Ride-Sharing Services

ride-sharingRide-sharing services, like Uber, and taxi-hailing apps show us how increased connectivity shapes the behaviour of citizens. This has an impact on the mobility patterns of people, vibrancy of the city, on job opportunities, job efficiency and convenience. Two recent quotes on this matter:

“How Uber Is Changing Night Life in Los Angeles”, From the NY Times: 
…“It became very clear to me that I could use Uber and have the kind of life I wanted,” he said. “I feel like I found a way to take the best parts of my New York lifestyle, and incorporate them in L.A.”
Mr. O’Connell is part of a growing contingent of urbanites who have made Ubering (it’s as much a verb as “Googling”) an indispensable part of their day and especially their night life. Untethered from their vehicles, Angelenos are suddenly free to drink, party and walk places. Even as their business models are evolving, these ride-sharing services, which include Lyft, Sidecar and others, have upended the social habits of the area, and rallied its residents to be more peripatetic. A night out in Los Angeles used to involve negotiating parking, beating traffic and picking a designated driver. Excursions from one end to the other — say, from the oceanfront city of Santa Monica to the trendy Silver Lake neighborhood on the eastern side — had to be planned and timed with military precision, lest they spiral into a three-hour commute. More often than not, they were simply avoided.

“Before Uber was a thing, I would rarely go to Hollywood,” said Drew Heitzler, an artist who lives in Venice, a potentially treacherous drive away. “The prospect of going to Hollywood on a weekend night, if I was invited to a party or an art event, it just wouldn’t happen. I would just stay home.”
Now Mr. Heitzler, 42, uses the ride-sharing app at least weekly, gladly leaving his car behind when he socializes. “In Los Angeles, you have the ubiquitous D.U.I. checkpoints everywhere,” he said. “If you’re going to go to a party, you either don’t drink or you Uber there and Uber back, and problem solved.”….

‘Cab Fair’, From the Economist:
RU LI is typical of many Beijing taxi drivers these days—relaxed, smiling and, at rush hour on a Friday afternoon, politely declining to pick up passengers from the street. He is waiting by a mall in central Beijing for a customer he has connected with using Didi Dache, China’s leading taxi-hailing app. Across the street are two other taxis that have also arranged pick-ups using the same app.
Not long ago taking a taxi in Beijing was unpleasant for customer and driver alike. Passengers hunted desperately for cabs. Drivers, angry at working conditions and low fares, waved them away. The vague threat of a formal strike loomed and, before smartphones, might have happened.
Today the experience is transformed. Taxi-hailing apps have given drivers more control, as the apps match drivers with passengers, who can offer a tip as an incentive. The government stepped in, too: last year Beijing authorities raised the minimum fare by 30% to 13 yuan ($2.10), the first increase in a decade.

Like most drivers Mr Ru, who is 32, also uses the app Kuaidi Dache (which means “Quickly Hail a Taxi”), owned by Alibaba, an internet conglomerate. (Didi Dache, owned by Tencent, another conglomerate, means “Honk, Honk, Hail a Taxi”.) Owing to fierce competition, the rival apps offer subsidies to drivers as well as customers, who pay for the ride through their smartphones. The two apps each have more than 100m registered users and, at the end of March, claimed a combined 11m daily orders for taxis. Unlike apps in the West such as Uber, which use a network of drivers in competition with taxi firms, Chinese apps work in co-operation with them.
Thanks to the apps and to the rise in cab fares, Mr Ru says that, instead of 12-hour workdays and only a few days off each month, he now works ten hours a day, five days a week, for the same money—about 5,000 yuan ($800) a month…

Picture: Emily Berl for the New York Times
Sources: New York Times, the Economist

Clean Air Act

London had its Great Smog in 1952. Although being used to fog this one was more hazardous as ever causing death and illness in the City of London. Beijing has its Great Smog these days. Nothing to be proud of. Air pollution reaches up to 40 times the maximum as being set by the World Health Organization. Beijing sits in the middle of a coal-burning factories belt that expands ever more. The economic growth of China and the demand for electricity will not be the incentive for a cleaner Beijing. What should happen?Having a look at London in 1952 might help. The City of London introduced regulations followed by the Clean Air Act in 1956 only four years after the Great Smog. The Clean Air Act introduced a number of rules to reduce air pollution. For example by introducing ‘smoke control areas’ in which only smokeless fuels could be burnt. It regulated homes’ heat sources and it included measures to relocate power station away from cities and for the height of some chimneys to be increased. The Great Fog in London was that bad that even polluted air interrupted indoor events. It was simply not possible to see the projection in a cinema any longer. The Clean Air Act made the air in the City much better but it took a long run. In the 60-ies another Big Smog entered the city stage. It takes decades to clean up the air so Beijing better starts now. Another milestone since the Clean Air Act in London of 1956 was the introduction of Congestion Charges in the centre of the city in 2008. Congestion Charge charges high-polluting vehicles 25 pounds each time they pass through Central London’s Congestion Zone. Other vehicles are charged 8 pounds. Under the initiative, some low-emission vehicles can drive through the zone for free. In 2009, air pollution in the City of London was marked as moderate or high on only 12 days, less than a quarter of the 59 days recorded in 1993.

Sources: www.nytimes.com “Beijing Takes Steps to Fight Pollution as Problem Worsens” January 30, 2013, NRC Handelsblad 04 februari 2013, “Lessen van 100 jaar Smog”, www.wikipedia.com, “Clean Air Act 1956”, Smithsonian.com “Before and After, Cleaning up our Cities.” Picture above, London 1952, Piccadilly Circus. Picture Below, Beijing 2013.