Monday, July 18, 2016

TSTC: The Awful Logic of Commuting via UberPOOL

Congestion underground or congestion above ground. Take your pick. | Images: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC
Congestion underground or congestion above ground. Take your pick. | Images: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Earlier this week, Uber hooked up with Gilt to offer a flat-rate commuter program that entitles participants to unlimited uberPOOL rides in Manhattan below 125th Street, between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays.
Here we have an example of something that looks like a good idea from a microeconomic perspective (I can ride in a car for cheaper than the subway? Sign me up!) but from a macroeconomic perspective, it’s a terrible one (If everyone took a car to work in Manhattan, nobody would get to work on time).
As anyone who rides transit in New York City knows, riding the underfunded, aging, crowded subway or the slow, constantly stopping, also crowded bus isn’t exactly the most glamorous way to travel, especially if your trip involves a transfer or waiting on a platform that isn’t air conditioned. Most of the time your train or bus arrives in a reasonable amount of time and you’re able to get where you’re going without any major headaches. But sometimes this happens:
The reality is the public transit options in New York are underwhelming for a world-class metropolis. Yes, the transit network is the life blood of the city, but it certainly hasn’t been treated that way lately. Other cities have congestion pricing to fund massive systems expansions, while here we have a transit agency that can barely scrape together $5 billion dollars each year for a system worth $1 trillion. And it’s not just what we put in that’s lacking, it’s also what we get out. Bus riders get Wi-Fi and USB charging capability, but it’s clear that what riders really want is frequent, fast, reliable service.
Even a tiny mode shift from transit to Uber would be terrible for congestion. So while we certainly don’t endorse Uber’s latest idea, the logic is pretty obvious: if you know there’s a good chance your commute is going to be sub-optimal, you might as well take a car to work — at least you know you’ll get a seat.


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