October 27, 2013

Rideshare - The Double Standard

So as an Architecture major, I have a special interest city planning and policy. A few months back, I had to sit in on a few meetings held by the San Francisco. It had several issues to deal with. The big elephant in the room was the prohibition of over sized vehicular parking and the even bigger elephant: ride sharing.

The San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority takes a great interest in making sure that all of the day to day issues that plague the city in terms of traffic and transit problems are met and resolved. But sitting there before the committee, was the main issue of the over sized vehicular parking and then public comment. I was sort of surprised that the director of the cab union or whatever it is was there personally to speak against the growing emergence of ride share in the city. Calling them un-regulated cabs basically.

Now here was an interesting point that I had never considered in the first place. That with all of the ads for lyft and side car and all sorts of ride share companies that I kind of forgot who this was really affecting. Cab companies and possibly the safety of the common Bay Area dweller. In my mind, the ride share system sat alone as possibly the savior and beacon for a growing future. I realize now that it's not.

As much as the mentality of we are looking out for our fellow brethren speaks out in San Francisco, I can't help but think back to those ads on Spotify saying Lyft drivers make up to thirty five dollars an hour. Here is were the word ride share is dirtied, sullied and basically almost ignored. This one company, and the myriad of others has done nothing more than added extra cabs onto the street. These cabs however aren't available to the public by just raising your hand in the air as if you were hailing a normal cab, to get a ride on these pink-mustachioed vehicles need to have a smart phone before hand as well as having the app to go along with it. The Lyft app gets you cars from Lyft, sidecar from sidecar drivers, and so on.

The bandy way of getting a cab albeit quick and simple to use is unregulated. Drivers are suddenly put into the responsibilities of their own life, the lives of their passengers and the safety of their car. I'm not saying most people don't have the insurance to cover all that, but with the costs and the way this nation is moving, more and more people are borrowing cars than owning one. Possibly with the sobriquet of "Norman No-surance". So do you know if you are in an insured vehicle whenever you have one of these stop in front of your house to take you to the airport?

Another thing the San Francisco cab fleet is required to do under the watchful eyes of the MTA is keep up with safety regulations. Is the car safe to be put into active service? If not and it breaks down, we can tow it to one of our garages and get it running again. I'm almost certain (since i'm not an investigative journalist) that the burden of the wear and tear on vehicles falls onto the shoulders of the drivers themselves. Or, if the car is running, but stuck with a deferred maintenance.

One of the reasons that the US Army was far more mobile than the German army during the second world war was every American soldier's ability to repair a vehicle. Up until that point, most families owned at least one car and back then was a simple enough time that someone could easily fix one with the right amount of mechanical prowess. Since the advent of OCS in cars in the mid to late eighties, cars have become even more complicated, almost requiring a masters degree to solve. Now, they're at the point where everything is covered in plastic with the assurance of: if it goes wrong, just bring it in and someone else will take care of it for you. You wouldn't believe the number of cars I've driven in the last 10 months that have had a severe amount of deferred maintenance on them. Dents, poor tire balance, broken seats, non-functioning controls. What keeps a person who treats their car as a purse with wheels or a demolition derby entrant from driving people to and from their destinations?

Taxi medallions aren't cheap. My uncle owns one. It certainly isn't a small investment for that matter. The city and county regulates the number of medallions that exist at any time. Naturally, medallions can only be afforded by major companies or people who could afford one. So now the Lyft gets around all of this by not requiring the medallion at all and not putting its drivers up to the same stringent requirements that all taxi drivers must follow.

Though, I'm pretty sure, of all of the cabs i've been in, not many of them have upheld the highest standards of traffic law. The cab companies when they argued their case of "regulate the unregulated" or else we deregulate need to take a lesson from this experience. For them to survive in this new era, they need to come up with a similar user interface to survive. The cab companies, if they come together, they can come up with an app that unifies all companies, based on consumer location rather than competition among each other. For them to survive, they need to fight the ride share together.

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