Renting cars and driving around town simply doesn’t pencil out.
Despite being situated in a roomy part of Burbank, a hotel I just visited charges $35 per night for parking.
Luckily, I give airport rental counters the widest possible berth — a choice which is mainly about saving time for me. As a writer who’s not prone to motion sickness, I’m fully productive in the back seat of a Lyft or UberX. This means every avoided hour of driving is an extra hour of sleep, fun, or (all too often) work. I always kind of assumed this made good economic sense too. But I never bothered to run the numbers on it.
Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have earned praise for serving minority neighborhoods that old-school taxis often shunned. Now a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that Uber and Lyft can also discriminate against African American riders and women (Bloomberg).
Professors at MIT, Stanford, and the University of Washington collected data in Seattle and Boston and found that black Uber users had to wait longer for rides and got cancelled more frequently. (Lyft drivers see riders’ names and pictures before they accept a fare, whereas Uber’s drivers don’t.) Women riders in Boston were given longer rides and higher fares than male riders headed to the same destination.
High rents close doors. In the 1950s, urban planners thought we had to disperse big-city populations to suburbia to protect them from nuclear attack. Then they assumed traffic and inner-city decay would drive people out to “edge cities.” Then they imagined that telecommuting would empty out downtowns. Instead, of course, we have watched as towns like San Francisco and New York turn into “imperial cities” so popular that most of us can’t afford to live there (The New Yorker). Such cities are no longer where you go to make it, but rather where you go once you’ve made it. More housing would help, but it takes a daunting amount to put a dent in sky-high rents. Yes, entrepreneurs and job-seekers will spread out over time to a broader range of regional centers — but that’s a slow process. The failures of foresight of previous generations of planners suggest how hard it is to intervene and remedy such problems. But it’s tough to sit back and do nothing while our cities, once drivers of opportunity, turn into engines of inequality.
Google’s Waze will turbocharge carpooling. Remember when people called Uber and Lyft “ride-sharing services” with a straight face? Both companies, of course, turned out to be more about ride-hailing — they were new-model, distributed taxi services, and despite efforts like Lift Line, that’s mostly what they’ve remained. Now it looks Google will take a run at a true ride-share offering beginning this fall (The Wall Street Journal). Through Waze, its real-time route-finder, it will help users connect with drivers who are already going their way, and charge them fees that are more like “chipping in for gas” than taxi fares. Uber and Lyft, presumably, won’t stand still. This whole business of using our phones and networks to better organize how we get places still has plenty of twists and turns before we figure it all out.
Austin Voters to Ride-Hailing Services: Hold Your Horses On Saturday, voters in Austin decided that ride-hailing services need to have the same fingerprint-based background-check services as taxis. As a result, Uber and Lyft are threatening to leave town. As of this morning, both services have suspended operations in the Texas state capital, with second-tier players trying to rush in. It was an expensive defeat: the two companies spent nearly $9 million in Austin’s most expensive local campaign ever, by a factor of seven. Austin’s mayor is tweeting olive branches, with no word yet from the two companies, who claim the requirement make their businesses untenable. Next stop for the companies’ our-way-or-the-highway tour: Houston, which has a similar rule.
The Secrets Behind Our Most Secretive Company BuzzFeed’s William Alden has been through a cache of internal documents from Palantir and discovered that “Silicon Valley’s most secretive company” is both larger than you might think and more wobbly. Its data-analysis deals with companies top $1 million per month each; BP, just one client, in 2014 signed a 10-year deal worth more than $1.2 billion. Alden’s research reveals frustrated clients (three marquee names gone over the past year), key staff departures (turnover this year is expected to hit 20%), and trouble collecting its premium fees (slides and an audio recording from a February presentation suggest 75% of what it’s billed remain uncollected). The most vivid response to the report comes from company cofounder Joe Lonsdale, who wrote on Quora, addressing a few of the specific points in the article and said the article’s “self-congratulatory and negative” tone “is to be expected in the low-paid clickbait environment where some in the media are jealous of the growing and healthy parts of the technology economy.”