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The Next Generation
This is a post I wrote in 2014 when Uber was being outlawed across the United States.
If the world invented a flying car, would taxi driver’s get government to outlaw it because their rides would be shorter and the couldn’t charge as much?
At some point when you were a child, your parents gave you an incredible gift: a bicycle. All shiny and painted. Wheels ready to turn. But what that bike represented was incredible. A whole new world. Before that bike, you could only venture so far into the world. If you had six hours free and could walk at three miles per hour, that meant you could, at most, see a total of the world within a nine mile radius of your home with time to get back. Your entire world was approximately 81π square miles. But with a bike, that speed increases to fifteen miles per hour. Your world just went to 2025π square miles! That’s an increase of over 2500%. Your world just got twenty-five times larger! So the excitement you felt was not just over how colorful the bike was, but the freedom and new experiences it represented. The wonder that you could discover with it.
That new bike changed your world.
Your first car did the same thing, forever altering your reality to essentially include most of the continental United States assuming you didn’t have to be home for dinner by seven.
One of the best parts about having a car was the ability to share it with friends. Not everyone needed one. We could all hop in together and share the ride. Get to our destination during a journey that we all enjoy.
Today, almost none of my friends, including myself, have cars. The city is already too expensive without one not to mention that parking is also expensive and in very short supply.
Having a car in San Francisco requires the usual debt, gas, and insurance payments, but also storage, regular parking, and infraction costs. These add up to an astronomical amount. At my old apartment, I was able to rent my space for $400 a month. That’s the price for an entire apartment in some cities. It also meant that if I were to buy $1 clunker and wanted to put it in my parking spot, the net cost of that clunker would be -$400 per month before I was ever even allowed to drive it or filled it with gas. That’s a ton.
Parking infractions are even worse. I have counted for years how many meter maids vs police officers I see in San Francisco and the ratio is somewhere at 1:10. The police have become nothing more than a tax agency on those with money, rarely if ever actually enforcing law except when it suits them (with all due respect to some of the fine and amazing SFPD officers I have met. It’s not your fault, it’s your bosses.). Meters in San Francisco are not even flat rate. They vary their cost based upon demand. Someone who needs to commute to work cannot accurately predict their monthly expenditures anymore. San Francisco is supposedly working on parking meters that will digitally detect the presence of a car which has stayed past its welcome and actually call the meter maid in order to hand over a $60 ticket for a $1.00 infraction. That’s one of the highest interest rates in the world. Why not make it so that the meter will call you, the driver, and remind you to put in money? Because that’s not what they want. Meters are incredibly profitable for the city. They would never want you to remember to put money in. It nets the city so much money that they will never, ever decrease the cost of parking, only increase it. It’s the proverbial golden handcuffs.
So how do I get around this city do you ask? Well, your first answer would the classical taxi. God forbid. If I need to get to a meeting, I’m not calling a taxi. They rarely, if ever, show up when called, take 45 minutes to arrive, have a rude driver who breaks numerous driving laws, claims that their credit card machine is broken despite it not, and swears at me if I don’t have exact cash change for a $27.38 charge not including what appears to be a mandatory 25% tip.
I use Uber. Constantly. It’s slightly more expensive and worth its weight in gold. The drivers, especially in the SUVs, are professional, on time, courteous, drive safely, don’t talk loudly on their cell phones about you in a foreign language, don’t demand tips or exact change, and usually have water.
Yet, Uber is under attack as being illegal. Why would a society that has created a product so clearly superior ever challenge it as being illegal?
Let’s make this simple: when the ATM machine was invented, it was quickly adopted because it was significantly better than the alternative. No more hours at banks, cash available everywhere, and less counting errors. Smaller lines, happier customers. Boom. ATMs galore.
But bank tellers were not protected by government regulation. Government did not dictate how many bank tellers there were. Why would they ever do such a thing? More bank tellers is a good thing and banks are private businesses.
But taxis do use a public resource: the roads. And they should not be jammed up. This created the taxi license/medallion. However, government being the profit center that it is, has never optimized the number of licenses for the number of people who need rides, it has optimized for their governmental revenue. This has kept supply low and the cost of licenses high. Creating what can only be called an absolute fucking mess.
That is why the taxi experience is so bad. They figured they were protected from on high. No matter what they do to a customer, there are no repercussions. There are no alternatives for passengers. No challengers. No place to run away.
Uber is so frightening to governments because not only does it take away their control over a finite resource that made them hundreds of millions, but it represents that Americans are willing to say:
We don’t live in a society where we have to accept the status quo. We will build something better. We will build the ATM. And if you try to stop us, we will show the entire world who you are. That you are just money grubbing leeches on society trying to stop us from getting what we deserve: a happier life and a better experience with free competition.
Thousands of tellers lost their jobs when the ATM was invented. Thousands of taxi drivers should too because Uber is the next generation. Fighting back against change and natural selection is not what capitalism and the United States is about. We are supposed to embrace it and let those older companies die, like vacuum tubes or film cameras.
Your bike represented freedom not just because of the square miles that you could cover, but also because it was yours. Free and clear. No taxes, no insurance, no parking tickets, and no storage fees. You were free to explore the world.
We aren’t children anymore and things cost money. But anyone who tries to take our freedom away deserves no freedom for themselves.
So I ride Uber. And I ride it proud. Because it is my starship. The next generation. And to anyone who says I shouldn’t get it:
George Patterson Sibble