Two needs of central interest to all major metropolitan areas, if not all towns and cities, seem to be underestimated these days: first, the need for readily available delivery and delivery services, which have represented a kind of essential Infrastructure since the earliest days of our republic. And second, the need for a decent quality of life for residents who to bring these services, which is among other things a prerequisite for the sustainability any way to satisfy first need.
A city like New York, for example, benefits enormously from readily available and affordable livery for people and the delivery of things (letters, documents, medicine, groceries, meals, etc.), and therefore also from arrangements that attract and sustainably retain local providers of these services. This is why you see taxis, buses, small trucks and other delivery vehicles everywhere, and indeed always.
It is rather disturbing, then, after several suicides of taxi drivers in recent years, to now learn that Uber
The court’s unfortunate decision begs an obvious question: If New York can’t “beat” Uber and Lyft, why isn’t it “joining” them—joining them, that is, as a competitor? In other words, why not offer a “public option” when it comes to delivery services in and around New York?
To understand why this question is worth asking, note that the typical Uber driver only receives between 40-60% of each fare charged to passengers, or about 52% on average. The lion’s share of the rest – between 25 and 43%, depending on the length of the trip – goes to Uber itself, while the remaining 15% goes to the City. The numbers for Lyft, which uses the same platform model as Uber, are comparable.
Yet what are Uber, Lyft and the City contributing to the ride? Uber and Lyft provide nothing more than technically simple and easily replicable “two-way market” platforms, while the city oversees operations to maintain security.
Given the little involvement in maintaining the rigs themselves, which use an age-old and very simple model, New York and other cities should be able to fairly easily establish and maintain their own rigs. -safe forms with the 15% reduction in transport costs that New York and other cities already take, allowing all licensed drivers to pocket the remaining 85% of the transport costs. Meanwhile, allowing drivers to compete on vehicle comfort and even price within a reasonable range could help lower costs for passengers, while allowing the city to add congestion surcharges at certain times of the day (as Uber and Lyft themselves do) could help manage the volume.
Of course, companies like Uber and Lyft and the politicians they “contribute” to will say it sounds like “socialism,” that “capitalism” is more efficient and cheaper, and so on. But there is no reason to credit such clichés in the current infrastructural context. All Uber and Lyft are “efficient” now that a city wouldn’t is extracting high fees from passengers and profits from drivers for free. They add no value in exchange for those forms of extraction that cities could not provide as well on a non-profit basis, again given the age, familiarity and low cost of the technology. pairing used by their algorithms.
Uber and its ilk are, in other words, mere rent-gatherers at this point. And when it comes to public goods and critical infrastructure like livery and delivery, we have long viewed rent as just a form of extortion or piracy. Those who invented the relevant technologies were paid handsomely for intellectual property long ago, and all companies like Uber and Lyft are doing now is ignoring the general public about the ease of access and use of technology.
So what New York and other cities should be doing is providing their own rigs to their own liveries and delivery drivers. Cut out the now-literally parasitic middlemen, and you’ll have both cheaper rides and deliveries and better-paid drivers and deliverers. This in turn will improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers, not just a few rent-seekers in Silicon Valley. And because the ride-sharing industry continues to grow rapidly in response to ever-increasing demand, acting now will also prevent more extraction in the future than now.
You’d think New York and other cities already do this through the Curb taxi app, which is now as available for download on smartphones as the Uber and Lyft apps. It would be a mistake. Curb simply works as an easier way to hail a cab than the old street wave method. It does not augment the taxi fleet with additional cars and drivers like Uber and Lyft do, but rather makes it easier to call existing taxis. As such, it leaves out most of the inconveniences of taxi rides – long waits, sometimes unpredictable fares, etc. – which boosted demand for Uber and Lyft in the first place, while adding app usage fees.
Another, more general point: the so-called “platform” and “gig” economies, as we now know, include much more than delivery and delivery services. They include sales of all kinds, temporary and handyman work, hotel and apartment rentals, and all sorts of other markets that only require easy ways in which buyers and sellers can find each other. – i.e. bilateral matching platforms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than 55 million Americans, or 36% of the workforce, work in the gig economy, while 33% of U.S. businesses make extensive use of gig workers .
Platforms like Facebook Marketplace make it clear that these services can be made available at virtually no additional cost to sellers or buyers. Why don’t all cities make these platforms freely available in all areas where they are not already available? Besides, why doesn’t the US Department of Labor do this for the entire US economy? If much of the American economy is the “gig economy,” why not publicly and cheaply provide the infrastructure for that economy, just as we do the no– the economy of the concert?
Let us therefore literally eliminate superfluous private intermediaries and mediate all our “work” relationships through this original form of media coverage that we discovered thousands of years ago on a civic and non-profit basis: the politethem citizensthe “public sector” – the one we establish to work to all of us, not extract from most of us. This will result in gains not only in equity and efficiency, but also in productivity, forcing those who currently extract rents to start adding value instead.
Start with our cities, then work your way up to our state and federal governments, which really makes it the servants rather than recognizing Silicon Valley companies as mastery from all of us.