Uber, Lyft & the roads of hell

I can live without the Facebook. I can mange without Google’s search, but given my inability to drive, I simply cannot survive without Uber. (FWIW: Uber or Lyft are interchangeable because most drivers these days are affiliated with both the services.) As a service it is a much needed improvement over the cab services, which were my primary mode of transportation. Uber is more reliable, faster and the cars are cleaner.

It is just better — and taxi companies don’t quite understand that better is just better. All cabs even today are smelly, hard to hail, and also more expensive. They are the opposite of better. In case you were wondering why I am going on singing praises of Uber, get ready for the plot twist.Much as I love Uber and its convenience, I hate what it is doing to the fabric of modern San Francisco (and perhaps other cities.). The ease of car hailing means our roads are packed with cars driven by folks with mediocre driving skills and limited sense of civic duties. Who cares about lanes, or traffic flows, when it is time to pick up a rider. The cars stop in middle of the road to let off a rider. Drivers make illegal turns because the Uber system routes them that way or at the request of a hurried rider.

The mapping infrastructure used by Uber to offer directions to its drivers is worse than Mapquest. It is hardly a surprise that most of them are constantly peering into the app screen or checking out Waze to find a better way. As a passenger, sitting in back of an Uber X is like playing Russian Roulette with someone else pulling the trigger.

As a pedestrian, things have gotten worse. Today, while walking to work — about a 5 minute walk from home, I got (nearly) hit, three times. It is not a special occasion. Speeding Ubers & Lyfts screech to a halt, scaring the bejesus out of you, especially when you are walking wearing headphones. My point is that convenience and speed are not a zero-sum game. Ironically don’t expect city to do anything about it. Ed Resiken, director of SF MTA had this to say in a chat with The Chronicle.

“There is no telling exactly how many of these ride-hailing vehicles are now operating on the streets of San Francisco, because these so-called sharing companies refuse to share their data with us. But we know there’s been a huge infusion of vehicles. I can see the traffic impact on Muni with my own eyes. I ride the trains or buses every day. And riding on a full, rush-hour N-Judah train, it will suddenly come to a dead stop because an Uber car has pulled in front of the train to pick up a passenger. It’s horribly frustrating for commuters. I hear complaints from passengers all the time and from small-business owners. They ask, ‘Why can’t you do something about this?’”

Apparently:

The state PUC has usurped regulatory authority over TNCs from the cities and is doing a terrible job of it. “The PUC has no means of enforcing anything as far as I can see,” he said. The state commission routinely ignores San Francisco’s pleas to regulate Uber and Lyft, Reiskin said. “It’s obvious that these companies have well-funded lobbies in Sacramento.”

The newspaper in a report noted that, “Uber and Lyft drivers account for about 170,000 trips on a typical workday” or about “15 percent of all vehicular traffic in the city.” Another news report pointed out that, “from April 1 to June 30, San Francisco police issued 2,656 traffic violations in the city’s downtown areas, and of those, 1,723 — or nearly 65 percent — went to Lyft and Uber drivers.”

Given the lack of active policing in San Francisco, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that the numbers in reality would actually be astonishingly large when taken across the city. It is time to face the facts: we need regulations to prevent these services from running amok, and ruining the civic infrastructure. They have had ten year runaway of being innovators who lived in the legal grey zones.

So the bottom line is that we need to think of ways to improve this situation — Uber & Lyft cannot shy away from their civic duties and play a role, by curtailing behavior and making roads safer for one and all — pedestrians, bikers, their riders, other cars on the road and drivers themselves. Uber and Lyft are making walking (or riding a bike) like playing a game of frogger! Your turn Dara. I am told you are more caring than the guy you replaced. Do you want to discuss? We can order food on UberEats and chew the fat about what is clearly a problem.

January 26, 2018. San Francisco

Letter from Om

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