Travis Shrugged

Travis Shrugged: The creepy, dangerous ideology behind Silicon Valley's Cult of Disruption

The pro-Disruption argument goes like this: In a digitally connected age, there's absolutely no need for public carriage laws (or hotel laws, or food safety laws, or... or...) because the market will quickly move to drive out bad actors. If an Uber driver behaves badly, his low star rating will soon push him out of business.

It's a compelling message but also one with dire potential consequences for public safety, particularly for those who can't afford to take a $50 cab ride to Whole Foods.

I do enjoy any smackdown of Randites, and reading a Travis quote about how awesome it would be if a bunch of billionaires would go "on strike" to teach California some kind of lesson makes me want to delete the Uber app from my phone immediately.

On the other hand, the taxi situation in San Francisco is so useless and despicably corrupt that it's hard not to see this in the light of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." If the Taxi Commission is against it, it can't be anything but good, right?

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22 Responses:

  1. The thing about regulated services is that they're the ones that have to abide by laws and regs designed to enforce equality. None of these fancy-pants new car services are ADA compliant. Admittedly the SF Taxi situation is so hellaciously bad that I can't get a wheelchair cab in this town to save my life, but they at least have an oversight board that's waving its tiny fists and trying to make the accessible cabs pick up folks who need them. And, to give them credit, Uber wrote me a very nice note saying they'd love to add accessible cab service if they could only get someone to lease them the ramp vans. Which won't happen, because nobody leases ramp vans.

    I'm pretty sure a lot of these Rand-y jerks would suddenly turn into socialists if they got stuck in a wheelchair and lost their health insurance.

    • I drove taxis in SF in 2002/2003, so my info is a decade old.

      There were 1300 regular medalions, and 300 wheel chair medalions. So in theory, almost 20% of the cabs are ramp cabs. I think they are all sitting at SFO. I don't know how the drivers who sit at SFO make any money. In theory, they are required to take at least one disabled radio call per (hour? not sure). But if they are sitting at SFO, it's not happening.

      Oddly enough, they need better graphics, people don't hail them as much as a regular taxi, so I can see some of why drivers sit at SFO with them.

      Try Luxor, they used to have the most functional radio dispatch system.

      • Purely anecdotal, but I believe something has recently gone horribly, horribly wrong at Luxor. You used to be able to reliably summon them with the Taxi Magic app, but for the last three months I have not had a single attempt at a reservation actually get assigned a driver within 15 minutes (which is my threshold for giving up and paying the Uber premium).

      • p.s. I can pretty much guarantee that your info about the number and distribution of medallions is still 95-100% accurate, since SF like most major cities issues new medallions at the rate of one per never.

  2. pavel_lishin says:

    > On the other hand, the taxi situation in San Francisco is so useless and despicably corrupt that it's hard not to see this in the light of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." If the Taxi Commission is against it, it can't be anything but good, right?

    I hate to quote Alien vs. Predator marketing here, but it seems like one of those "Whoever wins, we lose" situations.

  3. James says:

    Why doesn't Uber sell software to existing cab dispatchers? The shoot-the-moon asset allocation strategy is lame (unless you are actually trying to land things such as VLBI telescope arrays on the Moon.) Those people who sold GPS to dispatchers back in the '90s made more money than the expected return from Fighting City Hall, in hindsight which is 20/20.

    • jwz says:

      You assume that existing cab dispatchers are interested in investments to improve their systems. Like almost all monopolists, they are happy with the status quo and don't see profit in changing anything.

      • James says:

        Clearly this is a job for an initiative ... what could go wrong ... now two problems....

        • Jered says:

          Uber is doing taxi dispatching as well, in my market (Boston). Fare + 20% tip + $1 fee.

          However, that means you still get a trashed vehicle with a floor that was covered in vomit the previous night, a cabbie who yammers on his phone your entire trip, and a radio blaring your least favorite music, whatever it may be. Also, a plexiglass partition that gives you less legroom than airline economy seating. But at least you don't have to carry cash, or try to flag down a cab.

  4. I'm willing to stipulate that Travis K is a flaming douchebag who should be fired into the sun at the first available opportunity, but I think you've got it in your second para: the SF (and NYC, and Chicago, and Boston, and...) taxi lobby is incarnate, comic-book-villain level evil, and anything that erodes their power is all to the good.

    • From having driven cabs in SF, and payed a bit of attention to how they are regulated across the country, it is amazing that there are so many bad ways to do it! CA does it by city, with is absurd (perhaps except in SF), DC charges per zone (not per mile) you go through, etc.

      Frankly, I think robo cabs will be a huge win in a decade or so. No more paying the driver half the take, assuming we can ditch the medallion system (hah), there might be enough, and at much cheaper prices.

      • Don says:

        We ditched the zone system in DC many years ago. However the taxi commission is a corrupt joke and only interested in preserving the existing profit levels of the taxi drivers. Travis is a jackass but that doesn't make him wrong or the industry he's trying to move into any less shady. Uber is already more expensive than cabs but the DC hacks wanted to force them to set a price floor that would be more than twice what a cab costs. Meanwhile it's a well-known thing that you can't get cabs to take you to many neighborhoods and they won't pick up folks in wheelchairs.

        The only reason the zone system lasted as long as it did was the desperation on the part of the cabbies to keep fraud available to them.

  5. J says:

    For what it's worth, in DC (which hasn't used the zone system in several years) they're pretty popular because a) the fact that it's a much better, responsive product than taxis, and b) just as importantly, the taxi commission and taxi drivers basically had the city council -><- close to legislating Uber out of the city for completely bogus reasons (i.e, saying they 'need to charge more' so as not to hurt cab business). What went on in NYC may or may not be different; I didn't keep up on it. Maybe he's a douchebag, maybe he's not, but I thought it was a little more clear-cut that he was in the right in DC.

    Personally, I say just make sure some basic criteria are met: assurance of clear billing practices/rates, safe drivers, and means of enforceable complaints, and let them do what they want. Don't tell them what they're allowed to charge, or that a firm has to have X employees to enter the market, etc.

  6. Uber (and by extention Hailo) are getting around the legal issues in Toronto by simply acting as a middle man between existing licensed cab and limo drivers.

    Just the other day I needed to get a cab and I called for one, and the dispatcher actually told me off. So, I downloaded the app and had a cab in 3 minutes, at the normal cab rate, and I paid via the app. Pretty slick.

    • Don says:

      Part of what makes the linked article such shit is that it implies that Uber is some sort of total end-run around any safety regulation, which at least in the DC area couldn't be farther from the truth. The DC Uber vehicles are licensed and certified limo drivers and vehicles. Hailing one via an app means there's an electronic record that could be subpoenaed, something not true when someone hails a cab on the street and is subsequently assaulted. Which happens, so I don't know what happened to the vaunted safety that Carr believes comes with regulated cabs.

      • jwz says:

        Yeah, that part was fearmongering bullshit. In SF the cars are all either licensed limos or "real" cabs.

  7. Shame to see the CEO acting like such a self-important DB. For folks that don't often visit these cities and aren't familiar with the ins and outs of the various cab systems, Uber is a comfortingly familiar interface for getting where you need to be.

    As far as the Randians and anti-Randians, it seems the middle ground has been completely lost. Indeed, public safety isn't usually something we're willing to 'let the market correct for', and regulations for the sake of safety seem reasonable. On the other hand, mandating number of employees, fixing prices and other similar regulations seem to have no point other than to protect the existing companies, who neither drivers nor consumers seem to think are business fairly.

  8. He's a total jackass, but I still happily use his fantastic service. I don't see any harm in it, and I want the service to grow.

    If I had to agree with the views and personality of the owner of every company, I wouldn't be able to buy or do much. Just figuring out who the good guys are would be a full-time job.

  9. joseph blowseph says:

    I do wish they'd do a tad more of their picker-uppering and dropper-offering outside bike lanes, though. Valencia, Market, Columbus, and parts of Howard are even more of an obstacle course on weekend nights lately, with the lanes littered with limos in addition to the usual taxis.

  10. joseph blowseph says:

    i wasn't paying attention and didn't realize he was such a complete fucker.
    but oh wow this is charming: "surge pricing"

    • jwz says:

      It's certainly a much more emotional and potentially fucked up situation during a natural disaster, when lives could be at stake, but I wasn't surprised to find that Uber was in "surge pricing" mode on Halloween weekend in SF. This is how markets work, right? Under normal circumstances, Uber costs twice as much as taxis do, and they justify that by being the only way you can get a ride in this town, period. You can stand in the rain for 45 minutes and maybe pay ten bucks, or you can pay twenty bucks and get a ride five minutes from now.

      In situations when carpools are free or cheaper on toll bridges during rush hour, people don't complain about them being "gouged" at night.

      • Nick Lamb says:

        Predictability is inherently valuable. People don't like "flexible" pricing even if in some market theoretic sense it should work. Paying $2 every day to ride the bus is considered preferable to having the bus ride cost anywhere from 50 cents to $10 depending on demand with an average of $1.90. On the toll bridge the charge structure is the same, maybe for years. Predictable, people make plans around it, which is exactly what the people setting the structure want. Predictability also causes a (perhaps unjustified but still real) feeling of fairness. Everybody else is subject to the same price structure as you, so that is somehow "fair". We love predictability so much we created an entire industry (Insurance) to deliver the effect of predictability where it does not really exist.

        When you have "Surge Pricing" you mess with the predictability. Somebody can't afford to get home until the "Surge" ends. Is that in ten minutes? An hour? Six hours? Nobody knows except perhaps Travis. Maybe they should walk instead. If the "Surge" in New York doesn't affect San Francisco presumably a Surge in Queens wouldn't affect Manhattan. How localised can a "Surge" be before you doubt that it's really reflecting some hypothetical demand price? Maybe the Surge is just local to your club and the other clubs pay Uber to ensure a cab home is cheaper for their customers. Maybe Uber will charge more when it's raining, or interrogate your recent travel records and try to charge incrementally more to find out how much you'd be willing to pay. That's the Market being efficient too, right? Or at that point do you feel gouged?

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