So on one level, it's about a new entrant into a stagnant monopolized abused market. It's People's Express moving into the USAir fortress hub. It's the people, shaking off the chains of outdated corrupt malignant systems and making things happen. It's venture capitalists with their own purposes, wrapped in hipster people-power. It's a lot of shiny new objects.
On another level, it's also a new entrant into an existing field of legacy, minority-operated jitneys that have served minority communities for decades, which have been the focus of period tickets and police sweeps but have also had a certain low-level tolerance because authorities recognize their utility. So any benefits to the new entrants need to be balanced with treatment of the legacy players.
Economically and socially, wake up people it's the Ubiquitious Internet and it's changing things -- distributed systems and peer rankings and the sharing economy. So we're no longer in the Second Wave with economic concentrations in factories and Big Companies. Everybody can be a driver. Everybody is a publisher. Everybody can raise chickens n'at in the backyard and sell artisanal produce to their neighbors (very big in Brooklyn right now).
The old power schisms about individuals and businesses are archaic and crumbling because we're all economic players, we're consumers and producers. The sharing economy is here and now, and it's very hard to analyze because it's so multivariable and dynamic, there's no A-B testing, but it's not going to wait for anybody to develop good metrics.
Before we get into the Third Wave, let's look at where we were before we moved to factories and concentrated production. The first wave was Farms, second wave was Factories, third wave is Floppies. In the First Wave, everybody was a producer and a consumer, and it happened around the farm and the family unit. You made your own cheese, maybe your own clothes, and bartered in the community.
In the sharing economy we're going back to a lot of that, but now it's happening in cities. Cities provide the vertical development (take that, Richard Florida) and the density that make all these connections and networks possible; it doesn't happen in the exurbs. All this cool stuff needs a city to work. Lyft doesn't play in Beaver County.
To quote another of my heroes, Lyft didn't build the city, they're just profiting from it, which is to say - they're taking money out of it, out of us. If we are rational, we will happily allow them to take money out of us if (1) there is a justified exchange of value and (2) if they conduct their business in a way that is conducive to the city we want to be, within the laws of the nation.
And so we come to government, which - by the way - created a framework which allowed the city to grow and prosper. Without the government there would not be a city. So what is the role of government? That's a topic much discussed these days - or at least, much shouted about.
I think, and it's just my opinion, that the role of government is to
- guarantee the rights and liberty of all
- protect the voice of the minority from the tyranny of the majority
- ensure the weak, sick, poor are provided for
- ensure the health of citizens and environment
- temper the excesses of capitalism for the benefit of the common good
- ensure legal structures that provide for business and industry
- take on a monopoly on violence in support of good laws
And so for me, a big part of government is taking care of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the elderly. And let me say this to my Fox-friends: please bring me a professed Christian who wants to argue the point.
So now we come to the discussion at hand, the symptom is Lyft and Uber, and how do we frame the topic. I think the topic is, getting around in Pittsburgh is too difficult and frustrating!
Getting Around In Pittsburgh is Too Difficult and FrustratingSo that's the framework I want to discuss. I think that in 2014-15, three big honking things are going to happen. We're going to see Pgh BikeShare rollout, with 50 stations instead of the desired 100; we're going to see BRT between Downtown and Oakland, which is more about real estate development than transit; and we're going to see Lyft established after a legal wrangle. These two maps identify the BikeShare and Lyft key service areas:
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What does it look like when you overlay BRT, Bikeshare, and Lyft? One interesting thing is that BRT is like a bridge or a wormhole, it doesn't stop anywhere in the middle - doesn't stop in Uptown or on the Hill, for instance. It just hyperjumps from Downtown to Oakland. But here's what the Three Great Innovations will look like:
Not surprisingly, the Three Great Innovations are going where the Young White Money is. But here's a problem: Bike Share, Lyft, and BRT don't help the sick, poor, and elderly. Think about it:
- A person in a wheelchair can't use Lyft. They could use transit.
- A poor person isn't using Lyft. Might not have a smartphone. If they don't tip well, they get a bad Driver Rating. Two bad driver ratings, nobody is going to pick them up - that's the SanFran experience.
- A Mom with little kids isn't using Lyft - no child seats. Transit would be OK.
- Older folks probably aren't using Facebook to get around town.
- Wheelchair, Moms with kids, elderly - bike share isn't helping much.
- People who live outside those privileged zones aren't getting any help.
- The private companies are cherry picking revenue out of the transit system that would be subsidizing fares for the less well off.
Any change produces winners and relative losers, and there's a lot of people who don't get anything out of the Three Great Innovations that are sucking all the oxygen out of the room. When we focus on these Three, we're ignoring a lot of people's needs.
Sorry, we didn't go Meta Enough
But wait - actually, the city is doing things within the City's span of control. The Mayor doesn't control the bus system or the T system. The County does that. So the problem is: Regionalism. Things like equity in transit, the Mayor can't deliver. He's influencing what he can, within his scope.
What are we doing? Look at our choices.