Embrace the Uber-Enabled Mass Transit Revolution

Photo credit: Washington Post

Photo credit: Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

The Uber/Lyft revolution is beginning to transform public transportation around the country. Other than in Arlington County, where county officials are considering replacing under-utilized bus lines with subsidized Uber service, little of this dynamism seems to be seeping into Virginia, however. Too bad. We’re missing a major opportunity.

Reports Spencer Woodman with The Verge:

Both Uber and Lyft have been striking agreements with transit agencies, mostly for so-called “first-last mile” programs — meant to shuttle commuters to bus or train stations. Since last year, Uber has scored public transit agreements with San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh among other cities. Uber and Lyft have been edging into niche public transportation services, like transit for disabled people or low-income residents who need rides to work or the grocery store. Last month, officials in Washington, DC proposed having Uber respond to some 911 calls for ambulances.

Even Google’s Alphabet, through its Sidewalk Labs program, has joined the transit bonanza. The company recently offered to overhaul transit in Columbus, Ohio, with a system that sets parking prices based on demand and funnels low-income commuters into subsidized ride-share vehicles.

These companies are arriving at an opportune time for cities, many of which are struggling just to fund existing transit service, much less expand it to meet the needs of growing numbers of urban commuters. Both Uber and Lyft tell The Verge that the past year has seen a surge in public officials interested in giving the companies taxpayer dollars for public transit contracts. … Given the pace at which these partnerships are coming together, it’s possible to imagine ride-hailing companies taking on the role of all-encompassing smartphone-driven public transit providers, one town at a time.

The Uberization of transportation may prove to be a boon to mass transit. But it also raises ethical questions, notes The Verge. Catching a ride on Uber and Lyft requires two things that many poor people lack: a smart phone and a credit card. Shouldn’t subsidies be reserved for the poor,  not better-off passengers who can afford iPhones and Capital One cards? Should transit agencies restructure themselves to serve Yuppies at the expense of people for whom mass transit may be their only transportation option?

Those are legitimate concerns, but they shouldn’t slow down the Uber Revolution. The smart phone-driven ride-hailing industry is still in its early phases of entrepreneurial innovation. It is the natural progression of things for entrepreneurs to target the affluent market first because that’s where the money is. As companies gain experience and establish economies of scale, they will move down-market to less affluent riders. In fact, that is already happening with Uber’s shared-ride programs. At some point the technology behind Uber and Lyft will become so ubiquitous that we’ll see all manner of entrepreneurs targeting under-served niches. If large numbers of people lack smart phones and credit cards, entrepreneurs will find ways to serve them.

It’s going to be a wild ride, and no one is quite sure where it is heading. In addition the Uber-Lyft revolution, there is the driverless car revolution, and the transportation-as-a-service revolution. Everyone from Ford, General Motors, Mercedes, Google and Tesla has ideas of how to reinvent transportation. It’s as if the transportation industry is being hit by three tsunamis simultaneously, not just one.

Here in Virginia, transportation planners at the state, regional and local level are behaving as if none of this is occurring. The same old transportation mega-projects are lumbering down the same bureaucratic approval pathways. Even as Virginia government at all levels experience chronic fiscal stress, they seem sublimely unconcerned by the implication of saddling themselves with Big Infrastructure projects that they know can never be self-supporting financially, that they know will require ongoing subsidies.

Just wait until the next recession. How many jurisdictions will be able to maintain money-losing transit operations? How many will find themselves pruning money-losing routes? How well will the poor be served by the inevitable cutbacks? Shouldn’t we at least be considering the transportation-as-a-service alternative?

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28 responses to “Embrace the Uber-Enabled Mass Transit Revolution

  1. Uber needs to figure out how to make money first.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-25/uber-loses-at-least-1-2-billion-in-first-half-of-2016

    A $1.27 billion loss in six months is pretty impressive.

  2. How much of a stretch would it be to change the Blog Title to:

    ” Embrace the Uber-Enabled Settlement-Pattern Revolution” ?

    I think the entire concept of planning where transit should be or not be and what variant of it – is now in flux and in turn the concept of settlement patterns….

    I predict – that those folks who commute from Loudoun to DC are going to rue the day that Uber/Lyft were born …

    BRT – the darling of the anti-rail transit folks – is justified how in an Uber-Lyft world?

    OH – you say that people who choose to live far from their work should be subsidized while the poor who can’t afford to live where they work should not? Au Contraire!!! sez who?

    Folks who live in Fredericksburg , Va and work in NoVa should have their flavor of transit subsidized but “somehow” the “market” will “figure out” how to serve those who don’t have cell phones and credit cards?

    GADZOOKS!

    I think uber/lyft have knocked out the legs under traditional transit and commuting … ergo settlement patterns… and the marbles are going all over the board….in ways that even the anti-transit folks might find upsetting…

    oh, oh, let me quess.. uber/lyft will get to use the express toll lanes for free and ensuing flood of uber/lyft cars on those lanes will do what to those solo paying customers?; Oh wait.. we’ll outlaw them on the toll lanes.. or make them pay …or only use the non-toll lanes, eh?

    “wild ride” … indeed!!!! buckle up!

    • You say that people who choose to live far from their work should be subsidized while the poor who can’t afford to live where they work should not? Au Contraire!!! sez who?

      You’re off in Larry La La Land again. Nowhere in this post do I advocate subsidizing Uber rides for the middle class. To the contrary, I wrote:

      “Shouldn’t subsidies be reserved for the poor, not middle-class passengers who can afford iPhones and Capital One cards?”

      • and I asked if subsidies for commuters from the suburbs would also become an issue?

        like BRT, or commuter rail or van and bus pools ?

        in other words – once the poor are said to let the market figure out their needs…. what other commuters would also be asked to do the same?

        do you not think BRT would be a subsidized service?

  3. In my hometown of Pittsburgh, Uber is going to go with autonomous driving vehicles as a test. Hard to imagine with all the Mountains, Rivers, bridges, trolley tracks and strange street layouts due to the hilly geography.

    • one has to ask – if Uber/lyft can actually deliver transit-like service that is better, faster, more comprehensive – for less money than subsidized govt-operated transit – why would local govt not re-allocate some of their subsidies to provide more for less – and why would govt – as you are envisioning with autonomous vehicles , not , at some point, be able to purchase ..”off the shelf” services like they now do other services they operate but were procured from the private sector or contracted to the private sector as concessionaires?

      See – Jim keeps seeing this as some sort of free market versus the evil and wasteful govt … as opposed to this becoming just another commercial sector product or service that the govt contracts with.

      and he posits – ” well the private sector will somehow figure out how to serve the poor”…

      …. well… because …. not even Uber is going to provide service to the poor…..for less than it costs – only the govt will do that.. but nothing requires the govt to be the direct operator… no more than other goods and services the govt provides.

      The govt, right now, contracts with the private sector for transportation services…

      think toll lanes – designed, built and operated by the private sector as a contracted service to the govt.

      Right now – Washington DC has contracted emergency transport medical service. the park service contracts with concessionaires to provide shuttle services ….etc…

      there is no reason why a city could not contract with a company to provide uber-like services – and to specify the service areas, who would be served.. and the cost – which would include the provision of phones and EBT subsidies for uber service.

      • I can’t follow even the drift of what you’re arguing here, LarryG — other than the obvious, which is to make fun of BR’s continuing interest in the impact of the transportation revolution brought about by the likes of Uber. What’s the point?

        • my point is that Jim opines this:
          ” Embrace the Uber-Enabled Mass Transit Revolution”
          then says this
          ” If large numbers of people lack smart phones and credit cards, entrepreneurs will find ways to serve them”

          as if Govt is not in the transit business in the first place in part, because the private sector does not serve the lower income communities and traditionally has not

          this is along the lines of Jim wanting regulation for his financial services but saying that the poor should be served by the free market – with payday loans.

          Transit is a subsidized service because of it’s fundamental mission to provide mobility to the public – including the low income and for anyone to think that Transit is going to turn over Transit to uber for Uber to determine what THEY THINK the Transit mission is – and that it won’t include the low income…

          well.. yes.. I’ll poke fun at that.

          If Uber contracts with Govt to provide transit services – does anyone really think that govt is going to toss the low income folks under the bus and then let Uber take the affluent and still claim they’re “transit”?

          Isn’t it more like the Govt will expect and require from Uber a contractual REQUIREMENT to replicate the current Transit mission rather that REDEFINE it to be something different and to jettison service for low income or leave that for Uber to determine?

          I just think Jim’s view of how govt and the free market works or how he thinks it should work – is a little myopic at times and I get amused reading through it because of what I think are obvious lapses- like thinking Govt is going to abandon it’s defined transit mission and turn it over to Uber to redefine and that redefinition may well be to not serve some demographics… while it’s still going to be providing a “public” service…

          I think there is a potential for Uber in transit but it’s going to have to serve the same demographics fairly and equitably and not cherry pick some and abandon others – at least not as a concessionaire for the govt.

          • OK I get this much —

            LarryG, you say, “Transit is a subsidized service because of it’s fundamental mission to provide mobility to the public – including the low income and for anyone to think that Transit is going to turn over Transit to uber for Uber to determine what THEY THINK the Transit mission is – and that it won’t include the low income…”. We agree, that’s a quandary. The same quandary, I submit, as what has made public transit so damnably ineffective in the suburbs today: Fixed routes based on grossly obsolete travel choices serving low density origins/destinations with infrequent, inconvenient service. From the 50s on, shopping centers have not chosen to locate on public transit lines because public transit didn’t matter to most patrons or employees; the same for where people live. The market spoke! Automobiles were dominant — even for low income. So, what’s changed? Millennials don’t want to be tied to the auto; walkability is the buzzword. But they don’t like busses either. Neither do the low incomers whose job opportunities via oldstyle public transit are limited, many of whom spend too much of their income on traditional taxis to get through the day. Is there a public transit model that could better serve these constituencies? Could a market-based one perhaps better address the dysfunctional mess the market has created?

            I don’t know if Uber and its competitors are such a model in every respect, but that model has these advantages:. it goes anywhere an auto can go not just along a fixed route, it comes when you want it not on a fixed schedule, it’s cheaper and more flexible than traditional taxi service (and allows competition to help keep it that way), and it requires no fixed government infrastructure like bus shelters. Now, what’s wrong with that model? As you point out, it depends upon assumed access to credit cards. And more broadly you say, “I think there is a potential for Uber in transit but it’s going to have to serve the same demographics fairly and equitably and not cherry pick some and abandon others – at least not as a concessionaire for the govt.”. Agreed:. these are problems that have to be addressed. In response, I’ll point out, the same means used by today’s public transit to accommodate low income riders — vouchers, tokens, passes, etc. — could be adapted to work with Uber — including limited-purpose debit cards. Since Uber uses variable-charge pricing, vouchers would have to have variable value or be consumed in fixed prepaid increments like cash — hardly an insurmountable obstacle. The more difficult issue, I expect, would be getting Uber drivers to go into dangerous neighborhoods — an issue it seems already to be confronting. So, I’m left with your concern that Uber will decide its services should and will not extend to low income, but no specific reason to believe that’s true.

            Why are you so concerned that a private company will not find a way to perform this service for ALL comers? The government’s transit services are damned poor; that’s a low hurdle to clear, you have to admit. Especially in low density suburbs. Yet your presumption is that the choice is “either/or” with no chance at “both” — you criticise Jim’s viewpoint “because of what I think are obvious lapses- like thinking Govt is going to abandon it’s defined transit mission and turn it over to Uber to redefine and that redefinition may well be to not serve some demographics… .”. No, he never suggested allowing such a thing. If you think that would be the inevitable consequence of contracting out the service, then I agree, that would be a legitimate objection to doing so; but these companies say no. For my part, I see so many advantages to Uber’s and Lyft’s ability to provide diffuse point-to-point service that I’m willing to try an experiment to see if they could uphold their promise of nondiscriminatory service. Do you think that promise is unenforceable? Then put serious teeth in it! As The Trump is fond of saying, “What do you have to lose?”

          • OK I get this much —

            LarryG, you say, “Transit is a subsidized service because of it’s fundamental mission to provide mobility to the public – including the low income and for anyone to think that Transit is going to turn over Transit to uber for Uber to determine what THEY THINK the Transit mission is – and that it won’t include the low income…”. We agree, that’s a quandary. The same quandary, I submit, as what has made public transit so damnably ineffective in the suburbs today: Fixed routes based on grossly obsolete travel choices serving low density origins/destinations with infrequent, inconvenient service. From the 50s on, shopping centers have not chosen to locate on public transit lines because public transit didn’t matter to most patrons or employees; the same for where people live. The market spoke! Automobiles were dominant — even for low income. So, what’s changed? Millennials don’t want to be tied to the auto; walkability is the buzzword. But they don’t like busses either. Neither do the low incomers whose job opportunities via oldstyle public transit are limited, many of whom spend too much of their income on traditional taxis to get through the day. Is there a public transit model that could better serve these constituencies? Could a market-based one perhaps better address the dysfunctional mess the market has created?

            I don’t know if Uber and its competitors are such a model in every respect, but that model has these obvious advantages:. it goes anywhere an auto can go not just along a fixed route, it comes when you want it not on a fixed schedule, it’s cheaper and more flexible than traditional taxi service (and allows competition to help keep it that way), and it requires no fixed government infrastructure like bus shelters. Now, what’s wrong with that model? As you point out, it depends upon assumed access to credit cards. And more broadly you say, “I think there is a potential for Uber in transit but it’s going to have to serve the same demographics fairly and equitably and not cherry pick some and abandon others – at least not as a concessionaire for the govt.”. Agreed:. these are problems that have to be addressed. In response, I’ll point out, the same means used by today’s public transit to accommodate low income riders — vouchers, tokens, passes, etc. — could be adapted to work with Uber — including limited-purpose debit cards. Since Uber uses variable-charge pricing, vouchers would have to have variable value or be consumed in fixed prepaid increments like cash — hardly an insurmountable obstacle. The more difficult issue, I expect, would be getting Uber drivers to go into dangerous neighborhoods — an issue it seems already to be confronting. So, I’m left with your concern that Uber will decide its services should and will not extend to low income, but no specific reason to believe that’s true.

            Why are you so concerned that a private company will not find a way to perform this service for ALL comers? The government’s transit services are damned poor; that’s a low hurdle to clear, you have to admit. Especially in low density suburbs. Yet your presumption is that the choice is “either/or” with no chance at “both” — you criticise Jim’s viewpoint “because of what I think are obvious lapses- like thinking Govt is going to abandon it’s defined transit mission and turn it over to Uber to redefine and that redefinition may well be to not serve some demographics… .”. No, he never suggested allowing such a thing. If you think that would be the inevitable consequence of contracting out the service, then I agree, that would be a legitimate objection to doing so; but these companies say no. For my part, I see so many advantages to Uber’s and Lyft’s ability to provide diffuse point-to-point service that I’m willing to try an experiment to see if they could uphold their promise of nondiscriminatory service. Do you think that promise is unenforceable? Then put serious teeth in it! As The Trump is fond of saying, “What do you have to lose?”

  4. Surely there is a way that the Uber model can help to alleviate the traffic monster currently reeking pain and dysfunction throughout Northern Virginia. In a sprawling dialogue I tried to “summarize” that growing monster in comments to Jim’s article found at:

    baconsrebellion.com/2016/06/uber-ization-a-painless-path-to-density

    Those comments did not get to all the causes, like traffic breeding projects such as the Pentagon, Tysons, regional malls like Potomac Mills that reek such havoc. Perhaps Uber programs focused sharply on more flexible and efficient commuter traffic to these projects is a way to start breaking log jams.

    In any case, I would be shocked if Northern Virginia leaders are not seriously exploring such options, given their failures to date to find alternative solutions.

  5. Uber/Lyft are not mass transit. They are minimal transit – also known as a taxi. Ideally they take the passenger door to door, be it home to work, school, doctor, store – and a return trip. The U.S. has an excess capacity of empty seats in its passenger vehicles. It also has an excess capacity of such vehicles and drivers. At this point in time, this surplus can be tapped – people will drive and expend personal and vehicle capital for less than replacement cost. The deadheading problem of most types of transportation services is difficult to overcome. Although Lyft got me downtown to San Francisco from SFO on a weekday, on the Sunday when I needed to get to the airport, there weren’t many vehicles near my hotel – only one in fact, and he declined to take me. There were cabs in line at the hotel, so Plan B was right there. The Post WW-II suburban settlement pattern was automobile dependent and nothing is going to change that. Every adult in the household must have their own wheels. In the SOV the passenger doubles as the driver. When Mom/Dad/Sibling chauffeurs no longer exist, you drive yourself. One could live in a real city where there are options to hire a ride, walk or engage in dangerous bicycling. Distance did not die with the internet, though it was a fun meme for awhile. If you can’t afford the housing costs of living close to your place of work, then the automobile gives you the option of living where you can afford the rent/payment, and you suck-up the commute time.

    • I agree, there is only so much that the Uber/Lyft revolution can accomplish. There is no substitute for land use reform. I take that as axiomatic, as I have written about the topic voluminously in the past. However, I suppose I should reiterate the point for the benefit of new readers. Thanks for making the point.

  6. Uber transit will be a different service than Uber “taxi” …

    and it may well turn out to be a short experiment if Uber cannot or will not provide dependable and reliable levels of service for specific defined areas and times and demographics that transit currently is explicitly tasked to do.

    Uber’s current business plan does not do that. It’s purely a “at-will” labor pool service that may or may not be available any any time in any place for any demographic – including low income.

    high demand periods and surge pricing or not going to provide affordable service to those not affluent while that is the only true sweet spot of transit… That bus is going to show up on time and have seats… or standing room… for an affordable price.

    If Uber operated that bus under it’s current business model – that bus would be “surge” priced…. the antithesis of it’s core mission.

    Uber Transit – would be a totally different business model than Uber Taxi.

  7. @Acbar – you were right – I did a poor job of explaining and perhaps the following is no better but I did try to be more clear and to not be making fun of Jim’s free market leanings.

    Rather than casting this issue as one in which the free market “finally” gets to “take over/revolutionize” and provide a more efficient and cost effective service that govt has screwed up and done badly (per typical) – the more likely reality is that govt KNOWS transit is messed up and wants to see if they can incorporate some of the better innovations that Uber/Lyft have pioneered to address some of transit’s existing obvious flaws and shortcomings and transform transit into a better service – with this important caveat – without sacrificing or compromising its fundamental core mission of being a provider of mobility for populations that may have less options than the more affluent , rather than re-define transit to essentially prioritize the needs of the more affluent over other “underserved” demographic groups.

    No transit organization worth their salt – nor citizens who value and support transit for serving those of limited means are going to agree to “reinvent” transit in ways that would violate one of its central tenets and essentially abandon the populations of which transit was created in the first place to help serve.

    Perhaps Jim does not subscribe to the idea that Transit has such a defined mission and instead evolved with haphazardly good intentions into something that even the advocates now question.

    Perhaps that’s an argument that Jim would like to make and to challenge the idea that transit was designed to serve those of lesser means or that times have changed and that mission has changed but to think that Uber is going to “revolutionize” (make better) transit by replacing some of Transit’s core purposes with Ubers current for-profit business plan is … pretty ambitious “hopeful” thinking.

    Some Transit operators have “expressed interest” but ultimately it would be up to those operators to decide what tradeoffs they are willing to make and not – as opposed letting Uber/Lyft decide what they think “transit”‘s mission ought to be – in their worldview.

    Not to mention the little “detail” that much of transit funding comes from Federal and State sources and has significant strings attached that probably would not allow transit subsidies to pay for Uber service as currently defined – anyhow.

    Of course if Federal/State transit funding goes away – it’s a different ball game and the local powers that be may not care one iota what the Transit world thinks is Transit’s mission!

    Failing that, What the govt transit operator determines to be the requirements would be incorporated into a contract (like we do with other PPTA agreements) that specifies in detail what the contractor/concessionaire has to provide.

    The transit entities will retain control of the overall service and Uber/lyft would be contractually required to provide specified levels of service per the statement of work. If Uber/lyft refuse to agree or agree but fail to live up to the contract, the whole idea will end up being a failed experiment where it is determined with no real great shock that the current business plan of Uber/Lyft is not compatible with the fundamental mission of transit – unless Uber/Lyft want to further innovate/evolve their current businesses model to the must-meet requirements of the transit model.

    That’s not going to be an easy task given the “at will, will provide service if we have drivers available nature of the current business model and where driver/car shortages then justify – to use Jim’s vernacular – “jacking up their rates”.

    I just don’t think transit providers are going to sign on to doing that kind of service for patrons that are tax-payer subsidized. I could be totally wrong on this point… perhaps we’ll find out.

    It’s never going to be a scenario where the free market takes over transit and shows the govt how to do transit “right” – because “right” for Uber/Lyft may well not “right” for Transit and Transit Authorities are just not going to turn over their mission to a for-profit company to decide how to provide a service that is subsidized – however I will admit that if Uber/Lyft come back with a proposal that says they WILL serve the non-affluent even at rush hour – without surge pricing – that such a proposal would certainly sweeten the pot if folks believe and Uber/Lyft demonstrate they can do it.

    THAT – Would be a Revolution!

    An obvious example of the challenge: Uber surge prices rush hour whilst transit explicitly seeks to provide reliable and predictable service with available seats but keep prices affordable for all and especially those of more limited means – all at peak hour.

    that would seem to be a knotty problem with questions about who gets the govt subsidy …. and who not… for individual Uber rides.

    Can Uber/Lyft – simultaneously – at rush hour – meet the needs of the affluent – and the not affluent with some kind of “surge pricing for the affluent, affordable pricing for the poor” … service model?

    What I’d suspect the more capable transit organizations are likely to do is this:

    Solicit an EOI (Expression of Interest) – – seeking industry input into scoping requirements that will then go back out to market later on with a formal RFP with hard requirements and stipulations.

    In other words – the interested bidders are going to have to provide their ideas of how to meet the needs of the underserved as well as the more affluent at rush hour.

    Perhaps we’ll see a new innovation called an EBT Uber Phones where qualified folks get the equivalent of a pre-paid METRO card in the form of a smart phone that provides the hailing service and auto-pays the uber/lyft driver – seamlessly and that part of their business is what is subsidized by govt while Uber/Lyft are also free to serve customers with their own phones and credit cards with surge pricing.

    At the end of the day – I think the “revolution” is not going to be what Uber and Lyft think transit should be or not – and if transit providers cannot find some agreeable framework with Uber/Lyft – they may choose to go another direction and do their own ride-hailing service with their own software and with their own independent contractors.

    Think of this the way you think of VDOT building roads – you don’t let the private sector companies set standards or determine need or how to meet need – they work off of what VDOT determines to be need and standards.

    • Larry, as usual, you continue to interpret what I write through a framework that assumes that I am a laissez-faire libertarian who wants to eliminate government from every endeavor. That’s simply not the case. I do believe that government falls prey to lassitude, inertia and inefficiency and that its role needs to be continually evaluated, especially in an area like transportation which is undergoing a revolution. As I have laid out through a series of posts:

      (1) Uber-Lyft ride-hailing apps (along with their back-end technology for the geospatial distribution of cars) have revolutionized the “taxi” end of the transportation spectrum and are working their way into the shared-ridership end of the spectrum.

      (2) The driverless car revolution is fast approaching, and will change the economics of transportation by eliminating the significant cost of hiring drivers.

      (3) The Transportation-as-a-Service revolution will make use of driverless cars 24/7 (except for refueling and maintenance). Very big players from , Uber, Google and Tesla to Ford, GM and Mercedes see this as the future of transportation and are investing huge money into making this happen. (Witness GM’s investment in Lyft.) While some people undoubtedly will continue owning their own cars, personal car ownership will come to be regarded as a luxury.

      The confluence of these trends will up-end the way we have conceived of transportation over the past century. A majority of people will either engage transportation services on an as-needed basis (like taxicabs, Uber, or even light rail and buses) or they will subscribe to services that provide a spectrum of transportation options — single cars, shared ridership, mass transit, and even bicycles — which they will access through a single, integrated ap.

      While the entire transportation industry is gearing up for the new transportation future, the public sector is poking along as if nothing is changing. I am NOT saying we need to get rid of public transit. I AM saying that we need to think through the implications of the transportation revolution for mass transit. Furthermore, I am saying that the ultimate goal of government involvement is NOT to operate mass transit but to ensure that the entire population enjoys mobility and access; we should no longer assume that 100-year business models for mass transit are the best model for accomplishing this aim, especially in an era of fiscal stringency. I do NOT presuppose what the role of mass transit will be in the new era. But I DO say we need to begin thinking about these things now before committing billions of dollars to new projects.

      And, by the way, I also think we should be thinking about the implications of the transportation revolution for new road and highway construction. And we should be thinking how the new transportation paradigm will interact with land use patterns. So far, I see none of this conversation occurring in Virginia outside of this blog.

      • Jim – in a problem overwhelmed by complexity and detail, sometimes it is best to try to boil elements of the steaming mess down into individual solutions that might be considered standing alone and/or in tandem.

        Thus assumes that Northern Virginia’s horribly chronic and to date invincible traffic gridlock that is now reaching Armageddon proportions is as it is generally described in your article and comments below that article found at:

        baconsrebellion.com/2016/06/uber-ization-a-painless-path-to-density

        Assume that one problem is single driver cars. Assume that massive fleets of single driver cars are horribly compounded by nodes of land uses that daily whip up Northern Virginia’s traffic into Prefect Storms. Assume however that density of habitation is always tricky.

        For example, a single space in an urban high rise residential complex might turn over 150 parking spaces an average of .5 times daily (half don’t turn over at all).

        But a regional mall might on average turn over each of its 5000 parking spaces 20 times daily throughout the day.

        While the Pentagon turns over say 10,000 parking spaces twice a day, filled early each morning, emptied at dusk.

        An office / commercial city across four bridges over a river sucks traffic in and out of Northern Virginia like a billows sucking and blowing all day. And that so does an all office city (Tyson’s corner) and its midget twin (the Exxon Site) that both sit smack dab in the middle of the stewing traffic mess in Northern Virginia, while Dulles Airport mainlines traffic like heroin into the stewing mess from its perimeter location atop the Dulles Toll Road.

        So “Traffic experts” here got five problems and one solution.

        Let’s forget for now about our one solution, the convenient high or mid rise residential complex that we need more of.

        No, lets work for now on what to do about the single occupant cars that originate from distant residential sprawl suburbs and that are most every day sucked into and spewed out through inner Northern Virginia on their way to and from:

        1/ the Pentagon,
        2/ the regional mall Potomac Mills on I-95,
        3/ the big commercial/office city called DC across the River,
        4/ the all office and regional mall complex city named Tyson’s Corner,
        5/ Tyson’s midget sister the Exxon Site that like Tyson’s Corner squats like a tumor smack dab in the middle of the stewing mess, and
        6/ the traffic super breeder Dulles Airport that pumps poison in and out from the stew pot’s rim every day all day long,

        Nor will we here mention as a problem the huge volume of north south interstate traffic from Maine to Florida that unbelievably most all of our biggest gridlock roads in Northern Virginia were built to serve.

        So how can we boil all this down into Uber solutions in lieu of draconian police state tolls that the “traffic Experts” now want to inflict on the driving public trying to get to work or buy milk for their kids?

        • Reed, I doubt any planner, whether working for the government, a private sector developer or even Uber, could tell you at this point how Uber solutions can substitute for current transportation policies. There is too much imperfect knowledge and way too many complexities. The only way to find a solution is an iterative process of trial, error, and recalibration. Who is best positioned to oversee such a process — a centralized system dominated by the experts in the Virginia Secretariat of Transportation or a decentralized system dominated by entrepreneurs? I’ll lay my money on the second approach.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            So would I.

            And in that 2nd scenario of yours, I would also bet that the chances of one or more positive impacts in significant ways and degrees would likely over time ripple for cumulative and positive affect throughout the entire transportation system in the DC region. And that, in so doing , those ripples would likely combine with, and lead to, numerous other innovations, including some of those that you mentioned in your above comments and article.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            PS – Likely Northern Virginia has reached a point where solutions are most likely found not in more concrete and tolls but in software driving more and more very smart, very flexible, and highly efficient vehicles that serve at one time small groups of people 24/7.

          • actually not. You do not turn over to the private sector to “solve” or “fix’ – something the private sector has had no interest in to start with.

            what you are advocating is take a private sector approach to taxis and let them “fix” transit …

            if they want to “fix” transit – let them do it without any connections to govt what-so-ever.

            let them put up what they want to call transit and let’s see if it outcompetes transit and renders it obsolete.

            My bet is that they’r no more going to genuinely serve the interests of the poor than pay day loan folks are but again – no one is holding them back except the fact that the poor are not going to be able to pay more for mobility than they are now unless it provides them something that benefits them more than now.

            this is like most ideological claims that the “market” is “better”.

            Here’s the essential difference.

            You have to decide what you are trying to achieve – for low income mobility IF it’s something the market will not do.

            Turning that over to the market to figure out won’t solve the problem of affordable mobility for low income if the market is selling mobility for the highest price it can fetch.

            this is where the ideologues just get stupid about common sense concepts.

            Does one REALLY believe that the free market will better serve the interests of low income than the government?

            that’s a juicy question worthy of debate.. no?

            do payday loans “help” the poor if they end up worse off than before? do the poor have better mobility if mobility costs more than before?

          • re: ” I doubt any planner, whether working for the government, a private sector developer or even Uber, could tell you at this point how Uber solutions can substitute for current transportation policies.”

            Normally – when you solve problems – you come up with a list of the deficiencies – and then you start looking at the range of things that could provide solutions to them.

            You don’t destroy the existing flawed system on the premise that does not provide any solutions anyhow.

            that’s kind of bass ackwards to any sane and rational approach to improving (rather than vandalizing) existing systems with known problems but far from total failure.

            the big flaw in this thinking is in the idea that , in this case , that not only is traditional transit flawed -but it is so much so – that it provides no benefit at all.. and should be completely dismantled, removed from the govt and tossed to non-govt actors to solve – without a list of what things you actually want to achieve , to solve.

            Instead – the “solution” becomes ..whatever Uber comes up with…. it’s by definition a free market solution that does not require the govt nor a subsidy.

            correct?

            just to be fair, let me repeat the quote;

            ” I doubt any planner, whether working for the government, a private sector developer or even Uber, could tell you at this point how Uber solutions can substitute for current transportation policies.

            The only way to find a solution is an iterative process of trial, error, and recalibration. Who is best positioned to oversee such a process — a centralized system dominated by the experts in the Virginia Secretariat of Transportation or a decentralized system dominated by entrepreneurs? I’ll lay my money on the second approach.”

            correct?

            so you are expecting Uber to develop the solution to affordable mobility for the low income?

            I’m truly trying to be fair here. Am I saying something wrong or different from your intent?

    • LarryG, for technical reasons beyond my understanding or control, your late-morning comments above did not download on my screen until AFTER I posted my response above — which you and Jim have both largely anticipated! And we’re still talking — may it continue. Now, as to government prescription meets market forces, I still maintain, government planned bus lines (which in Richmond largely follow streetcar routes from the 1920s and stop at 1940s political boundaries) are a lousy way to get low income people to jobs! How could Uber not do better.

      • re: ” How could Uber not do better.”

        if you read all my comments and still as the question… oh vey!

        Uber uses surge pricing to respond to demand. Is surge pricing “better” for low income folks than traditional transit?

        If you truly think so…we might talk about it.

        are you willing to use tax dollars to subsidize surge pricing for low income as a better way than transit?

  8. well… better.. 😉

    I don’t see autonomous vehicles co-existing on the same roadways as people -driven vehicles anytime soon… I would equate the current activity to the initial -internet boom/bust because it was premature.

    For instance grocery shopping online and delivery was one of the earlier envisioned “big” ideas that flopped and now is coming back but at far slower pace than originally believed.

    Autonomous vehicles are conceived and programmed as to how the designers THINK people SHOULD drive not the insane ways they actually do and that’s always going to be a problem because too many humans are going to universally treat autonomous vehicles as “stupid grandpa” cars. Right now today – people will pass me at 70 mph and cut back in front to make the exit – at the same time the guy on my right is also headed for the same exit!!

    I don’t see how you “program” a car to “sense” that the guy on your left is behaving in a way that you SUSPECT he is going to do that – and get off your accelerator… just in case.. I can just see all kinds of interactions like this that remind me of what I see on caught on car crash cams….

    It’s gonna happen – but not as fast as some folks think.

    but what I have reacted to sometimes in some of your posts is the idea that in general the poor are better served by the free market than by the govt whether it’s payday loans or health care or education or Uber Transit.. but at the same time -you want govt to protect your interests in health care, long term care insurance, settlement patterns…. 401Ks…college tuition, etc.

    is that a fair representation of your view? Unfair? Needs clarification?

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