For a lit­tle smart regulation

Uber South Africa lost a bat­tle to me­tered taxi in­dus­try, but may yet save cities for pas­sen­gers

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - AL­WYN VILJOEN • al­wyn. viljoen@ wit­ness. co. za

ME­TERED taxi driv­ers who are fight­ing against low Uber fares achieved a first vic­tory when Cab­i­net last week ap­proved a bill that em­pow­ers traf­fic au­thor­i­ties to im­pound Uber taxis op­er­at­ing with­out a per­mit.

But based on the ride- shar­ing app com­pany’s lat­est global de­vel­op­ments, this vic­tory may be short- lived.

For Uber has al­ways been about get­ting fewer cars to trans­port more peo­ple and even in South Africa, grid­lock looms. The only so­lu­tion, said Uber co­founder Travis Kalan­ick, is for ev­ery­one to look at shar­ing rides from sub­urbs to work and back.

Speak­ing in a TED- talk last week, Kalan­ick said such car­pool­ing has, just in Los An­ge­les, re­moved 7,9 mil­lion miles off the roads and 1 400 met­ric tons of car­bon diox­ide out of the air.

But, warned Kalan­ick, Uber is not the first such ride- shar­ing scheme and regulation around the world poses a con­stant dan­ger. He told his TED au­di­ence how the first cheap ride shar­ing ser­vices in the U. S. — the Jit­ney — was reg­u­lated out of ex­is­tence de­spite fan­tas­tic pop­u­lar­ity in 1915. He said this first ride shar­ing started when a car sales­man from LA, LP Draper, who had the idea to shorten the long queues of peo­ple try­ing to get onto trol- leys. “He put a sign on his car to ad­ver­tise a ride to his desti­na­tion for a ‘ jit­ney’, which was slang for a nickle.

“And so peo­ple jumped on, and within one year, by 1915, there were 50 000 rides per day in Seat­tle, 45 000 in Kansas, 150 000 in Los An­ge­les.

“To put this in some per­spec­tive, Uber to­day is do­ing 175 000 rides a day in Los An­ge­les, 100 years later,” Kalan­ick said.

The trol­ley com­pa­nies then — as taxi com­pa­nies to­day — fought back and lob­bied lo­cal gov­ern­ments to en­act reg­u­la­tions to stop the Jit­ney jug­ger­naut, which ranged from ex­pen­sive li­cences, to manda­tory 16hour days, even to leg­is­lat­ing a back seat light to stop spoon­ing among young lovers.

By 1919, said Kalan­ick, the Jit- ney had been reg­u­lated com­pletely out of ex­is­tence and in­stead of ride shar­ing, ev­ery­one had to get a car, which spends 97% of its time parked.

And when they are not parked, they idle.

“We spend seven bil­lion hours sit­ting in traf­fic in the U. S. a year,” said Kalan­ick.

He said UberPool has al­ready shown how cities can save their res­i­dents time wasted on congested roads as well as the pol­lu­tion by us­ing the tech­nol­ogy in our pock­ets and ap­ply­ing “a lit­tle smart regulation”.

“In San Fran­cisco, we re­duced cars on the road through UberPool, in Los An­ge­les, we took 7,9 mil­lion miles off the road, and 1,4 met­ric tons of CO2 out of the air. In China, ev­ery­thing is su­per size. We are do­ing 15 mil­lion UberPool trips per month. That is five hun­dred thou­sand per day.”

He said the next ques­tion is how to get to a mil­lion pas­sen­gers per week, and the an­swer is to take UberPool to the sub­urbs with UberCom­mute.

Kalan­ick said cities would have been very dif­fer­ent to­day if the Jit­ney car was al­lowed to con­tinue, with parks in­stead of car parks.

“Tech­nol­ogy has given us an­other op­por­tu­nity, we have the tech in our pock­ets and with a lit­tle smart regulation, we can turn ev­ery car into a shared car and we can re­claim our cities, start­ing to­day.”

While taxi own­ers are right to de­mand fair com­pe­ti­tion for pas­sen­gers with ev­ery­one or no one hav­ing per­mits, they may yet find that car own­ers them­selves are sign­ing up for UberCom­mute to bet­ter use their travel time.

This may be­come the new fo­cus of Alon Lits, Uber in sub- Sa­ha­ran Africa, now that cab­i­net re­fused to amend the Na­tional Land and Trans­port Act to in­clud­ing a per­mit for driv­ers who use tech­nol­ogy to di­rectly link with pas­sen­gers, as op­posed to per­mits for a me­tered taxi or a char­tered ser­vice. For as Kalan­ick pointed out, no­body wants to sit idling in traf­fic, be they in Bei­jing or in North­dale.


The first Uber- cheap ride- shar­ing ser­vice was the Jit­ney cars, which trans­ported 150 000 peo­ple a day in Kansas a year af­ter it launched in 1915, but the pri­vate Jit­neys were quickly reg­u­lated out of ex­is­tence by trol­ley oper­a­tors, said Uber co- founder Travis Kalan­ick.

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