Uber and Lyft Are Wonderful, but Not that Wonderful

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It makes a great story: The Department of Motor Vehicles registered some 86,000 drivers under new “transportation service company” rules in 2015, Virginians are availing themselves of Uber and Lyft ridership services in record numbers, and the rate of alcohol-related automobile crashes declined markedly last year. It stands to reason, more Virginians are taking rides with Uber and Lyft instead of driving under the influence.

“While it may be too soon to say definitively that the availability of Uber and Lyft in Virginia played a major role in that, there appears to be a causal connection,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb in a statement reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

As regular Bacon’s Rebellion readers know, I’m a big fan of Uber and Lyft. They are spearheading the greatest transportation revolution since the invention of the automobile. But let’s not get carried away. It is too soon to credit the transportation service companies with playing a “major” role in reducing drunk driving.

The chart above is taken from DMV data, with provisional 2015 numbers plugged in. It shows clearly that the steep decline in alcohol-related accidents started in 2013, two years before the surge in Uber-Lyft activity. My working hypothesis is that Virginia courts and police intensified their crackdown of drunk driving around that time (as well they should have, given the soaring numbers before then). It’s fantastic that Uber and Lyft give late-night revelers a convenient alternative to driving while intoxicated, and I’m sure they helped in 2015. But I suspect that the bulk of the credit goes to the courts and police.

— JAB

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7 responses to “Uber and Lyft Are Wonderful, but Not that Wonderful

  1. how about what made Uber and Lyft a reality?

    the US Government…

    that’s right.

    without what the US Govt did – Uber and Lifyt would be a concept.

  2. So, what did the U.S. government do?

  3. GPS –

    those cell phones are basically simple voice phones without GPS, right?

    if the govt could charge a penny a GPS device royalty – we’d pay off the deficit and debt, eh? We’d be richer than the developer of Velcro!

  4. You wish! And me too.

    But now, as for Uber and competitors, my anecdotal observation (children) is that bar-hoppers and restaurant-goers really like and use these providers. The service is prompt, and easy to access by smart phone, and cheap when the offset of urban parking fees is considered. They plan the evening around it. The venues they go to are used to it. I can’t explain why the conventional taxi companies aren’t sharing in this trend, but they just don’t have the cachet.

    • there is no reason why many other business models could use the same GPS-enabled cell phone concept – including existing taxi companies, right?

      I personally think the “cache” will wear off – but have to admit I don”t have a 100% record for predictions!

      the thing is – do young folks have the same attraction to and respect for – “brands” ? Do they choose a local diner over a McDonalds?

      do they choose a no-name brand over a name brand?

      what Uber and Lyft and others have done is nothing short of revolutionary – because they’ve re-defined what “brand” means.

      yeah we all know what Uber is – and we KNOW that it means we will NOT see a standard yellow type vehicle but instead a wild and unpredictable assortment – with lots of variances in experience.

      It would be like going into a McDonalds in one town – and it’s totally different in touch and feel and menu with only a few things being standard. In fact, most McDonalds are privately owned but are subjected to rigorous, almost draconian standards so that the customer expects a standard experience.

      older folks desire a predictable experience they can trust.

      is that a standard people thing no matter the age or are the young different in what they want and are fine with the variable nature of Uber type businesses?

      if a Young person takes a trip these days -would they tend towards a local dinner or a McDs?

      • Interesting article by Cath Rampell a week ago in the W Post about declining percentages of young people getting drivers licenses. She speculates, is it urbanization trends, or tougher licensing standards, or the higher cost of driving, or what? Doesn’t see a clear answer but she sees evidence leaning more towards the urban lifestyle preference. These Uber drivers, they are part of that experience.

  5. young people no longer go skiing, hiking, kayaking , etc?

    what are all those Subaru commercials about?

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