Friday, August 14, 2015

Uber Is NOT the Problem

Stop complaining about how unfair Uber is, social justice crusaders.

Simple market truth: Uber would not thrive if public transit, mass transit in various forms, and licensed providers such as taxis were good enough to meet market demands.

Don't complain about Uber not having to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other regulations while mass transit must.

Think about what these complaints reveal: mass transit, with all that it must do to comply with laws, regulations, and union contracts doesn't have many happy supporters. Why is that? If the rules are so wonderful, why does anyone want an Uber or a Lyft? Why is Zipcar rising in popularity?

Mass transit works in densely populated, geographically small areas. That's not most of the United States, with two-thirds of us living in suburban or rural communities.

I support public transit. In fact, I believe public transit, by its natures, should be free to use because the benefits are shared in the community. I've never understood charging fares on top of receiving taxpayer supports. The people reliant on public transit are often those least able to afford the ever-increasing fares in many cities.

I also, however, believe the services should be put to bid and operated competitively by private industry on a per-rider basis, just as I believe public roads and buildings should be the result of private industry bids. Companies vying to make a profit at the lowest cost to a community might (and historically did) deliver better mass transit.

The social benefits of removing cars from roads and increasing employment opportunities outweigh the direct costs of mass transit. Even as a libertarian, I'm okay with getting people to and from work so public dollars don't have to directly support those same citizens. If we're going to demand people work (I certainly am), then we should make it easy and more rewarding to work than to receive direct assistance.

I also oppose high-speed rail plans in most of the United States. Seriously, we should be telecommuting long distances, anyway. Plus, our population in the suburbs and exurbs have this odd history of moving. As people move, you can't reroute train tracks. Trains are also complex failure points. When one train stops, the system stops. The U.S. is not Japan, and the trains elsewhere aren't as perfect as proponents suggest.

If a private company has a better model for trains in the United States, then I'm all in favor of letting a company move ahead with trains.

But I absolutely, completely support alternative energy buses, light rail, and some subways in densely populated regions. I've even voiced support for an aerial tramway in places like Pittsburgh, which would allow construction in a densely populated region with steep hills.

Studies are now revealing that Uber and other sharing services go where public transit service is at its worst. Uber is competing, and winning, for those riders in areas that trains, busses, and medallion taxis have failed.

Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and other private solutions indicate there are problems, serious problems, with how public mass transit and publicly controlled monopoly-like transit serve communities. Don't blame private industry for trying to meet a clear market demand.

If we could fix mass transit, then Uber would be sidelined. But, our transit systems are horrible, from the routes to the drivers. That's not Uber's fault. Campaign to fix public transit and I'll support you, within reason.

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