Monday, June 5, 2017

We might not want to go where Uber is taking us

    I'm old enough to remember when authors of a certain vintage fetishized their manual typewriters. During their smug, how-I-create interviews, they would emphasize the physical process of setting down words on paper, as if the devices themselves somehow conveyed authenticity.
     Let amateurs surrender to the siren call of newfangled electric typewriters or, God forbid, the soulless word processor. They were artists, and artists made a whap-whap-whap sound on their beloved Royals and Olympias.
     That went away, eventually. Because manual typewriters are a pain. Computers are far easier, and they won. Technology always wins.
       Still, before that inevitable victory, the two technologies existed side by side for a spell, the old and new, until the inferior one dies utterly clutching the curtains, decrying its doom.
     We've entered that fatal last act with taxis. I never realized it until last week when I had one of those moments where the two technologies go head to head.
     Something called the UI Labs invited me to visit, which required showing up at 1415 N. Cherry.
     Had I been less busy, I'd have figured out where the nearest Divvy station was and biked over, it was only two miles from the newspaper.

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  1. As someone who drove a cab for more than 10 years, I feel that the Uber/Lyft model is guilty of unfair competition, in effect flooding the market with extra unlicensed cabs. That said, I'm sure that quite a few of the chauffeurs driving for Uber/Lyft are or have been cabdrivers themselves and may not suffer as much as those who borrowed a great deal of money to become cab owners. Nonetheless, they still face increased competition or rather diminished income -- Uber hasn't found a way to grow the demand for taxi services as far as I know. Nor can Uber fill all the roles that taxis play in an urban environment. So I doubt that cabs will disappear the way the typewriter has. Though the driverless car may doom Uber along with the taxi industry.


  2. John, you may not realize this, but Uber is a pioneer in driverless car technology. They'll probably survive in some form.

    Although I have a hard time seeing how, since they haven't made any money yet, at least on paper. They're a bit like Amazon that way---profits are so 1990s.

    1. I definitely am aware of Uber's pioneering efforts (in Pittsburgh of all places), but am guessing that someone will leapfrog Uber and create an entirely different business plan. But "guessing" is the right word.

  3. Sorry, Neil, but your experience with the cab driver to a very unusual address is not typical. Despite Uber's faith that Google Maps is the only Guiding Light their drivers need, Uber drivers are typically more hopelessly lost when it comes to navigating the city effectively. Uber is effectively running a charity and volunteer driver service, yet taxis still prevail. Uber doesn't make money, their drivers don't make money, and taxi drivers and the industry has carried the burden of this wholly unfair competition. Regular taxi passengers like you have also suffered, as the taxi driving profession has lost its ability to retain drivers so that you're more likely to get an experienced chauffeur. It's as if hotels weren't allowed to shoo away bums who simply inserted themselves in front of experienced doormen and interacted with customers in all kinds of ways. Those bums all have to pay a hefty commission two people who are essentially Rahm's cronies, who are betting big to completely take over the transportation industry of the future and make trillions. The Long View of History will see this as his own personal scandal and place his legacy firmly in the pantheon of corrupt politicians of this city. The real point, Neil, is that when a pizza is allowed to be cut into so many pieces and the big boys take the largest piece for themselves leaving only crumbs for the poor, how can the system be considered fair or sustainable?


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