwoods Virginia where nothing ever changes and coffee tastes like dirt but only costs $1/cup, just the way he likes society to be.

  • Jesse

    jk, it looks like you fell into “Mike’s” trollish trappings. He’s just an angry short/short-sighted little man with a grudge against everything tech-related while living in one of the biggest tech cities in the world. For all his complaining about Uber/Lyft, proliferation of tech workers and their coaches, phones and watches and glasses shoved in everyone’s faces, his “friends” (I’m not sure he has any) and neighbors getting pushed out of their housing, and the prices of coffee and toast, I’m not sure why he hasn’t moved to backwoods Virginia where nothing ever changes and coffee tastes like dirt but only costs $1/cup, just the way he likes society to be.

    (Posted on the RIGHT thread this time.)

  • Mike

    TL;DR – clearly your ‘TNC analyst’ job is a sham, you’re on the Uber payrolls, right? Or perhaps Lyft’s? Because a quick look at your profile shows some prolific shilling across multiple articles.

  • Mike

    You seem like a tiny little man!

  • vcs

    Current situation: Taxi service is controlled by a bunch of small-time “millionaire” bozos in every single city

    Future situation: Taxi service is controlled by a global monopolist “uber” corporation.

    This is literally what you want.

    Also, short-term thinkers can’t understand that the “low prices, great service” thing is entirely VC subsidized until they can run said small-timers out of business. Once Uber wins, it will be the same immigrants and otherwise unemployable assholes, with the bonus that you’ll be someone’s dubiously maintained old Camry instead of a commercial vehicle.

  • jk

    “This is literally what you want.”

    Ha! No, that’s definitely not what I want, and it’s absolutely not what I “literally” want. (What is it with the abuse of that word these days? Oy.)

    I’m chuckling only because antitrust is one of my areas of expertise, so me arguing in favor of a monopoly would be rather ironic. (Literally.) And to be clear, I don’t think Uber will ever have anything close to a monopoly on for-hire ground transportation, for a number of reasons. For starters, monopolies are extremely rare outside of fields that are either heavily regulated — which, in this case, is precisely the industry Uber is *not* trying to be (taxis) — or have extremely high barriers to entry.

    Furthermore, people have extremely short memories, and I think most have already forgotten that it was little more than a year ago that *Lyft* was the dominant player in the ride-hailing space, at least in terms of venture capital raised. (Uber sped ahead with its Series D round in June of last year.) Also forgotten is the fact that Uber is to Lyft as Microsoft once was to Apple: a brazen, utterly shameless appropriator of neat ideas. Apple launched the first personal computer and first graphical operating system, but Microsoft got all the glory with Windows — which btw is one of the *only* major exceptions to what I said in the last paragraph about monopolies being rare, but that’s another story.

    Anyhoo, it was Lyft, not Uber, that came up with the concept of people using their personal vehicles as quasi-taxis; Uber’s business solely centered on chauffeured town cars/livery vehicles its first three years in business. After Lyft came along, Uber totally ripped off their concept by launching UberX — and unapologetically pulled every stunt in the book to cap Lyft in the knees, from its ridiculous attempt at corporate sabotage (the so-called “Operation SLOG”) to scooping up its former COO who had oh-so-conveeeeniently copied virtually all of Lyft’s IP, strategies, and product/marketing plans to his personal Dropbox account before Lyft wised up and sued the asshole.

    Okay, enough digressing: Uber won’t ever have a monopoly because there will always be a newer, hungrier competitor waiting down the road. A great example here is Southwest, which went head-to-head with the then-heavily-regulated airline industry back in the ’70s and eventually ended up as the biggest, most profitable airline in the country … but *now* faces competition all over the place, ranging from jetBlue to Virgin America to super-low-cost airlines like Spirit. They also won’t have one because it’s against the law: Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act 125 years ago for the specific purpose of preventing monopolies, and for the most part it’s worked pretty well. The only massive monopoly that ended up being built despite the existence of the Sherman Act was AT&T — meaning the original version, not the vastly smaller entity today that uses the name. Prior to 1984, AT&T controlled nearly 100% of the American telephone market, before Congress forcibly broke it up into a collection of regional “Baby Bells” (so named because AT&T was originally called Bell Labs, created by none other than Alexander Graham Bell himself).

    “Also, short-term thinkers can’t understand that the ‘low prices, great service’ thing is entirely VC subsidized until they can run said small-timers out of business.”

    Well, you’re half-right: you just described Walmart to a T, but it had no VC help whatsoever. Also, my reasons for doubting Uber will ever have a monopoly are almost entirely predicated on NOT looking at the short-term. The automotive industry is — without ANY doubt — going to end up consisting of self-driving cars, and I think it’s a given that these cars will ultimately dominate 100% of the for-hire auto-transport business. (Hell, I’ll go even further and predict that we’ll probably have monthly vehicle “subscriptions,” much like the Internet and telephone industries have evolved from pay-by-the-minute business models to all-you-can-eat unlimited use.) The only *real* question is when it’ll happen. (I think it’ll happen within a decade, but I acknowledge there are plenty of good arguments why this might not happen.)

    So: the question ultimately becomes whether Uber can successfully “evolve” from driver to driverless vehicles. Keep in mind here that the annals of American business are littered with epic-fails of this nature; AOL, for instance, once had overwhelming control of the dial-up Internet space, but when cable modems and DSL hit the scene their business spectacularly imploded. A brief history lesson here: at AOL’s peak 15 years ago, it acquired Time Warner in what I think is still the largest corporate takeover in global history (IIRC the acquisition price was $165 billion). It’s also regarded by many as one of the biggest *mistakes* in global business history. Within two years — thanks to both the post-9/11 recession and rapid proliferation of high-speed home Internet — AOL Time Warner’s market cap had fallen 90 percent (!!), and in 2002 they recorded what was then the largest annual loss in corporate history: $100 billion! In a single *year*!!

    It’s far too early to pick any “winners” in the TNC space, but if history is a guide, Uber’s ultimate fate is more likely than not to be AOL-esque in nature. So don’t you worry about being driven around by “otherwise unemployable assholes” in “dubiously maintained old Camrys”!

  • Ross P

    My completely anecdotal experience with Lyft has been a decrease in how much I bike, if anything. I walk and take transit 95% of the time now, and often if I’m taking a Lyft it’s because transit would be too slow, i’m going to the train, or I don’t have my bike with me.

    Pre-Lyft I biked a lot more often. But after moving to Oakland, bringing my bike with me everywhere has become a pain (it’s great that I bring my bike with me on my morning commute to the City now, if only there was actually room for it). Lyft has filled that gap.

    I’m not a car owner, doubt I ever will be (used to drive everywhere, and I don’t want to go back to that) but services like Lyft have been a godsend for getting around without owning a car or hauling a bike around everywhere.

  • vcs

    Thanks for the extensive reply, I am just going to poke a few holes in some balloons.

    – Uber really wants “deregulation” versus new regulations that support Uber.
    – Some other capitalists will naturally throw billions at undermining Uber/Lyft because muh free market.
    – Walmart took over American retailing without extensive external capital investment. Sounds ridiculously no.
    – The handwavy premise that any of this prevents driver wages from being pressed down to the usual taxi driver suspects.
    – Driverless Vehicle wankery which nobody cares about because it will be at least a decade before we actually ride in one.

    Still think Uber’s business model is quite simple. Drive the shitty local bozos under, and make it an international bozo monopoly.

  • Stella_AMars
  • The business hinges on motorists interacting with phone apps, which is illegal but epidemic. It needs to end.

  • My solution to this particular conundrum has been a quality folding bike.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Most Lyft Customers in SF Sign Up to Share Their Trips

|
As of January, a majority of Lyft trips in San Francisco use the ride-hail app’s “Lyft Line” carpool feature, according to the company, meaning most passengers are looking to share rides with other people taking similar trips. Lyft Line users aren’t always matched up, and Lyft spokesperson Paige Thelen said she couldn’t tell us how many Lyft […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Can Ride-Hailing Apps Become More Like Buses and Less Like Taxis?

|
A big part of reducing car traffic involves using cars more efficiently. Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are supposedly assisting in this transition by making car ownership less necessary. But even though both companies operate carpool-type services, most of their business still comes from single passenger trips. Other ride-hailing companies are all about shared trips. Network blog Cap’n Transit has […]

Car-Hail Assists BART Passengers

|
BART’s woes continued this week, with no train service this morning at the end of the Pittsburgh Bay Point line. That meant bus bridges between Pittsburg Bay Point and North Concord. But some good news came down in the early afternoon from BART’s communications department: BART will run a train every 15 minutes during commute […]