Uber, COVID And The Future Of Public-Private Partnerships

For example, Pittsburgh has been less than happy before with its relationship with Uber.

"They currently operate as if they have been given carte blanche access to our city," Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb wrote, per a transcript of the letter published at WPXI.com. "At Uber's request, the city of Pittsburgh has opened its streets to a fleet of data-collecting robotic vehicles. This is much more than ride sharing. These vehicles are capable of collecting endless amounts of data about our city. Who owns that data?"

In some areas (Denver is one example), people view it as a way to reduce investment in public transportation. It is clear that once you give firms the ability to do that, the outcomes will be governed by market considerations. The NY Times had a longer op-ed about that last year, "How Uber Hopes to Profit From Public Transit."

"But by reducing the cost of individual rides, Uber and Lyft also draw a privileged subset of passengers away from public transit systems. That, in turn, undermines support for public transportation… Researchers have also found that ride-hailing tends to make cities more congested and polluted, not less. Alejandro Henao of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who drove for Uber and Lyft as part of his research, showed that in Denver, ride-hailing was responsible for an 83 percent increase in the miles that would otherwise have been traveled by car. Much of that increase came from ‘deadheading,’ or driving in search of the next fare. As Mr. Henao puts it, Uber may be reducing the public-transit base without providing enough services ‘to make up for that negative effect.’"

There are many questions, such as, how do we make the market competitive enough so one firm cannot win and take the city hostage? I am also not sure that public transportation is the solution to every area (particularly areas that are not very dense), but how do we make sure that we optimize for the long term and not only the short term? Finally, there is an issue of equity here. How do you ensure that these firms continue to serve low-income neighborhoods or cater to the elderly, non-English speakers, or people with disabilities? Of course, the regulator can do that, but it's harder and harder to find active regulators.

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Harry Goldstein 1 year ago Member's comment

Good article, looking forward to your next one.