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Uber's predatory pricing is undermining public transit and density (humantransit.org)
217 points by erispoe on Dec 16, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 229 comments

The bigger issue is that city planners building public transit systems don't have the same interests as commuters. Inevitably they want to use public transit as an instrument for various social policies.

Commuters just want to get to work reliably and they'd like a seat. And they'd like to have a minimum of screening so that they don't have to deal with people with severe mental issues on the way to work.

In Toronto they've gone as far as launching a crowdfunded bus route, which the city had an icy response too. It had to shut down because of legal uncertainties.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/crowd-funded-bus-takes... http://toronto.ctvnews.ca/sorry-toronto-commuters-liberty-vi...

So I think the big problem with transit is that people in city gov refuse to recognise that commuters desires are perfectly reasonable. If the city won't provide them options then they should at least make sure there aren't legal issues with private providers.

> Inevitably they want to use public transit as an instrument for various social policies.

Yes, "social policies" like transit that's accessible to the disabled, elderly, and poor. Would you prefer planning that tells those people to stay at home where we can pretend they don't exist?

> "minimum of screening so that they don't have to deal with people with severe mental issues"

What kind of "screening process" do you want? What's your test?

> people in city gov refuse to recognize that commuters desires are perfectly reasonable

Sure, maybe you can twist your desire for fewer people with "mental issues" to be 'reasonable', but your disgust for them doesn't make good policy. It's not impossible to build transit for everyone; for both commuters, and for the poor, disabled or elderly. As long as people like you can stand to be on the bus with people who are different than you.

>What's your test?

Please go stand at the base of an escalator into Civic Center Station on a warm summer day when it hasn't rained for a while, and take some deep breaths.

I refuse to be ashamed of my desire to avoid inhaling other people's piss and shit on a daily basis.

This country isn't ready for public space. We have too much work to do, to care for the people who will reliably show up to public space they have access to and turn them into urine-soaked, beggar-laden wasteland, before we can reasonably be indignant at the desire to avoid spending time in public space.

Like public bathrooms, for one thing. What must SF spend on its (futile) attempts to keep stations clean? Surely that could fund one public bathroom somewhere in the city to redirect some of the mess.

San Francisco is almost unique in this. Of the entire set of cities in the world I have seen, none have a problem like this on a comparable scale. Perhaps it's more useful to ask what led to this situation in this one city, and look for constructive things to do to remedy it. It's certainly possible to have open, public transit that is clean and functional.

Walk around Berlin right now and count how many "screening" checkpoints their are in the train stations. Spoiler: there aren't even doors on all the entrances. Somehow, as if by magic, trains are clean and run on time. The strongest smell is from the food vendors in the attached mall.

Civil services are possible.

And they certainly don't require any draconian "screening" processes.

>Walk around Berlin right now

Transit policy can't create the Berlin transit system.

Germany got it by building the constellation of welfare, social services, healthcare, eduction, labor laws, and tenant protection that keeps people's lives on track (or puts them back) long before they've fallen to the point of shitting into subway escalators.

The American electorate is quite far from even wanting these things. It's going to be a long climb to get them implemented and working. We will not be preventing destitution anytime soon, and the shit on the streets of temperate, tolerant cities like SF is going to get far, far worse before it gets better.

You're effectively asking to limit the incentives for people to work on these problems.

Do you think Bay Area commuters are not liberal enough, and would become more liberal after breathing in enough piss?

The barriers to these policies do not appear to come from insufficently motivated city dwellers, but from rural areas and small towns.

And maybe from people who have such extreme wealth that they can walk to work.

I don't pretend to have a solution to your problems, i merely point a problem in your solution.

Also the fact that your society grows a divide such that basic health concerns can't be solved démocratically sounds like a root cause to your piss problem.

San Francisco is almost unique in this

So when are you flying to Austin? I'd like to, among other things take you on a trip to 7th and Red River, and provide you with an oral history of (also among other things) CapMetro, Metrorail and the numerous mass transit solutions shot down by the voters who THEMSELVES called for a referendum vote on options for mass transit.


Or we can go to a little town called Spartanburg South Carolina. Or I could tell you the tale of Indianapolis' almost hilariously doomed transit improvement efforts in the 90's (hilariously in the way it happened, not that it happened so much all).

My point: SF isn't unique in this regard. Not by a long shot. Their problems may be exacerbated by many other compounding factors comparatively with other cities...but I agree with the comment you've replied to: here are built in logic ladders constructed over years of subtle social conditioning and assumptions made about the cross section of mass transit and public service that make for some interesting outcomes at the municipal level.

See also: MARTA.

I concede then. It's not unique (and indeed, Austin is absent from my experiences).

I like the way you phrase this though: "logic ladders" of "years of social conditioning and assumptions". There are a lot of odd assumptions about mass transit and public service floating around.

> Walk around Berlin right now and count how many "screening" checkpoints their are in the train stations. Spoiler: there aren't even doors on all the entrances. Somehow, as if by magic, trains are clean and run on time. The strongest smell is from the food vendors in the attached mall.

Times have changed!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Zoologischer_Garten_rai... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christiane_F._%E2%80%93_We_Chi...

"Cinematography is bleak and dreary, depicting a dilapidated, working-class Berlin with rundown structures and dirty, blighted backdrops. Modern Berlin is very different and most of the landmarks from the movie (the station, the Bülow street stalls, the Sound discothèque) have either been demolished or completely remodeled."

"Most of the extras at the railway station and at the Sound club were actual junkies, prostitutes and low-lifes rounded up by producers just for the crowd scenes. In the scene where Christiane runs through the alleys of the station to find Babsi, the camera lingers on several terminal junkies leaning against the walls of the underpass. In a 2011 interview, Thomas Haustein, who plays Detlev and was still in school at the time, recalls how terrified he felt being surrounded by all those real-life addicts, but that he was able to successfully copy their behaviour for his character."

I was at the Zoologischer Garten station last night.

Not much to say except frankly it's far cleaner than the SF trains the GP is talking about. (I was also in SF civic center station less than two months ago, and thus feel qualified to make this statement as a first person observer.)

Berlin certainly has its own aesthetic. Berliners seem to take graffiti incredibly seriously, for example (lettering three stories high on the top floors of a 15 story building? "Sure, why not" is apparently the thinking). But hordes of junkies? Do I feel in danger? Absolutely not.

Berlin certainly has its own share of moments where things can get a bit edgy.

Sure. Most places of earth, you can say that about. But let's make sure we're anchoring things well and not moving the goalposts: the comment I was responding to claims that "most" of the people in the area are "actual junkies". To that, I say "no" and "bullocks".

Yea, Berlin was different in 1981 during the cold war where it was, for all intents and purposes, completely landlocked within East Germany and was economically stagnant.

The DB, while not my favorite train system in the world, runs extremely well.

You (quite reasonably) don't want homeless people to piss in public, and you recognize that they don't have anywhere else to piss. I'm not clear why "therefore, give them a better place to piss" isn't your first demand, instead a distant second after "therefore, illegalize homeless people." (Which you know very well is the only possible result of banning people from public spaces who don't have any access to private spaces.)

I am not suggesting that we exclude the homeless from public space, but that we allow everyone else to continue using modes that provide more separation from our broken society while society gets its house in order.

Is it going to happen though, if people are separated enough to not even notice?

It seems a runaway process. As people get more and more unequal, it becomes easier for them to put up walls in the society than trying to fix it.

You are also right though, that it doesn't make sense to put it all on the commuters. At least they are not avoiding society entirely.

So you're advocating instituting social apartheid ?

Apartheid is specifically a policy of racial segregation, which has nothing to do with this.

I do advocate a system of segregation from other people's urine, not exactly a protected class (who opposes the use of toilets?), and from each other more generally... what are apartments for, after all, if not to keep us apart? I'm proud to say that I voted in this election for as much apart-ness (i.e. as many apartments) as possible. In fact, since I consider this to be a step towards ending homelessness (by building enough housing for everyone) you could say I am even an agent of the eradication of an entire social group!

EDIT: Yeah, that's a bit flippant. But I do believe people are entitled to choose the company they keep. That applies at rest: everyone should be able to have their own apartment, a space where they decide who gets to come in and who doesn't. It also applies in transit: personal vehicles are best (though bicycles, motorcycles, and scooters are probably better than cars, at least in the Bay Area, because the climate is hospitable and space is at a premium). On public transit, we have an obligation to minimize unwanted interaction: uninvited conversation, physical contact, eye contact, and phone speaker music are all (rightly) taboo. Public transit systems should strive to provide everyone with a forward facing seat so that they are not touching or staring at anyone else.

When people do not follow these rules, and instead insert their presence loudly (i.e. by smell), I do think it's better to go around the problem by taking other forms of transportation, than to muddle through and develop resentment, or grow supportive of police violence to shove the problem away (I've been catching myself sympathizing with this). Abandoning public transit seems like the least shitty approach to the people who make it intolerable.

It is indeed, hence social apartheid, which is segregation on the basis of class or economic status. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_apartheid

Apartheid is a top-down system, where segregation is mandated. What he is suggesting is the bottom-up approach, where people can segregate themselves if they want to.

Although in practice this still produces segregation on a large scale, as in e.g. "white flight" in US. But then again, attempts to counter such things by forcing people together - like forced busing - didn't exactly work well.

Get over yourself.

SF has public bathrooms[0]. SF public places still often stink (and yes, in vicinity of those too). And by stink I mean eye-watering. And apparently the public ones share the problem[1].

[0] https://localwiki.org/sf/Restrooms

[1] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/nevius/article/It-s-time-to-ra...

I think these links are better support for SF not having public bathrooms.

In EU, you have to pay to enter a public bathroom. But as return, the bathroom is kept clean (or at least that is the idea).

I read a story the other day how restaurants allowed free bathroom usage to tourists in Germany. This was paid by city council, and allows for a more pleasant stay of tourists. So they like to come and/or return. Word of mouth works.

The links say there are 25 of these restrooms in a city of over 850,000 people. That's about 1 per 34,000 people. They are described in the second link as being unreliable and gross, and people are suggested to avoid them in favor of private restrooms. This is not functionally different from not having public restrooms.

I believe that in California, businesses are required by law to allow people to use restrooms, but they try to avoid compliance and do whatever they can to keep homeless people away.

I don't think it's a fair calculation. SF is not uniform, neither is population, neither are locations of people that need public bathrooms. So just dividing number of citizens in the whole city to number of public bathrooms makes little sense. Center where population traffic is stronger and where there are usually more people needing those services should have more, while remote purely residential neighborhoods may not need them at all.

> I believe that in California, businesses are required by law to allow people to use restrooms,

They do, and I myself used them many times, but for a person who is looking, as said in parallel thread, "sketchy" and may have some trouble expressing themselves, it may be a different story. The reluctance of the establishments is also understandable - if the person makes a mess there, somebody will have to clean up, and odds are nobody but the person behind the counter getting minimum wage is there to do it. So, their reluctance to allow somebody who, in their opinion, is likely to make a mess to use their facilities is not hard to understand, IMHO.

> like transit that's accessible to the disabled, elderly, and poor.

Very much this!

I don't like public transport, I don't like having to deal with other people when I travel, but I like Uber and private transport even less.

If you leave people alone to decide of their own "best", they will certainly destroy community as a whole.

What's my solution?

I walk when I can, I use car sharing/pooling when I can't walk, I use public transport when the first two solutions are unavailable.

I also dislike private car pooling companies, I think they should be public because the goal has to be to give people choices, without harming the community, not making some startup take over our transport infrastructure.

We have here a bunch of people complaining who have been pushed down the social strata. Instead of not being able to afford their own car or request a luxury class taxi, they now have to exist in the lowest tier. They don't like that, and, they now want, effectively, to elevate themselves above the people who have to piss in a subway station by banning them.

At a Christmas party that I went to with several people who have way more money than almost any of you, a wife of a Boeing executive referred to you complainers as "transit trash". She looks at you as you are looking at these problem people.

When assigning blame, if you aren't looking upwards to those exerting vast amounts of power, then you are probably the problem.

I made sure to call out this woman's trash talk and embarrass her. If you have power you are supposed to be kind to those below you. Without that graciousness you expose yourself as being afraid that you'll be assigned to a lower social strata. (And I take the wholesale disappearance of that graciousness in American politics as a harbinger of American decline.)

I haven't been to SF so don't know if the subway has toilets in it. It's said that you can judge the civilisation of a city by how available toilets are.

In Taipei the metro stations all have toilets in them. In London very few stations rarely have toilets. Of course, this is comparing an new to an old system. If the SF system has no toilets then maybe this would explain things ?

> Yes, "social policies" like transit that's accessible to the disabled, elderly, and poor. Would you prefer planning that tells those people to stay at home where we can pretend they don't exist?

This is one of the reasons why there's 1st and 2nd class train wagons. If you don't want to sit with "the plebs", get a more expensive ticket and go 1st class together with the other travellers in suit.

This does not exist for busses AFAIK. Although one could walk, rent a bus, rent a car, carpool, or grab a taxi (renting a train(wagon) is actually also possible in some countries/regions).

I don't want to ride public transport with crazy people or people that want to beg me for money or even just people that have bad hygiene or talk loudly or listen to music without headphones. Why is that unreasonable? Oh and I'd also not be waiting in the hot sun or the freezing cold for a bus that may or may not arrive on time. Then, I get to take a tour of the city while the bus stops every two minutes rather than going directly to where I need to go.

Ever been from Newark Airport to midtown Manhattan? You have to take a shuttle "train" to the PATH or NY Transit, then ride that into the City, then walk a dozen blocks or wait on a crosstown bus and then another bus.

Public transit has its use, but I generally hate it except in rare situations like Zurich or Berlin.

As far as the disabled and elderly, interesting you mention that! How many subway stations in NYC are wheelchair accessible -- how many of those actually have functioning elevators? Of those, how many of those elevators don't smell like a homeless urinal? Very, very few stations in NYC are accessible and all of them are dirty.

Public transport would be great if I didn't have to share it with the public.

Have you spent much time in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, or Taipei? In all of these cities, public transit doesn't just "have its uses," its the primary way of getting around the city for the vast majority of residents. This isn't about social policy. These cities span the entire range of social policies.

All it takes is a government dedicated to building a comprehensive, functional, and intelligently designed transit system. There are still crazy people on the subway in Shanghai. But because its the best way to get around the city, everyone takes the subway. So maybe you see a beggar or a homeless person every couple of days, much like you would when you're out walking around.

The problem we get in most American cities is that the transit systems are terrible, so anyone who can afford to drive takes their car, and transit systems end up existing only for people who don't have any other options.

So you decide to take the bus one day, and everyone else on the bus is either homeless or crazy, and the bus has to take some ridiculous route to pick up enough people to justify its continued existence. So you never take the bus again, because it was unpleasant and wasted your time. Now we've gotten into a vicious cycle where the awfulness of the system ensures that it will continue to get ever worse.

This was a long rant, but what I'm trying to say is that public transit isn't inevitably broken, as many of the world's most successful cities demonstrate. It just can't be half-assed, and it feels like we've half-assed it in most of the US.

Thank you for saying what so many people keep to themselves.

I'm kind of punk so I'm into all that dirty stuff.


Why? He's being honest about what he wants. He's not demanding it, just expressing a preference. He's also expressing that the public transit system is a complete mess. I'm in Japan at the moment, and I can't help but agree - it's clean, fast, the trains come exactly when they say they will, and everything connects to everything else. It's wonderful, and I wish we had a system like this for ourselves in the US.

From the grandparent:

"Public transit has its use, but I generally hate it except in rare situations like Zurich or Berlin."

From the parent:

"I'm in Japan at the moment, and I can't help but agree - it's clean, fast, the trains come exactly when they say they will"

This: (how nice (insert public service here) is in CH/nordic/germany/japan) compared to the United States is always submitted as some kind of perplexing accident - like only some weird burst of cosmic rays could possibly explain why, for instance, polite behaviors on buses are so much better in Tokyo than they are in Cleveland.

But it's not confusing or strange at all: a homogenous society is easy to make work.

Oh, you have a whole city full of Lars Larsons and Handt Hansons ? Why, however do you make such a place work ? How amazing that everything comes together just so and there is no animosity between net tax payers and net tax receivers.

Well, of course there isn't. It's easy to work and live together with people and provide funding for their social benefit when their name is John Johnsson just like yours is.

The US is not easy. It's not an easy place. We have interesting problems that are going to be harder to figure out than pedantically pointing at the nordic countries.

On the other hand, we invented jazz and stuck a flag on the moon, so we've got that going for us - which is nice.

> But it's not confusing or strange at all: a homogenous society is easy to make work.

What has being a homogeneous society to do with building a proper public transport system? Maybe you could argue that having only "John Johnssons" makes being nice to each other easier, but it's not a necessary condition for making a decent schedule or building trains.

Besides, Berlin has probably the least homogeneous population of all of Germany.

> On the other hand, we invented jazz and stuck a flag on the moon, so we've got that going for us - which is nice.

Resting on one's past laurels won't help solving today's problems. How well did that work out for the Roman Empire? Case in point: The US actually lost its ability to send a person to space, and hasn't been able to send people to the Moon for 44 years now.

"What has being a homogeneous society to do with building a proper public transport system?"

A public transport system is a very expensive public good that needs to be paid for by everyone for the good of everyone.

Like fully socialized medicine, that is easy to pay for when you self-identify with the recipients. That's what I mean by the Handt Hansons working together with the John Johnssons. Or the Hiro Nakamuras.

The United States' diversity predates our development of these things - unlike trains and welfare in Zurich[1] and Berlin - all of which predate their diversity. Yes, I have been to Berlin and had a doner kebob. How many doner kebobs were for sale in 1902, when the U-Bahn opened ?

"Resting on one's past laurels won't help solving today's problems."

Agreed. I just wanted to make a caddyshack joke.

[1] And honestly, while Zurich is very diverse on paper, almost all of those foreign born residents of Zurich have one very important thing in common - they have very high incomes and are quite wealthy.

The median income is $4000 in Switzerland. What matters is that they have less income inequality and a good welfare safety net. When you let people with mental illness become homeless because everyone should fend for themselves, of course they're gonna occupy and piss where they can. When you help them become productive members of society, they don't. That's quite simple and has nothing to do with ethnicity like you're trying to imply.

Switzerland has some "fend for yourself" dimension where stuff like health insurance or childcare is largely private (and expensive), but they have a super strong safety net too. You are never being let down to the point that you have no choice but to be homeless.

When the bulk of the Berlin transit system was built, the city had the diversity of New Hampshire, and was being run by autocratic governments that were big on central planning and large public works projects.

The last autocratic government in Berlin threw the towel 26 years ago. I'm pretty sure that not everything stayed totally static since then.

Besides, central planning and large public works projects might actually be a good approach when it comes to the public transport of a large city.

This is silly, there are plenty of counterexamples. See Santiago, Chile and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for examples of large multi-ethnic cities with efficient, safe, and clean public transportation systems.

This is specious reasoning at best unless you've done an exhaustive study of all public transportation.

Chile is culturally homogenous isn't it? Ethnic background of its population varies, but they're already all Chileans today.

To give you a counter-example, Stockholm/Sweden is more multi-cultural and multi-ethnic than some US cities/states. And they have great public transit.

Have you been to Berlin? It's not hard to believe that the modern kebab was invented there.

Our problems aren't much more difficult because we are so diverse they are so difficult because we are shortsighted, greedy, and stupid.

Americans privileged by circumstances and by virtue of excellent resources material and financial are no longer good at much other tech and war.

Signed, An American

This is very ignorant, Switzerland 's foreign population is over 20%, in a city like Zurich it's a third.


Berlin is one of the LEAST homogenous cities in Europe, so it has to break this argument down.

London doesn't have a homogeneous society, but has good transport.


No one forces you to take public transit. You are free to stay home and avoid the public entirely if you want.

Unfortunately this kind of ableism/privilege isn't uncommon in silicon valley:

> 'In only the latest cultural altercation between San Francisco’s tech workers and the city’s impoverished population, one tech worker has declared the homeless are “riff raff” whose “pain, struggle and despair” shouldn’t have to be endured by “wealthy” people commuting to work.' (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/17/san-franc...)

It's the same reason it's often illegal for homeless people to sleep on benches. The elite would rather have the problem swept under the rug.

> "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." - Anatole France

This line of thinking of "efficiency trumps social issues" and that "regulation is always bad" is very harmful for both the workers and customers these kinds of systems are supposed to protect. The parent might find this map (http://projects.newyorker.com/story/subway/) showing inequality along NYC's subway interesting. The subway connects people from widely different economic backgrounds; the social darwinist might not like this but it's essential for giving those less well off opportunities and decreases the insularness of wealthy areas. Sometimes social focus is only ever a bad thing for those who benefit from the lack of it.

I realize and appreciate the very unfortunate situation that many poor and mentally ill [0] people are in. I want them to have access to health care, public transit, job opportunities, etc. I don't like when people cavalierly express the desire to be spared the sight of these people.

But the thing is, (living and working in downtown San Francisco) I see a lot of what I can only describe as harassment or assault committed by apparently mentally disturbed/ill [0] people. I genuinely don't know how to solve this problem, but I do think that people have a reasonable expectation to not encounter these situations in well-traveled public places.

[0] "mentally disturbed" and "mentally ill" are probably not the most precise or appropriate terms to use here. I do not know the correct terms but I appreciate any corrections.

As a European living in a country where people of all walks of life regularly use public transportation systems the attitudes present in this thread are a bit shocking.

A decent system of psychiatric hospitals and available housing for the mentally-ill would solve the problem.

The problem is some of those people won't want to stay in the hospital, and sometimes their habits are such that for regular hospital it'd be very bad match. And involuntary commitment is a very problematic proposition, it's a very dangerous tool esp. when used against people who can't explain themselves well, have no other people who can help them, and no knowledge or ability to help themselves.

To be more specific, US used to be more lax about involuntary commitment. And then it was discovered that all too often, people were committed for no good reason - sometimes due to negligence or pseudoscientific BS, sometimes deliberately.

Furthermore, once people were in the system, they were often abused themselves, and it was very difficult to get out, even if you were actually perfectly sane.

So committing someone involuntarily became much more difficult as a result.


In this case efficiency really does Trump social issues. If you cannot say that your bus/rail/subway will arrive so regularly as to not get a worker fired it is a no go for adoption.

This. After researching some of the big moves that SF transit has made over the past 10-20 years, I had to take it upon myself to join a San Francisco Transit Advocacy group (message me if you want to join or learn more about it) out of pure shock/awe of all the mind-bogglingly stupid decisions they made.

It's amazing how city planners in every dept focus on politics as opposed to building legitimately good infrastructure that makes people say 'wow, they really planned this well!' (e.g. the London underground).

The fact that SF is attacking uber/lyft as the source of SF's traffic problems is ridiculous[0]. It's pretty much the only way to get across town at this point unless you want your commute time doubled/tripled or have potentially unsafe run ins with the mentally ill.


In my experience the situation is the exact opposite. The "city planners" tend to produce perfectly reasonable transit plans, moving the most people for the least money, which then occasionally get derailed and set on fire by city or state politicians who have different interests in mind.

This isn't the fault of city planners:


There are infinitely more examples.

If you live in SF and want to help, here's the link:


What is the social agenda that Toronto city planners are pushing in your example? It sounds like they addressing the same problem the private transit route is addressing, more slowly but more durably and more accessibly by bringing new streetcars into service, albeit with delays: http://www.torontosun.com/2016/12/15/more-delays-in-streetca...

Which speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of government versus private approaches to problem-solving. Many cities have and many more cities have had privately-operated transit services— they often have strengths (responsiveness to customer demand for popular routes, technological innovations) and weaknesses (competition for ridership leading to traffic problems or wasted effort, disincentives to run services as a network, higher prices).

Incidentally, Jarrett Walker speaks extensively about the tradeoffs between different (legitimate) policies that transit planners face when setting up systems: http://humantransit.org/2015/07/mega-explainer-the-ridership...

Jarrett Walker, the writer of that blog post, makes actually the same point in another post. In public transit there is a trade-off between maximizing ridership by focusing on great service on a limited number of lines, or maximizing social service by multiplying lines that go everywhere but do not offer convenient service for commuters.

Walker has long been an advocate of making that trade-off apparent so taxpayers know what they're getting, and of re-balancing networks in favor of maximizing ridership. It means fewer lines, serving dense parts of cities, and running frequently.

Edit: the ridership/coverage tradeoff http://humantransit.org/basics/the-transit-ridership-recipe#...

If a city wants public transit that fits the kinds of trips people actually take, they should figure out where people are taking Uber to and from, and they should build routes that serve those areas.

It reminds me of the (possibly apocryphal) story of the college campus that was designed without sidewalks. After a while, the college built sidewalks over the parts of the lawn that were most transformed by foot traffic, because those were the paths people preferred to take.

I think in my area (Boston) if you looked at high-Uber ride zones you would find areas where it has been difficult for geographical or other reasons to build mass transit. The proposed Green Line extension is partly because of traffic value, and partly because acquiring the right-of-way is still possible. On the Red Line I ride to work, there may be some Uber spike because its near capacity at rush hour. Uber is a bad solution to this because it would only put more cars on Mass Ave, which is already at capacity. They're actually addressing this by buying redesigned train cars than can hold more people and make it through the stops slightly faster.

The technical term where people/animals want to walk is called a desire path. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desire_path

Good transit induces demand, to the point where it's a viable funding method for transit. Example: Tokyo.

This is related to my other comment. In Somerville/Cambridge there is already a visible change in the neighborhoods like Union Square along the proposed Green Line extension. It was this way in the streetcar days of the early 20th century too, where neighborhoods sprung up when new lines were built. In Portland OR, where I used to live, the new MAX lines are having similar effects. I feel like Ubers place to shine is low-density high-income low-traffic suburbs. That's OK too, because that's a big chunk of the United States.

About the problems with the mentally ill using public transit.

It seems to be something I see a lot of in every North American city I visit.

The problem is likely not how mentally ill people are allowed to use public transit, but maybe the complete lack of care provided to them.

In some cities like Bangalore and Chennai in India, there are different classes of services. You pay extra for air-conditioning or lesser stops...etc. I believe the intention was to make some extra revenue from users who are willing to pay more. I'd support such a differential pricing mechanism in US cities. I don't care about the same things you care about and I'd happily take a cheaper option but for those who do this might serve them. May be it would make the transit agencies somewhat profitable as well.

NYC does this as well: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_express_bus_routes_i...

An express bus has far fewer stops and may use an expressway for part of its route. One ride costs about 2.5x the usual bus fare.

Singapore has similar buses but they are not run by the same operators as the local ones.

London has express trains. In particular the airport ones are more expensive than standard trains. 20-30 GBP in some cases!

Chicago has a recent Jump bus programme which has long jumps between certain areas. But there is no extra charge for this, because it is designed to serve poor people living far from downtown.

I hadn't actually connected the socioeconomic dots of routes such as the Jeffrey Jump, but I'm glad you did: I'd say such convenient routes are mandatory for any city that has priced its service workers out of living near their jobs. For all its failings of its residents on the south and west sides, I'm glad Chicago has at least done this.

> Singapore has similar buses but they are not run by the same operators as the local ones.

They are operated by the same operators [1], unless you were referring to some other bus services? They're about 1.5x more expensive than a normal bus/metro journey though.

[1] https://sgwiki.com/wiki/History_of_Express_Services

You're right, some of them are operated by the usual local bus operators. But some in that list are not. And some not in that list include weird ones like all the condo shuttles, the airport-CBD buses, and of course we can't ignore the one from Lau Pa Sat to the zoo or whatever it is!

In truth I forgot completely about the 188 service because it goes to a casino. I now remember cursing how often it came to my old stop on those few occasions when I was hoping to catch a bus to somewhere other than a casino.

I have visited a few countries and the airport trains have always been complete rip offs. Nagoya in Japan is an exception - the airport express costs a whole ¥360 ($3) more than taking a local train.

What features might a service differentiate on?

Things like cargo capacity, amount of passengers and directness of route make sense.

I cannot see how things like AC or heat would make sense as labor laws insure they need to be there for the driver and not enough would use such services to support them (and they would be priced out of existence, because AC is almost free and heat is).

I can see this causing a lot of outcry, but I think some people would pay extra just to ride with other people who can afford to pay extra.

It reminds me of how I've heard some people say that Target is a more expensive Walmart, where you're paying extra to avoid Walmart shoppers.

Sure, and it's the same with residential real estate in some areas. Houses are expensive because they're expensive; wealthy people don't want to live next to poor people.

I was actually trying to compare this to things like on Uber how you can get a normal ride or an XL with cargo room. Or how can pay a premium for a taxi ride that has fewer stops and is more direct than a bus ride which has more passengers and stops. Going to another city, you can fly fast or bus there for cheap.

We already have this system, just not on stuff we consider basic quality of life.

I don't know the specific circumstances in the US - but at least one thing is definitely desired everywhere - pay more for "rapid" transit - stops at fewer stops?

and yet, people who have the money to pay for a faster communte have time to spare and people who cant don't.

Maybe the problem is the labor laws then?

That is pretty disgusting, if I read it right. It sounds like you are advocating for buses and taxes without basic climate control for the sake of market segmentation?

Meaning that we would take some of our poorest workers and take one of the view comforts they have left and potentially force them to risk their lives. A taxi driver without a heater, could literally die today where I am at at a balmy 6 degree F.

If I read you wrong, please explain.

> The bigger issue is that city planners building public transit systems don't have the same interests as commuters. Inevitably they want to use public transit as an instrument for various social policies.

Here's the thing: public transit does not function in a vacuum. You can't build public transit solely based on current traffic patterns, because the presence of good transport (say, a new rail line) will irrevocably alter traffic patterns.

This means that, if you build a new rail line, you pretty much have to (eg.) change zoning near stations. Is rezoning to allow denser housing "an instrument for various social policies"? Most likely yes, but it's also the sensible thing to do!

Nailed it. I'm so fucking tired of having social politics shoved down my throat by progressives and conservatives alike. I dont care and never have. I just want to get from A to B for as little cost and time as possible.

> And they'd like to have a minimum of screening so that they don't have to deal with people with severe mental issues on the way to work.

For me this is a big social issue, and it is only slightly related with public transportation. If you city has enough mental ill people in the streets everything is going to suck, including public transportation. That's why you have health care for mental patients, that with the correct treatment can be a normal part of society.

In much of the Middle East they have specific carriages or areas (often optional tho, depending on the country) for women and children. Public transport should be available to all, at all times. But the mentally disabled could be provided a specific carriage. If the mentally ill are a burden in their current form, they should be provided MORE, not less, as a solution.

> Commuters just want to get to work reliably and they'd like a seat.

You forgot to mention afford it. Uber is jacking up the prices for those who depend entirely on public transit--the people who most likely feed you, clean your office, drive your Uber. The people who make the city function. Your convenience actively fucks over your neighbors.

I know a lot of low income people in SF who take Uber as it is much faster and way more reliable than Muni. These people don't have the privilege to be late at their jobs.

People use public transit for more than commuting. I'm very frustrated with MA's current focus on "core service".

Your comment about "screening" people is disgusting, and says more about you than commuters as a whole.

> Commuters just want to get to work reliably and they'd like a seat.

You forgot to mention afford it. Uber is jacking up the prices for those who depend entirely on public transit--the people who most likely feed you, clean your office, drive your Uber. The people who make the city function. Your convenience actively fucks over your neighbors.

Reasonable? Sure. Close minded? Absolutely.

> Uber is jacking up the prices for those who depend entirely on public transit

Uber is not raising prices of public transport. They are not part of government public transit boards or administrations. Holding them accountable for the income public transport would have if they didnt exist is simply unreasonable.

Your point seems to be mostly a rant against transit and cities, and calling it "the bigger issue"

This comment was posted yesterday in /r/urbanplanning:

As a transportation / transit planner, there are an awful lot of suburban transit routes that are simply there due to politics instead of actual use. An example is one route I had done a bunch of work on that essentially showed the existing 5 riders a day would be better served at a cheaper rate by municipally subsidized taxis than by a gas guzzling, inflexible, union driven, public transit bus. The financials made sense, the data made sense to support a change. It was about to get changed until a politician came in and essentially canned everything because he didn't want his ward to not have a transit route because he would look bad.

I firmly believe these gaps can and should be filled by alternative modes of transport, and I wouldn't necessarily look at this as a bad thing. Transport is a wildly flexible area that is constantly evolving .

As for the costs going up for Uber, I don't really think those concerns are founded in anything other than speculation. His same logic about economies of scale would surely translate into it filling in that cost gap between providing the service and being revenue profitable. The truth is that every dollar invested in transit in the suburbs is nowhere near the same as every dollar invested in transit in urban areas. This article, I don't believe, made a real case for showing that the cost of providing transit would be cheaper, even in a future scenario, than having Ride hailing services filling in the gaps. The advantage of allowing Uber / taxis to fill first / last mile trips is that operating the line scales relatively well for scenarios where this type of service makes sense. There's a breakpoint where this cost of operation justifies switching over to providing a transit solution. But this allows agencies to build up demand before investing the capital and assuming some of the other maintenance costs such as bus stops, scheduling time, etc


This article makes some interesting assertions, but does very little to back them up with facts. Yes, in sparsely populated areas the availability of Uber often justifies cutting back on bus services -- but Uber is far superior to a once-an-hour bus service anyway. In some cases even allows for an increase in public transit usage, by handling the "last mile" (where individual vehicles are a good solution) and delivering people conveniently to and from train stations (whereupon they can switch to what public transit does efficiently -- moving a large number of people at once).

I didn't think about this until you mentioned it but I definitely take commuter rails more frequently as a result of knowing there will be an Uber in the neighborhood to get me through the last mile. I do this at the expense of renting a car and for whatever reason, using the local taxi service that undoubtedly existed all the while never occurs to me (I've ridden enough sh1tty local cabs to never do it willingly).

I agree. Probably 90% of my Uber usage is from BART to wherever I _actually_ want to go since BART doesn't go there and bus service is infuriating.

Same here - knowing that there's a cheap last-mile service within 5 minutes enables me to use commuter rail more instead of dragging my car all the way over only because I need to visit that one place with bad public service.

I hear this a lot and it seems odd to me. I have literally never taken an Uber (which I admittedly don't use a lot when traveling) when I haven't been fully aware of and prepared to take a taxi as an alternative. When I have taken an Uber I just decided it would be cheaper/easier/etc. but, if an Uber weren't an option, I would certainly just take a taxi.

Taxis suck in a lot of places. It takes then forever to show up when you call, if they show up at all. Very inconvenient for eg. making your way to the commuter rail station in the suburbs.

I take Uber when I can and a cab if I must. But if I must take a cab, I'll often just drive.

I've had too many terrible or dangerous cab rides to be so blasé about the difference.

I agree. Knowing that there is Uber service for the 'last mile' encourages me to ride public transit. I hardly have any good experience with Taxi, so I try to avoid it as much as possible.

> In some cases even allows for an increase in public transit usage, by handling the "last mile" (where individual vehicles are a good solution) and delivering people conveniently to and from train stations (whereupon they can switch to what public transit does efficiently -- moving a large number of people at once).

The article's whole point is that because Uber underprices their service, it could be cheaper to avoid public transit entirely.

>Uber is far superior to a once-an-hour bus service

Hardly surprising that it provides a superior service when Uber subsidizes up to 60% of the passenger fares.

Their entire business model does, however, rely upon jacking up prices substantially at some point, to both recoup those losses and to make shareholders happy.

The question you should ask yourself isn't "is Uber superior now?" but "is it superior if it's 3x the price it is now?".

A service that is not sustainable cannot be said to be superior.

As in each and every Uber ride is subsidized to the tune of a few dollars???!!!!



Public transit isn't sustainable either; it's about public good paid for by tax dollars. It usually costs far more to run buses in suburban areas than they bring in revenue.

IIRC, there were Amtrak routes in the Northeast that became very popular, and the gov't was bleeding money increasing the amount of service because every ride was subsidized by something like $10-$20/ride.

That seems rather unlikely. Generally, the reason public transport loses money is because it doesn't have enough riders, since the cost is relatively independent of the number of people that use it up to some point. You don't tend to get this kind of success problem in public transport, unlike with (say) VC-subsidised services like Uber.


In my city, rents have skyrocketed near transit stops since it's so essential. When you're a 20-25min walk from a transit stop, prices are a lot cheaper, but you become hard to get to and hard to get to work. New transit isn't really an option because of density and cost (the cost to build per rider is astronomical). But the city is also dead set against increasing the density near transit stops to decrease rent/buy prices (and increase transit ridership due to it being convenient).

Public transit in many cities creates hot-spots in the real estate market that isn't good public policy either.

Of course, the article is right that people shifting into less dense transit will have bad environmental and congestion problems.

But I don't think that traditional public transit will be the way of the future. Rather, I think that self-driving, reasonably high-density vehicles will be the future. Imagine a nice bus that seats 15-20 picking people up along an ad-hoc route in the morning determined as riders hail the bus and are instructed to an ad-hoc stop within a block and dropping them off within a block of their destination. That's a lot more convenient than most public transit systems where you have to travel to stops, maybe change lines, not getting exactly where you want to go, etc. It could also cut down on vehicle miles travelled by creating optimized routes.

If Uber Pool can do what bus service can do for barely more money, a self-driving bus will be way better than a standard public transit experience and as efficient or more efficient environmentally.

In fact, I think the self-driving future in cities will be determined by good incentives. During peak periods, charge for congestion. Not broad-based attacks on vehicles, but an incentive for people to commute in higher-density vehicles where the charge can be spread among more people. It would be easy for a city to incentive Uber, Lyft, and others to offer higher-density options for commuters via congestion charging. Likewise, environmental incentives could be offered to push customers and companies toward more economical vehicles and routes. I think it's reasonable to assume that in a self-driving future, companies like Lyft and Uber would want a lot of economical vehicles like Priuses getting 50MPG in the city. For higher-density vehicles, 10% fuel savings could push margins up a couple points - especially if environmental fuel taxes are put on top of the price of fuel. Similarly, better routing can lead to fewer miles travelled leading to savings.

For those that want the privacy of single-person travel, they can be charged an appropriate amount to compensate society.

Uber can't do a lot of high-density vehicles currently because it relies on vehicles owned by random people. But when self-driving vehicles truly become mainstream, there's no reason Uber wouldn't want to expand into company-owned, higher-density vehicles. They could run these at a fraction of the cost that most public transit systems are running at. In lower density areas, maybe medium-density vehicles and in even lower density areas, single-person rides in small vehicles may remain common. When Uber can control its vehicle stock with self-driving vehicles, there's a lot of options for them to optimize in ways that will boost their profits while also helping the environment and congestion.

Maybe you think Uber isn't interested in a low-rent, non-premium service. That may be, but so many are interested in transit and it would be reasonably easy for a competitor to put together such a service and undercut Uber on price for so many riders. Uber would want to respond.

Ultimately, the article talks about bus routes doing 10 boardings per hour and how that's more than an Uber will do. That's probably true, but an Uber-bus would likely do more boardings due to better ad-hoc routes and more convenience. In my city, fares only cover a quarter of bus operating costs (never mind capital costs) and two-thirds of subway costs. Part of the problem is that a lot of transit systems work off the principle that they need to serve off-peak and lower utility uses in order to hit that critical mass that would make them a good choice for users. Ad-hoc, self-driving routes could relieve transit systems of their bigger loss-leaders using vehicles optimized for those areas. Similarly, off-peak service that often sees low ridership and loses money could be off-loaded. This is also an environmental win - subways are environmentally friendly when there's a lot of riders, not when they're mostly empty. A bus route that's losing over $10 per rider is bad for a public transit system and also bad for the environment since the bus probably doesn't have enough people on it to make it fuel efficient on a per-passenger basis.

I think there's a genuine opportunity to do a lot better than current public transit with self-driving vehicles. Something that's a lot more environmentally friendly and a lot more convenient.

My buddy lives in SoMa and works 1.7 miles away at Lyft HQ in China Basin. He takes Muni to work because it's faster (despite being significantly less direct). San Francisco is not even a dense city. It's frightening to me that none of the comments here on this thread show any love for mass transit.

I live in Seattle, work downtown, and the bus is significantly cheaper than all my other commute options (except for riding my bike) and takes about as long to get me home as it takes me to drive myself in a car that was parked in the perfect spot to avoid the bad blocks.

I would be very skeptical of the claim that Uber (with today's public infrastructure and vehicles driven by human drivers) could do the job just as well if none of our public transit infrastructure existed. We have a lot of buses and a still-expanding light rail, and they are packed every day at rush hour. If they really were more expensive and/or slower than the alternatives and/or filled with crusty, ranting hobos crapping their pants and smearing it on the seats (which is what you imagine reading some of the comments in here) then people wouldn't ride them, which simply is not the case.

Sure, there are some bad buses, but "just take an Uber" is not a useful answer to that problem for most people or society at large, and I don't know how out of touch you have to be to suggest a public two-tiered poor/rich system with a straight face.

I live near Seattle and travel there frequently. I concur with your assessment.

San Francisco is the second densest major city in the United States.

Cities in the US are less dense than cities elsewhere [0] because of the large extent to which US cities are designed around cars [1] (including SF, which is #104! Even our more dense cities aren't very dense relative to the world).

[0] http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/largest-cities-density-...

[1] http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/Environment/E_Casestudy/E_...

Depends on how you count. If you look at the metropolitan area, it's the 7th densest.


that's not really a good stick to measure against.

I use mass transit almost every time I go to SF (because driving on 101/280 on workday around SF is insane). It's reasonably working, but yes, there are smells sometimes (especially at underground stations), and there are many people, including some looking (and smelling), let's say, not in a way most are accustomed to. Not a big issue for me, but I guess might be for some.

My bigger problem with SF is that timing is kind of unpredictable (trains go on time mostly, but everything else is kind of hit or miss). Usually it's not a problem but once I missed a train because trams had a sort of traffic jam. I didn't know that can happen, but apparently it can. Another time it happened again, I was smarter and just got out and run for like 3 blocks and got on the train on time. But I still use SF mass transit, even though there's some room for improvement, and think it is very valuable.

I really get sick of how cavalier people like you are in these threads when talking about homeless/crazy/violent people on SF mass transportation. These people are sketchy as fuck and legitimate criminals in many cases and you're acting like they're just a mild inconvenience. They will yell at you, threaten you, and yes outright attack you. I'm glad that doesn't bother you but it's not unreasonable that it bothers most other people.

> These people are sketchy as fuck and legitimate criminals in many cases and you're acting like they're just a mild inconvenience.

For me, they are. You are free to express your opinion, I am just expressing mine :) I never claimed my experience is universal, it's just what I see. Parent poster solicited opinions about mass transit in SF, so I shared mine, without pretending it is some global truth applicable to everybody.

> I'm glad that doesn't bother you but it's not unreasonable that it bothers most other people.

Fine, I'm not sure why you have to express this simple thought - which I certainly agree with, and never claimed otherwise - in a form of an attack. It's like existence of people that have different problems that you somehow offends you.

Orlando has a commuter train and I love it. Takes me from the north suburbs into downtown Orlando for work everyday, and gives me good time to read, nap, play games, etc without having to deal with traffic.

It's also been popular enough they started testing it on weekends and building more track for more destinations.

If you're only 1.7 miles away, odds are you could hoof it faster than driving or taking public transit, once externalities like parking or waiting around for the bus to show up are factored in.

>San Francisco is not even a dense city.

Wow, man! Have you ever, like, been to San Francisco?

San Francisco is 3 times less dense as Paris. It's still a dense city by North-American standards, but it's not dense by comparaison to most big metropolitan areas in the world.

Have you even been in Paris or London?

Been to Paris a few times. Second trip someone slammed me into a metro car door and stole my wallet. Each time I went there were more and more immigrants loitering in groups on the streets, facing off with more and more police. Felt like a powder keg.

Most of the people that I worked with in Paris used cars or motorcycles; they earned IT and professional wages and could afford to avoid the prevailing public transport, which they did. Later the company I was involved with moved to a 'suburb' (not sure that's the appropriate term...) of Lyon. Huge improvement in every way and no one at that site used any public transport; all cars.

This was the early 2000's. I imagine the bad parts have gotten worse since then; if you look like a tourist or foreign worker don't go near the metro outside of business hours.

Come on. I won't dispute your past experiences but you really should avoid extrapolating on anecdotal data.

Car ownership for Parisian households sits at 39%.

Zooming out to the Ile-de-France region (population: 12 million), 33% of households don't have a car.

source (french): http://transports.blog.lemonde.fr/2015/05/03/la-preuve-par-l...

Regarding your comments on safety, I certainly believe the city feels much safer today than in early 2000's.

(Obviously not talking about terrorist acts, as they are not caused by 'immigrants loitering in groups on the streets').

> Regarding your comments on safety, I certainly believe the city feels much safer today than in early 2000's.

Then I don't want to imagine what it must have been like in the 2000's. :(

French here, lived in Paris, no-one in their sane mind would use their cars every day in the city center, and you can take the metro up until midnight and nothing will happen.

Sometimes I wonder where everyone's driving to. They're driving physical cars, into a physical office, to work on digital information? Surely middle management has a better way of keeping tabs on their minions.

Cities should give companies tax incentives to keep employees at home. Just stay off the road. Live in a part of town where you can walk to get your groceries and snacks. Incentivize mixed use developments instead of suburbia hell.

Having worked from home the past year I can't understand how people put up with cubicles. While I make more now, I'd be willing to take a big pay cut to keep my sanity.

I think that even working on digital information, physical meetings can be useful[1], but I agree, a company could minimize those meetings and encourage working from home more often, however you claim that WFH equals to keeping your sanity.

Don't you think social interaction important to maintain it? I feel that working from home is a lonely activity, and that on the other hand, being at the office and having lunch with co-workers or friends (even from completely different teams) contributes a lot in keeping one's sanity.

Maybe a nice solution could be a hybrid: companies having mini corporate coffee-shops around town, where employees could go and work remotely, but still interact with other employees and cutting on commute time. That being said, having a multitude of small locations is probably much more expensive and difficult to manage than a big main campus.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13177611 - see "Functions of a meeting"

Remote work allows me to rotate through several coffee shops and keep my environment fresh. I get to take a nice walk there and back, and pop into my favorite pastry shop on the way. Sometimes I workout during my lunch break. Or even take a little power nap if I so desire.

I hate offices with an intense passion now. Not just offices, but office culture as well - where seniority is gained by being the first in the parking lot and last one out. I'm officially opting out of competing with these drones and focusing on my quality of living. I encourage other developers to do the same :)

Ah, if only it were so easy. I'm much less productive when I'm working from home. I tend to waste a lot of time when I'm not at the office.

I'm so much more productive working from home, it's scary. I tend to have an inexcusable amount of my time wasted when I do have to go to the office.

So much agreed.. except, I am not willing to take a pay cut for saving a company money on office space and on-premises liability insurance, utilities and 'free' coffee.

Remote is a win win for everyone.

Where I live many people commute at least an hour each way. For a 40 hour week, 10 hours of driving is normal. 40 hours in a month. Of prime daylight hours.. Spent in a car that requires upkeep. Which can only be causing harm to your spine. None of this makes sense to me.

Three capitalist pigs were in a jail cell in the USSR. They were chatting, when the subject of their incarceration came up.

The first said, "I charged less than the market, and found guilty of dumping."

The second says, "I charged more than the market and was accused of gouging."

The last responded, "I charged the same as everyone else, and was accused of price fixing!"

Context matters. The first pig could be like Martin Shkreli, pricing necessities beyond the reach of people who need them. The second could be like Uber, being able to undercut the competition thanks to blatant disregard for laws and good taste. And as for the third, take your pick from these role models:


> The first pig could be like Martin Shkreli, pricing necessities beyond the reach of people who need them.

Source? Who was unable to buy the medicine? According to him IIRC about 60% of the drug is given for 1$ or some nominal. Also, most people's insurance buys it.

Good for Uber. The public transit system where I live is a joke, and I'd love to see them undermined into non-existence. When I can pay an Uber driver $12 to get me somewhere in 15 minutes, or pay $8 for the transit authority to get me there in an hour, with only three transfers, each of which have a 5 to 15 minute wait out in the elements, that extra $4 starts looking like a pretty good deal.

You're describing public transportation in Ottawa.

Boy, if you think Uber is artificially subsidizing rides to a predatory degree, just wait until you see the numbers on light rail.

Are light rails subsidized by government? Or by VCs?

Is being subsidized by the government i.e. taxpayers better? After all VC money comes from a bunch of rich guys, not the ordinary taxpayer.

Yes. The role of government is to ensure people can afford basic necessities. When government is competitive with private companies, it's to ensure prices are affordable for people. Uber wants to eliminate competition alltogether. If they become a monopoly, VCs win and consumers lose.

But the end result is the same.

It doesn't matter who is doing the "price dumping" or what their motivations are.

The effect on society is equally good or bad no matter who is doing the dumping or price gouging.

The difference is the end game. VCs and Investors are expected to ultimately want a profitable company, so after Uber kills competition (Lyft, Public Transit) the price is expected to rise substantially. Public transit is expected to not be profitable, ever and is expected to use the combination of taxes and fees to operate not for profit.

One thing that seems to get completely lost is that these arguments proceed as if we're talking about public transit versus private transit in the abstract, but that's not actually the conversation. What we're talking about is public transits in a localities versus a single corporation nationwide.

Replacing a conglomerate of public local services, beholden to voters, providing essential infrastructure, with single national private monopoly seems like such an obviously bad idea I don't understand how this conversation is taking place.

Maybe we should be arguing in favor of how to make public transportation more competitive in some way, or how to increase diversity of private options, but the idea that we should just hand our national transportation infrastructure over to Uber is just crazy.

Between this and arguments against net neutrality (when we should be forcing more competition onto ISPs and increasing public ISP options), lately I feel like Americans are living in some delusion about the role of the private sector in society.

If the single national private monopoly is BETTER than the local public service, then yes, it should be replaced.

And if that private monopoly ever stops being better, local organizers can make their own competing service. Or just go back to the previous system.

It will be equivalent to society if the private company persists with their subsidized prices. Consumers will stop reaping the price benefits once the private company becomes a monopoly, and changes their prices accordingly.

You can say, well, the pie is fixed and it's just a matter of who gets a bigger of slice of the pie. Consumers or VCs. Is is it equally good to "society" if consumers get a smaller slice of the pie when the private company charges monopoly prices and their owners benefit?

I can't speak for other people or other cities, but I'm in Sydney, Australia and everyone I know who uses UberX doesn't use it because it's cheaper (though it is) but rather because the quality of service is consistently much higher than the traditional taxi.

The idea that Uber might be competing with bus or rail seems very surprising and indicates that something must be seriously, seriously screwed with the mass transit infrastructure in that city.

Uber is roughly breaking even in the US: https://www.google.com/amp/www.breitbart.com/california/2016...

Anyone hoping Uber is going to run out of VC money and lose favor after being forced to raise prices in cities where it is already popular is going to be sorely disappointed. Uber is profitable in those cities. The more plausible failure scenario is that it doesn't succeed in new markets and therefore ends up being worth less than its current valuation.

Maybe public transit officials are undermining public transit? In singapore, one can get across the island for ~75c in a vehicle that is fast, clean, efficient, and almost never delayed.

Maybe it’s time to quit discussing public transit officials and bureaucracies as though they were improving the world in a permanent way, and as though they will necessarily make cities better for everyone. We already know that’s hasn't been true.

Writer claims "I am constantly told that Uber will make transit obsolete."

Who exactly are the people telling this writer that Uber will make transit obsolete? I live in a city where public transportation is very popular and have not once, ever heard this.

The reality is public transit use is surging in popularity. Public ridership is up 39% since 1995 (you know, when most people did not have internet or smartphones). Young people flock to cities with good public transit. And while I've never once heard someone say "Uber will make public transit obsolete", I have heard many people say they chose a city because it had good public transit.

The Author is a transit consultant. He is constantly talking to cities/towns about optimizing their transit networks.

I would guess he is hearing it from politicians and other parties in the areas he is talking to. They will say "Why should we spend $x on a new bus system when uber/driverless cars will solve the problem"

If he's hearing it from politicians/public officials then he should name who made such comments. Since it's the base of his argument that Uber is killing transit, it's important to cite where he heard it.

So people would move to a boring city with great public transit?

If there are good jobs there, people will move to just about anywhere, transit or no, boring or not.

It's not the only factor, but it's often mentioned as an important one.

Begin rambling brainstorm: I am curious about transport efficiency comparisons of trains/rail versus automobiles versus buses. Public sectors can miss out on interest in investment in infrastructure as Uber/ride-sharing is seen as an acceptable substitute good for public transit. But once a private entity has autonomous vehicles and even more efficient system, cities could tax the private entities for use of their transit infrastructure, e.g. roads. Could that mean then once private companies dominate the transportation market and raises prices, that cities then have the final card to play to either allow a company to be used in their city or not? Then they can create more efficient public systems or subsidized ride-sharing? Sure, citizens may be upset if they don't have Uber/riding sharing because of public sector decisions, but Uber would be upset about not getting revenue.

I am just curious about others' thoughts about the big picture. Are cities doomed to privatized transportation and further inequality creation?

For cities, geometry is still the limiting factor. See http://humantransit.org/2012/09/the-photo-that-explains-almo...

"The scarcity of space per person is part of the very definition of a city, as distinct from suburbia or rural area, so the efficiency with which transport options use that space will always be the paramount issue."

Why privatized transportation would necessarily be a bad thing if it provides fast, comfortable journeys at a reasonable price? Of course if you're ideologically opposed to it then there's no point in discussing.

It's not a question of private vs public. It's a question of space efficiency. A single rail line can transport 20 times more than a freeway lane (i.e. without street lights) Rail transit is vastly more space efficient than individual vehicles, autonomous or not.

Japan has private rail transit for instance. Property rights in the US would make it very difficult for a private operator to actually build rail transit. Japan's private system also works because transit operators are also real estate developers and can cash in on the land they serve.

> A single rail line can transport 20 times more than a freeway lane

It can do that because its riders are forced into miserably packed standing room.

Private vehicle transport can also be much denser if we give up such requirements as "sitting" and "personal space." You could pack, like, 20 people into a Camry and it'd still be far more pleasant than BART between 5-10am or 4-9pm. Of course, some of them would be in the trunk and others tied to the roof rack.

Sitting might be a requirement for you, and it's fine, but should also be willing to pay the price for it, i.e. live in a suburb that can accommodate your preferences. You cannot live in a dense city rich in amenities and expect to be sitting all the time, it just doesn't work geometrically. In many cities (granted, not San Francisco), people happily stand in public transit for the dozens of minutes they have to spend there, and have satisfied with their experience. Go to Zürich for instance, you'll see bankers riding the S-Bahn when they could afford a car.

>t just doesn't work geometrically

Yes it does! I UberPool to work quite a bit, and have not poofed out of existence by participating in a geometric contradiction. You are claiming that we should ban something that currently works; "it doesn't work" is nonsensical as a supporting argument.

>people happily stand in public transit for the dozens of minutes they have to spend there, and have satisfied with their experience.

In many places, people happily go without basic medical care, electricity, or indoor plumbing. All of these things are terribly expensive and somewhat environmentally damaging, people who lack them are still happy, so... let's ban electricity?

I think the idea is that it only works if few enough people use it. It is (geometrically) impossible for most people to travel by car in cities.

It's necessarily bad if the private company aims to be a monopoly.

The natural progression is car -> bus -> train. The Uber thing is now making congestion really bad where I live too. There's a town in New Jersey[1] that is opting for Uber instead of building a parking structure. Even though that is replacing cars with other cars, it still roughly doubles congestion; Ubers leave empty. More cars clogging the roads is bad for timely transportation and bad for the environment. Not just green house gasses, but motor oil, tires, litter. It's really unfortunate.

[1] http://www.theverge.com/2016/10/3/13147680/uber-new-jersey-f...

> Even pro-transit politicians and officials have begun to see ride-hailing services as an acceptable substitute for public transit. As a result, cities across the country are making important decisions about transportation that treat 10-year-old companies as fixed variables for the decades to come.

The 2nd avenue subway is going to take tens of billions of dollars and several decades to complete. Why shouldn't the possibility of self-driving cars be taken into account when making these sorts of billion-dollar multi-decade planning decisions?

I call bullshit on the premise that Uber is undermining public transit. A lot of places have had crappy public transit and crappy taxi service long before Uber showed up. A lot of places will continue to have it. Blaming it on Uber because it's there is lazy and unfair.

> But much of the confusion arises because people sincerely don’t understand how narrow the range of opportunities is for ride-sourcing to improve on fixed route transit’s efficiency.

As if I cared about improving abstract "efficiency". I care about being able to get a ride within 5 minutes at any point in the city. Whether or not that improves some abstract metric invented for completely other reasons carries no importance to me.

> We know Uber is unprofitable, which means its prices are unsustainable.

No it actually doesn't mean that. Profitability has other dimensions than consumer prices, such as investments, capital costs, etc.

> Uber’s behavior often looks like an intentional effort to undermine competitors and thus reduce customer choice

I haven't seen any behavior aimed to reduce customer choice. The only people trying to reduce the customer choice are those inventing reasons to ban Uber (and similar service), often at explicit prompting and for direct benefit of incumbent stakeholders.

> no doubting the value of these companies in the lives of fortunate people who can afford to use their services routinely

Oh, those fatcats that can afford to shell out whole $9 for a ride! Who cares about those, they probably each own a park of helicopters anyway.

> and many welcome regulation precisely to plug that gap.

Which regulation, to do what? No mention of it. Why bother? Of course regulation is good and no regulation is bad. Terrible article, full of FUD and calls to "do something", without bothering to outline what and for what purpose.

For those comparing the cost of public transit to Uber don't forget to keep in mind that Uber is also subsidized by the government. They are not paying 100% of the cost of the roads and other infrastructure they use.

Drivers do.

Nope. Gasoline taxes pay for roads. Vehicle registration taxes pay for even more services from the government. Income taxes on earnings pays for some things as well.

However city buses are tax subsidized. Why not boost the fare to actually cover the costs? Cities buses are driving on subsidized roads -- their fuel, vehicles, maintenance and marketing is tax subsidized. They even have special lanes built just for them -- paid for involuntary by people who are opposed to such things. Uber is paid for entirely by those that chose to pay for it, which is how it should be.

Why should I pay for city buses I won't ride? Why shouldn't the people riding the bus pay for it?

Gasoline taxes do not currently cover highway maintenance costs: http://taxfoundation.org/article/gasoline-taxes-and-tolls-pa...

As for buses, it is a good thing if they are cheaper than cars. Encouraging public transport use is good for the environment, for people who cannot afford to own a car and also reduces congestion in the streets.

By your argument we should also have a sizeable congestion tax for driving a car during peak hours as well as a substantially larger gas tax.

ube is undercutting everyone now and when traditional transport systems become bankrupt they will keep increase prices

Don't forget that they're going to save a lot of money as soon as they can cut all those expensive human drivers out of the loop.

There is more tax revenue to be had on almost any single ride over a public transport fare.

Interesting thesis (that city planners will reallocate tax dollars assuming Uber and other ride sharing services will pick up the slack) but I don't know if I buy it.

I'm fascinated by the various company buses in the Bay Area. If you look at the passengers they carry they take a significant number of cars off the road. And even though they are economically inefficient (every company has their own set of fixed costs) there is no effort to create a public/private partnership that would meet the needs of companies and urban planners with less cost.

I was talking about this with a friend last night. We (Australia) get annoyed when the Italians dump a bunch of below-cost tomatoes on to the market and slap them with penalties but don't seem to give a damn when Silicon Valley dumps a bunch of below-cost taxis on to that market.

If your tomatos were expensive, dirty, and three-quarters rotten, and the Italians start selling better, cheaper tomatos, are you going to be upset, or rejoice?

Depends on whether you are invested in providing terrible, expensive, mostly rotten tomatos.

Taking the long term view though (and referring back to this article) we would rejoice initially, then realise our folly as the cheap tomatos destroy local industry and alternatives only to inevitably have to put up their prices.

What happens if a city decides to buy, or even build, their own autonomous vehicular fleet as a replacement for aging public transit? And isn't this inevitable anyway?

Actual headline: "Sounding the Alarm about Uber’s Impacts on Transit, and on Cities"

Current HN headline: "Uber's predatory pricing is undermining public transit and density"

The article barely mentions predatory pricing.

It also pins much on whether or not Uber is profitable, citing conflicting reports. But at 30% take rates it's pretty easy to see that it would be quite profitable on a gross margin basis.

Public transit isn't profitable either. It's heavily subsidized by the taxpayer, so the author's logic isn't intellectually honest. Look at Amtrak as a good example. Or the MTA in New York.

Uber is subsidized by private investors, public transport is subsidized by everyone -- whether they want, need or use it or not.

No, the author's logic is good - the investors will expect to make that money back through a future monopoly, and proposals for replacing public transport with Uber often also include similar taxpayer subsides on top too.

You have antitrust laws to deal with any monopoly.

Seems weird to question Uber's sustainabiliy based on it's costs being too high. If it stopped investing in growth, I'm not rven sure it would have any costs. It's just a routing app that earns a cut from the drivers.

Of course it would have costs. It'd have the cost of IT and management, software maintenance, PR, support and of course drivers and vehicles. One of the fundamental problems of Uber is that they cannot be cost-competitive either on the driver and vehicle side or on the corporate side because they're less efficient than their competitors at both: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/can-uber-ever-deliver...

The unsustainable pricing point overlooks how driverless vehicles will drive the cost of door to door transit to almost 0 (especially as cars go electric and solar brings extremely cheap power).

While it will bring many ills (e.g. increased obesity due to cheap door to door transit, more spread out cities), let's not delude ourselves with this article's misguided rhetoric -- mass transit will be more affordable and accessible than ever in history to the masses.

This article aims to treat the car sharing as ceteris paribus (all else equal) when in the current state of exponential change, it is anything but.

Possibly, but fully driverless cars in urban areas are likely decades away (unlike driverless trucks or driving assisting cars, which will arrive sooner).

And electric is good, but there are some issues that will take more time to sort out, like charge times.

It's true improvements will arrive, but they add another set of uncertainties for urban planners.

It is not decades. It is 4 years.

Every self driving car company is aiming for 2020 for mass consumer release.

Don't know why you and any other pro-Uber voices are being downvoted/flagged in this thread. You're making a very sensible argument and I don't know why people would downvote/flag it.

What's sensible about it? Public transit has much lower energy costs than a car right now and it sure isn't free.

You might be able to get somewhere with a public unscheduled version of UberPool, but Uber is cheap because the drivers are getting screwed, not because it's actually efficient.

(The drivers are getting screwed because they're not getting paid enough for extra maintenance and depreciation on their cars. If Uber switches to owning cars they're going to take on this problem.)

If you like to be so generous and open hearted, and genuinely believe that most people are just like you, why exactly would you oppose crowfunded services?

Because I think it put in plain sight that no, most people do not want that. I for one do not want to ride next to people who can physically harm me. I would love a "club" model for public transportation where members who don't play nice could be excluded from this club, and which would only use members money instead of subsidies.

TLDR: do what you want with your money, I'll do what I want with mine. We will belong to different clubs providing different public transportation. Just don't force me to join your club by forbidding mine.

(edit: downvote is not for indicating disapproval in case I hurt your feelz. If you believe I am wrong, please explain how and why)

Please don't go on about downvotes. This site has multiple rules against that (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html), and it takes discussions off topic (as per the replies below).

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13198727 and marked it off-topic.

I am not downvoting you, but there are serious flaws in your 'club' model. For one, there is nothing stopping people from doing your 'club' model right now; anyone can start a bus company, create memberships, and have criteria for who gets to ride on the bus. There aren't a lot of them, but ride share companies exist. If you don't want to use public transport, you are free to use one of them.

Second, not everyone can afford to pay as much as a 'club' bus would cost. While you might think that is ok, and that people who can't afford it on their own don't deserve to be transported places, a lot of us disagree with that. We think that even poor people deserve to be able to get to work, to get to the store, and to move around.

You aren't personally/individually wrong in wanting this, I get the sentiment, but if everybody started thinking and wanting this, the emergent effects would be a step backwards for society. This may not change your mind, but you can at least think about that.

FYI, I'm downvoting you for the "hurt your feelz" business. This isn't Reddit.

> have potentially unsafe run ins with the mentally ill.

while i understand your point, it's not really fair. you can have potentially unsafe run-ins with the mentally sane just as easily. you can also have potentially unsafe run-ins with the mentally ill while in a Lyft or Uber.

You are trying to say thay you want a quiet, peaceful, possibly even restful commute because you want to be focused at work. But that's not what you are actually typing.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13198586 and marked it off-topic.

You can also get attacked by a pack of rabid dogs. It's just less likely.

"Mentally ill" is a deflection that waters down the statistics. People with a combination of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and substance abuse problems are more likely -- I believe 5-7x more to engage in violent behavior.

I worked in a central business district (not SFO) in a large office building where I'm personally aware of at least a dozen muggings and a half dozen attempted rapes by homeless people who turned out to be suffering from that combo. The company hired valets and provided escorts to employees, particular female employees to parking and mass transit. Eventually a change in local administration brought a police crackdown that resoled the problem.

That's not to say that all homeless people or people struggling with various maladies are all bad. But they do present a higher risk, and it's not unreasonable for people to want to keep a wide berth.

if you are going to use numbers, at least provide sources.

If you think a quick Google search proves anything then you might be on the wrong website. maybe facebook would be more appropriate?

substance abuse increases the risk of violence in ALL people, it's not isolated to schizophrenics. if you're a woman and your suffering from substance abuse problems your nearly 7x as likely to attempt suicide. And almost 75% of people who seak treatment for substance abuse have admitted to committing violent acts while under the influence. [1]

Another study finds that while violence and schizophrenia specifically are often perceived to be correlated, "the proportion of violent crime in society attributable to schizophrenia consistently falls below 10%." [2]

So really, your company could be investing those funds into providing healthcare for people who need it rather than catering to delicate snowflakes who don't want to participate in society.

[1] http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/substance-use-disorder/link-...

[2] http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/180/6/490

I'm talking about random violent crime, not suicide or domestic violence.

I also explicitly stated two conditions AND substance abuse. This is an established fact, not an attempt to vilify sick people. From the first search result, an often cited JAMA article:

"risk was mostly confined to patients with substance abuse comorbidity (of whom 27.6% committed an offense), yielding an increased risk of violent crime among such patients (adjusted OR, 4.4; 95% CI, 3.9-5.0), whereas the risk increase was small in schizophrenia patients without substance abuse comorbidity (8.5% of whom had at least 1 violent offense; adjusted OR, 1.2; 95% CI, 1.1-1.4; P<.001 for interaction)"

Your other statement is ridiculous. That company took a strong stance to protect employees against sexual violence. I have people close to me who have been victims of this particular crime -- the aftermath is truly horrible and not some sort of joke.

That same article says exactly what I just said: Violence could be mitigated by focusing on substance abuse treatment and that violent behaviors are much less common than you are duggesting. there's not even a 50% increase when genetic and environmental factors (siblings as controls) are considered.

you're the only person making a joke of sexual violence by attributing it's commission to people based on stereotypes rather than fact. just because you know peoplewho were assaulted by an alcoholic schizophrenic doesn't mean busses aren't safe.

I'm able bodied, but like you and many other commenters here, I'm also a coward. I don't buy this 'home of the brave' crap, and like you I agree that cowardice is reasonable, and having more cowards makes us better as a society and a nation.

It's good that there are lots of elderly, disabled, and single mothers who have no option but to use public transit. It makes me feel good inside that if something ever goes wrong, I can run away faster than all of them. Not that I would ever use public transit. I like that America has a system for me, and a separate system for everything that I'm afraid of. It's what our grandfathers fought and died for.

Until two years ago, I rode the city bus every day and honestly preferred it.

Personally, I don't see it as "us vs. them". But I don't think that true advocacy is creating situations where otherwise reasonable people feel that way.

Man, who would've thought not wanting to be raped, assaulted, or mugged would make you a coward.

It's actually a lot harder to have a violent run-in with a sane person. Crazy people really are more dangerous than normal ones.


The lede of your link appears to disagree with you:

> Most individuals with psychiatric disorders are not violent. Although a subset of people with psychiatric disorders commit assaults and violent crimes, findings have been inconsistent about how much mental illness contributes to this behavior and how much substance abuse and other factors do.

No it doesn't; he didn't say most individuals with psychiatric disorders are violent. He said they are more violent than people with non-psychiatric disorders, which the article supports (especially if they also have a substance abuse problem).

everyone with substance abuse problems are more violent. correlation is not causation.

First, no, that is not true. Second, no one is trying to prove causation here, so it is irrelevant. Third, the existence of more violence is enough to justify avoidance, so causes and correlations can be left to policy makers and sociologists.

Lol @ predatory pricing. Surge pricing works in the same way that efficient markets do. When the road conditions are crazy and there's an imbalance in the number of drivers and the number of riders seeking drivers the price shoots up. The higher prices incentivize drivers to take the risk for the reward (compensation). This is simple economics.

You didn't even read the article. The predatory pricing they're talking about is running competition out of business by selling below cost until they have a monopoly.

Uber breaks even in the US. No predatory pricing there.

Kroger is doing this too. To stay relevant and increase marketshare they're selling organic produce at a loss. Let's villify them too.

Yes, let's! Dumping to undermine competitors is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it's always dirty - there's no way the company is going to sustain such prices long term, and they'll want to recoup losses, so once competitors are driven out, the prices inevitably end up being higher than what those competitors offered before.

While road conditions are probably correlated with surge it's really more closely tied to the effect bad weather has on someone's willingness to walk (often to distant public transport). It turns out that when it's raining or very cold a lot more people choose to take a car. It's not about risk/reward it's about supply/demand. When supply (drivers) is low relative to demand (riders) higher prices will incentivize more drivers to go online and thus fix the scarcity of drivers.

You're missing what they mean by "predatory pricing." They're complaining about low prices due to Uber subsidies.


Since it is simple economics then you might know about the 'helicopter money' principle. In Uber's case they artificially are able to create a market by undercutting prices where (as the article states) even public transportation can not compete anymore with the endgame of having a monopoly. If Uber would not have billion's of VC's helicopter money they would not be able to do that.

Yes, please keep repeating this to us as though we're idiots who have never heard of supply and demand, and as though we haven't heard this explanation from Uber defenders a thousand times before. And definitely don't consider the possibility that we understand this reasoning and still find it unsatisfactory.

Snark is deprecated here, so please don't do this. Instead, if a comment is annoyingly missing something important, wait for the annoyance to subside, then neutrally say what they're missing. Otherwise the discussion just degenerates.

If you don't say why you find this argument unsatisfactory then we'll be compelled to assume that you just don't understand supply and demand, just like SF NIMBYs.

You can't know how surge pricing actually works, because Uber's algorithm is proprietary. It could work in theory but not work in practice - people usually report they can beat surges by walking a block or switching to Lyft, and maybe drivers don't care about a 1.2x price surge or can't hear about it in time?

It is no surprise to me that big government hates competition.

Are municipalities considered "big government"?

Cities like New York, LA, Boston, DC, SF have bigger governments than many states, and even larger than some countries.

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