The scourge of the surge

Driving for Uber and Lyft is like playing a video game.

It's terrifying to share the road with thousands of inexperienced drivers trying to get the high score in a bonus stage. Nobody should feel safe. Despite witnessing several accidents each shift, I'm often surprised there aren't more. And although I try to steer clear of those areas with the highest potential for disaster, even the most remote corners of The City aren't immune to mishap. [...]

It's at times like these that I like to play game called "Drunk Driver or Uber/Lyft Driver?" Which isn't very challenging since the answer is almost always the same. After all, why would anyone drive drunk now that you can get the same sense of excitement and reckless adventure with someone who can, conceivably, pass a breathalyzer test?

Besides the ones going the wrong way down one-ways, I regularly encounter drivers who mistake normal streets for one-ways, countless drivers at night without their headlights on, as well as plenty of others blinding me with their high beams. Then there are the speed demons and the slow pokes, the aggressive mergers and out-of-towners taking curves hesitantly, while hot-doggers tailgate anyone with a shred of self-preservation. Nobody seems to understand how to get up a hill, or grasp the basic concept of timed lights. And who can forget the drivers who stop wherever they please, block traffic with impunity and double-park as if you're the asshole for expecting to travel down the street free of obstructions.

San Francisco traffic is its own beast. It's certainly not for the faint of heart. Yet, every day, people from across the state stream into The City to work as taxi drivers, an occupation that once required a license, which one could only acquire through a week of intensive training, followed by an exam, an FBI background check and a drug test. Now, all you need is a pulse and a smart phone.

When Uber and Lyft enter a city, they decrease rail ridership by 1.29 percent per year and decrease bus ridership by 1.7 percent. Worse, the effect is cumulative.

This isn't the first study to make such findings, but it is one of the broadest, helping to explain why transit ridership has declined in almost every U.S. city over recent years. These declines could not be explained by service reductions or by maintenance issues.

Increased service could counter the trend, but it would not be enough to make up for the damage. Graehler and his co-authors estimated that San Francisco would have to increase bus service by 25 percent to offset the effects of Uber and Lyft in depressing ridership. [...]

"What appears to happen is that travelers divert from transit to [taxis], increasing congestion for everyone, including the buses."

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8 Responses:

  1. Flotsam says:

    an occupation that once required a license, which one could only acquire through a week of intensive training, followed by an exam

    To become a driver of a London black cab requires an average of 34 months of training and memorising the entire London street map. The latter is known as the Knowledge. Acquiring the Knowledge has one odd side effect:

    There is evidence that training for the Knowledge can measurably alter the hippocampus of trainee cab drivers. The hippocampus is the area of the brain used for spatial memory and navigation, and is generally larger in taxi drivers than in the general population.

    • phuzz says:

      To be fair, London cabbies are an extreme case, but around the rest of the UK you usually still have to pass a 'knowledge' test, and of course have a full driving license (which allegedly will take on average 45 hours of training, although I think ten is more reasonable).
      Uber drivers in most parts of the UK have to get a taxi license too, so it's not like actually fucking regulating these companies is an impossible ideal.

      • Nick Lamb says:

        Where I am Uber operates only mini-cabs, a distinction I believe San Francisco has under a different name. A mini-cab only does pre-ordered travel, so it makes sense for Uber. Our mini-cabs all have big plaques telling customers never to get into one without ordering, the Uber logo just appears instead of the logo of some local outfit the driver is working for on the plaque.

        They appear to be exactly as incompetent and likely to be scofflaws as all our mini-cab drivers, presumably because they are still our mini-cab drivers, just now they have an Uber logo if Uber pays better. For example they do drive down a street near me that's labelled "Buses Only" (mini-cabs are not buses under the law) but they mostly don't drive the opposite way (which is "No Entry") down that street. They park in the road blocking traffic where that's forbidden, but they mostly don't park on the pavement blocking me.

    • I remember seeing a story up somewhere like sciencedaily-- can't find it just now-- claiming that people who rely on direction-finding software are showing atrophied spatial navigation capabilities.

      It would be funny if living in a place like London is better for your brain than, say, living in Salt Lake City with a layout that's too regular.

  2. MattyJ says:

    Makes me wonder, every day, why the police don't position an assembly line of ticket writers at 10th and Market to write tickets for people that:

    * double park/unload
    * stop in the clearly marked 'no stopping here' lane with the bright red curb
    * run the red light
    * get stuck in the middle of Market street because the light at Mission hasn't cleared traffic out yet
    * all these things at once

    They'd make millions of dollars every week. Forget trying to drive amongst these animals, it's treacherous just trying to walk in Mid-Market during daylight hours.

  3. A while back I was using a crosswalk to cross a street that had a 25 mph speed limit. When I was halfway across the street, some uber driver came at me going almost 40 mph. And instead of stopping in order to yield to the pedestrian, he just swerved in front of me. I got his plates and filed a complaint. However, Uber's response was basically "Fuck you."

    • BHN says:

      If this were an anime (or a Dirty Harry movie) you would whip out some exotic pistol and shoot out his tires, sending him careening into a nearby storefront. Just one of the ways in which anime might have an edge on reality.

      In Texas you may still be allowed to shoot a driver who exhibits this behavior, under the 'needed killing' exemption. I'm not saying the Texans are right but... I understand.

  4. I've been pointing people at this story, the deal with Uber is even worse than you might think:

    An MIT study shows most uber drivers are making way below minimum wage (without benefits, of course), and about a third of them aren't actually making any money-- but they are presumably unaware of this. (I find car people in general are lousy at doing cost-accounting.)

    So, we've got a company who's business model is based on conning people to work below minimum, evades the legal standards we have in place for cab-drivers, undermines support for public transit, and has a history of sexual assault complaints by it's management. But it's all okay, because internet.

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