June 11, 2023

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Uber and some traffic experts once predicted that a tap of an app ride would help reduce traffic and increase public transport use by drivers.

Instead, the opposite happened.

I mentioned this in a newsletter recently. Today I wanted to dig a little deeper into what went wrong with the promise of on-demand travel and what we can learn from it. How can we believe technology will help solve big problems if Uber’s big promise isn’t kept?

Further research has shown: In recent years, on-demand driving services have been a major contributor to increased traffic in US cities, especially in the inner cities of major cities. And most research shows that the transport services were also a major reason for the decrease in the number of passengers on public transport, especially on buses.

Uber and Lyft have said that people who drive themselves are the biggest sources of traffic. That’s true, but it doesn’t explain the increase in traffic the services have added to cities.

What went wrong? Gregory D. Erhardt, who analyzes transportation modeling systems at the University of Kentucky, told me that the companies and some transportation experts misjudged how the transportation services were being used.

The theory of on-demand rides was that they would be like carpooling. When people drove to work, they took an extra person or two along with them – and some money too. But Uber and Lyft turned out to be more like taxis.

Uber and Lyft focused their expansion in dense urban areas where there were lots of potential drivers and drivers. But even there, drivers spend a large part of their working hours walking around without fares and clogging the streets, said Dr. Erhardt. The combination of all these factors was miles long in many large and medium-sized cities. (Dr. Erhardt and his colleagues will soon publish more research on the effects of hail services in approximately 250 metropolitan areas in the United States.)

Dr. Erhardt and I discussed three lessons from this misjudgment. First, Uber and Lyft need to share their data so cities can understand the impact the services are having on the roads. Second, officials need to guide transport policy to encourage helpful behaviors and limit destructive ones. Third, guard rails must be in place for new technologies – and they may need to be put in place before their effects are apparent.

The first point is that Uber and Lyft, who tend to keep certain information like travelers and idle times private, need to share information with cities and researchers. “The cities are trying very hard and have a strong argument that we can use this data for planning and research purposes,” said Dr. Erhardt.

His second point was about incentives. Some cities, including New York and Chicago, have levied fees on Uber and Lyft trips to make driving around without passengers or picking up fares in dense urban centers more expensive. This is essentially causing passengers and businesses to cut down on journeys that could exacerbate traffic jams and pollution.

You might be thinking if Uber and Lyft are convenient, why should you get in their way? That’s fair, but governments use taxes and subsidies to encourage people to quit smoking or to buy houses. Transport that works for everyone does not happen by itself. “Designing the right structures is important,” said Dr. Erhardt.

And the third point is that policymakers may need to act early to impose new rules and requirements on new technologies. They didn’t when Uber and Lyft came along – because companies were fighting regulation and the services were popular.

However, the impact of driving services suggests that emerging modes of transport, including driverless cars, may need regulation early on to ensure that promises of collective good do not turn out to be a mirage.

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Tip of the week

Are you planning a trip soon? (I hope so!) Brian X. Chen, the personal technology columnist for the New York Times, tells us how we download maps to our phones when we may not have an internet connection.

With spring break – and vaccines! – Many of you are probably planning road trips with us. Add this to-do list to your to-do list: Download offline maps for your destination.

With offline maps, you can save map data for your chosen destination on your smartphone. If you drive to a location with poor cell coverage, your Maps app can still give you directions. This can be useful if, for example, you are visiting a national park with very mottled reception and need to find your hotel or the entrance to a hiking area.

How to download offline maps using Google Maps on iPhones and Android devices:

* Open the Google Maps app. Find the place you want to go. I will use Yosemite National Park as my example.

* Tap Yosemite National Park at the bottom of the screen. Then tap the More button. It’s the three-dot symbol in the upper right corner.

* Select the “Download offline map” option. Pinch your fingers together or apart to zoom in and out and select the area of ​​the map you want to save. Tap Download.

  • The Importance of an Amazon Choice: Warehouse workers in Alabama are voting on what may be the first Amazon union in the United States. My colleagues Karen Weise and Michael Corkery write about how the vote counting will work and what the election is about.

  • Never tweet? Recode reported that an Amazon computer security engineer believed corporate tweets sniffed by members of Congress were so unusual that it was possibly a cyberattack. No Jeff Bezos wanted a stronger blow to criticize the company.

  • Curbing Online Messages About Freewheeling: A relatively new generation of seedy, online news outlets in India have resisted the government’s campaign against dissent. My colleagues Mujib Mashal and Hari Kumar say that new rules might curb them now.

Look at this bird strutting confidently – really brisk. (And scroll down to see all of the people making music to our bird lover.) For the bird behavior experts, what’s going on here?

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