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July 27, 2015


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Read this extremely useful Streetsblog piece,


The Uber issue as I see it, in light of Ben's article linked above, is that livery companies, including Uber, are selling to the consumer something that they did not have to pay for, which is access to city streets. For New York City to give away access to city streets so some cabbie can make a buck transporting a second person from point A to point B along those streets makes sense in the following cases:

There is no reasonable way to get from point A to point B (Queens Village problem you describe),

The city is being compensated in another way (through medallion sales).

Traditionally the yellows had Manhattan and the gypsy cabs had the outer boroughs, and folks in Upper Manhattan or QV had to suffer with poor service and long waits. However this was mitigated somewhat because QV folks could call the car service and schedule their ride, as well as sit at home, or at the party, until the ride came. Then the city invented the green cab, which had a cheaper medallion but gave green taxis the right to take street hails, so now I can go to my Upper Manhattan corner and hail a cab.

Why the city should give away access to city streets to anyone who wants to operate a for-hire vehicle is not clear to me. The city does not give away sidewalk space to anyone who wants to operate a lemonade stand. The city does not give away water to anyone who wants to run a car wash. The city does not give away space in parks to anyone who wants to hold a big party (limit is 25 or fewer people, probably as that's where the admin hassles start to add up). The MTA does not let anyone sell rides off their unlimited-fare metrocard to other straphangers.

I would agree! But with two caveats. First, I don't see why there should be any difference between a car selling rides to third parties and a car selling rides to its owners. There should be congestion prices placed on all cars. No?

Second, it is an empirical question as to whether the harm to potential customers from blocking more cabs is outweighed by the gain from less congestion for people trying to drive into Manhattan.

Fivethirtyeight has a pretty good take on what we know about the economic impact: http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-debate-on-ubers-impact-is-far-from-over/. Short version: we don't know enough!

Details aside, what I really like about your point, JKR, is that it elegantly demolishes the know-nothing libertarianism that lay behind my teenage rants. The issue about Uber's labor practices is a moral one; people can look at the same data and disagree. But the issue about greater-service versus higher-congestion is almost entirely empirical, unless you stick your fingers in your ears and pretend that there is no such thing as an externality.

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