Uber and Lyft Are Threatening to Expose Poor and Elderly to Predatory Practices

An Uber driver with a fare

A driver using the Uber app at night (via Noel Tock on flickr).

This post appeared in Truthout.

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have grown increasingly popular in the last few years. During this time, both companies have faced numerous challenges to their business models, including lawsuits involving passenger safety and the misclassification of their drivers as independent contractors, as well as accusations that both drivers and passengers discriminate based on race and other factors.

Despite these problems, ride-hailing companies are being further enmeshed with social life. Uber and Lyft are often preferred transportation partners for events and businesses, and cities are even integrating the companies into their transportation systems — some via privatization. Services that use ride-hailing companies for social purposes have also developed. My Ride to Vote provided promo codes for no-cost Uber and Lyft rides to and from polling places in the recent presidential election.

As this process happens, it’s important to point out who is being left behind: mainly, those who cannot use these services, or who can only use them via intermediaries (which are sometimes predatory). For example, in the United States, both Uber and Lyft generally require a smartphone and a credit card to use the service. This leaves out people who don’t have, or cannot obtain, a smartphone and a credit card, as well as those who don’t want to use either for their transportation. (These services have a record of their passengers’ trips.) While the My Ride to Vote service was probably well-intentioned, it likely didn’t target people who actually needed to use the services to cast their vote, i.e., poorer people who are the least likely to vote. The problem? It used promo codes, which meant that passengers needed a smartphone and an active Uber account tied to a credit card to make use of the service. And as Helaine Olen points out at Slate, it also made the companies involved some money.

Continue reading at Truthout.

Cities Need More Public Transit, Not More Uber and Self-Driving Cars

A SEPTA bus in Philadelphia.

A SEPTA bus in Philadelphia (via Jarrett Stewart on flickr).

This post appeared in Truthout and Moyers & Company.

New transportation technologies — self-driving cars, electric vehicles and ride hailing services like Uber — promise to revolutionize transportation, especially in cities. While there are certainly potential benefits to these technologies, they have been called “solution[s] in search of a problem” because many of the benefits touted by advocates of these technologies are benefits that public transportation, walking and cycling already offer in abundance.

One thing rarely mentioned in the enthusiastic boosterism of these technologies is how their widespread adoption will affect the poor. Like other expenditures (especially those on necessities), the poor often pay a large portion of their income on meeting their transportation needs.

Continue reading at Truthout.

East Baltimore Urban Renewal

Washington and Ashland Ave Batimore

The corner of Washington Ave. and Ashland Ave. in August 2011 (top) and September 2015 (bottom). Via Google Street View.

This was originally written in November 2014.

Johns Hopkins University Hospital sits directly next to a very poor East Baltimore community. The hospital campus faces inward with iron fences and private guards in kiosks surrounding the entrances. The subway system reaches the campus and goes no farther. In March 2014, The New York Times ran an article in the Arts & Design section about a redevelopment project in this neighborhood that included a new public school operated by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and Morgan State University. Like most writing about poverty for an audience with no real interest in poverty, the article conveyed how difficult poverty is to solve, creating no expectations that what followed would solving anything, and served to bolster the reputation of a prestigious institution. JHU, described as a “great university,” was attempting a “grand urban experiment.”

The new K-8 school is one part of a greater redevelopment project and serves as the Arts & Design “hook,” since it contains supposedly innovative things like “a community center, library, auditorium, and gym” that are actually standard in properly funded public school facilities. Past these benefits (and buried in the article), is the price the community paid for this project:

Continue reading