For a little smart regulation
Uber South Africa lost a battle to metered taxi industry, but may yet save cities for passengers
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.