Posted by Leave a Commenton Tuesday, June 28, 2016 |
Chicago Tribune’s Lara Weber is Very Confused About Uber, Lyft, and Taxi Cabs
In the wake of the Chicago City Council passing new regulations on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, Chicago Tribune editorial board member Lara Weber has published a manifesto on why she’ll avoid using those services and opt for traditional taxi cabs instead. She gives at least 5 reasons for her position. And not a single one of them makes any sense.
Let’s break it down.
I live in Chicago and I won’t use Uber or Lyft. Crazy?
Yes. I mean, it’s your prerogative, sure. But, yes.
Here’s why I’ll remain a holdout and keep using taxis.
I can’t wait.
In part, it’s because I can.
As a white woman who lives and works north of the Loop, I have far more transportation choices than many other Chicagoans — and I have never felt the sting of being denied a ride because of how I looked or where I needed to go.
Translation: I believe taxi drivers have a historical reputation for being racist and prejudiced in who they will and will not pick up for a ride, and where they will and will not take someone in the city. Uber and Lyft drivers do not. So, I’ll use cabs.
I appreciate that Uber, Lyft and whatever innovative system comes next are making it easier for people throughout the city to get around — and to earn some quick cash. But I see trouble down the road for any city that falls too quickly for the sharing-economy promise. So until Chicago evens out the playing field for all ride-for-hire businesses, and until Uber and Lyft show a greater investment in their drivers, I’ll wait as long as it takes for the next cab.
Good for you?
I don’t buy the “Uber is safer” argument. Unless someone I know is driving the car, any ride for hire — via taxi, Uber, Lyft or CTA bus — involves getting into a vehicle with a stranger at the wheel. Odds are high that I’ll get from Point A to Point B without incident in any of those options.
Yes, friends who are parents say they like Uber because it seems safer for their kids to use. The GPS systems built into the Uber and Lyft apps track every ride, in real time. I get why that’s appealing to a parent of a teen who needs to get around, but that doesn’t necessarily make a ride safer. It might keep kids more honest about where they’re going, but that’s it. Bad things — from reckless driving to horrifying accounts of sexual assault — have been reported in both taxis and Uber cars.
Translation: Uber and Lyft are not perfectly safe. But Uber and Lyft do offer a host of safety features that taxi cabs don’t offer at all. So, I’ll use taxis.
I see red flags on those ride-share cars. I love the idea of industry disruptors — especially ones that work within existing laws to push new ideas using new technologies. Uber’s business strategy in the first years after it launched in 2009 was to operate outside or just on the edge of existing ride-for-hire laws and to wow the young, affluent and tech-savvy with its supposedly revolutionary app-based system — which looks to me like little more than a tech-assisted taxi dispatcher. An improvement on the taxi system, for sure, but they’re all ride-for-hire businesses and should be held to the same laws.
Could Chicago’s laws use some updating? Definitely, but not in the direction the City Council just took. Slapping tight regulations on Uber and Lyft is a backward move. Instead, it’s time the city eliminated the medallion system and adopted one simpler set of safety-focused, competition-friendly rules for all ride-for-hire businesses.
Translation: It’s not that Uber and Lyft are unregulated. The problem is that taxi cabs are over-regulated. So, I’m going to use taxi cabs, because they are pushing for new laws that apply the over-regulated standards they are forced to endure to Uber and Lyft, which is the opposite of what I just argued for.
I don’t believe Uber and Lyft are creating jobs. The so-called sharing economy changes the way people work and do business, but don’t be fooled into thinking it creates jobs. Uber — now valued at around $60 billion — is a private company that operates in about 450 cities around the world and has just a couple thousand actual employees. In the U.S. alone, Uber has more than 160,000 drivers — literally the engine that drives Uber business — and none are employees with any traditional benefits or job security. Who’s going to cash in if Uber goes public? Definitely some of Uber’s high-profile investors, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ari, and celeb Ashton Kutcher, and definitely not most of the Uber drivers.
Translation: Rahm Emanuel’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate invested in Uber and this for some reason concerns me way more than the thousands of dollars that cab companies are pouring into Aldermen’s campaign funds of late to secure their votes in regulating Uber and Lyft out of town, as we saw recently in Austin, Texas. So, I’ll use cabs.
Also, the bolded statement above is so hysterically nonsensical. Whether or not Uber and Lyft are creating jobs is not a matter of Weber’s opinion or belief, but an empirical fact. As she herself notes, Uber alone has more than 160,000 drivers. Those drivers are working in jobs created by the existence of Uber. Just because Weber doesn’t like the contract work nature of the jobs — which drivers are aware of and have willingly accepted — doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.
What she’s really saying is, “Uber and Lyft are creating jobs that I don’t like or don’t think are good enough.” And, frankly, who cares if she thinks this? There are 160,000 people willing working and driving for Uber on the terms offered to them. I highly doubt any Uber driver thought before accepting their gig, “Gee, I wonder if Chicago Tribune editorial board member Lara Weber thinks this is a good deal for me?”
Uber and Lyft drivers are on a dead-end road. I can see the temptation of becoming a driver. Drive around when you want to and make some extra cash with your car. Great! But the hidden costs of becoming a driver should make anyone suspicious. Gas, auto repairs, interior maintenance, insurance, your time. Those are all real costs. Deduct them from the amount you earn after Uber or Lyft takes its cut and see if it’s worth it. If it is, go for it. But I’ve met too many people who say they’ve tried driving and quit because the math doesn’t work in their favor.
Translation: I’ve met “too many” people that quit driving for Uber. (How many is that, exactly? Two? Five? Anything remotely approaching a representative or statistically meaningful sample?). And even though there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people that continue to drive for Uber everyday in this city, I’m sure I know more than they do about them getting a raw deal. So, I’ll use cabs.
The business model behind a company like Uber demands that it recruit as many drivers as possible so that it can provide immediate service to its customers. But that means a saturated market with thousands of drivers scrambling for fares. Add in variable pricing — with fares set by Uber — and drivers are less able to count on earning enough to make the work worth their time.
If this were actually the case, then the drivers unable to earn enough to make it worth their time would quit. The quitting drivers would reduce the supply until the market reached an equilibrium. Yet we’re left here with the implicit assumption that Weber, in all of her infinite wisdom, believes not only that she knows what kind of jobs people should and should not take, but that she knows better how to “balance” the transportation market for the benefit of everyone. Talk about conceited.
Plus, Uber and Lyft have both confirmed they’re in the race to adopt driverless cars. Driverless. That means — even if it’s a long way off — no more drivers.
Yes, by all means, let’s overly concern ourselves today with the potential impact of a technology that might be decades away from fully coming online. In my case, I’m holding out on buying car because I think the teleportation business just ready to explode on to the scene at some point between now and when I die. Logical, right?
Also, if the technology for driverless cars becomes that prevalent and available, what makes Weber think that the taxi cab companies wouldn’t rush to embrace it to cut out the cost of employing thousands of taxi cab drivers?
It can be a risky investment for drivers. Realizing it needed more and more drivers to build its current business, Uber launched an auto-leasing program a few years ago so that people without cars could still join their ranks. Uber partners with local auto dealerships willing to accept financing through Uber — often to credit-challenged drivers, at not-the-best terms.
Suddenly, people otherwise unable to get a car are lured in by the idea of leasing a brand-new (or almost new) car through Uber. How will they make payments? Easy! Uber deducts the money from the driver’s weekly payout.
Trouble comes when a driver hits some snag — an illness or car accident — and can’t earn enough from driving to cover the car payments, not to mention all the other costs of having a car. Still on the hook for payments to Uber, a now-former driver can end up deep in debt and carless in a flash.
Translation: Risk is an inherent part of life. For some reason this bothers me when it comes to Uber drivers but apparently nothing else, like eating out (I could get food poisoning!), showering (I could slip and fall!), or taking a cab (the drivers there are exposed to the exact same problem!). So, I’ll use cabs.
I do see some good.
Imagine my relief.
Uber is making a big deal about how it benefits riders and neighborhoods that have been underserved by taxis. Despite laws against the practice, taxi drivers have notoriously avoided Chicago’s South and West sides for decades, creating “transportation deserts” that disproportionately affect the city’s minority neighborhoods. A colleague who lives on the Far South Side says that now, because of Uber, she can finally get a ride when she needs one.
Oh? The existence of Uber and Lyft have managed to alleviate a problem created by, in Weber’s own acknowledgment at the beginning of her piece, racism and bigotry. In her mind, this qualifies as “some good” to be mentioned as an afterthought in a column explaining why Uber and Lyft are a bad deal. I have a feeling the people who live in those communities and are in need of transportation might feel different. Just a hunch.
Competition might succeed where laws have failed — but only if Uber and Lyft take care of their drivers. If they don’t, this bubble of expanded transportation will burst.
For now, I’ll stick with taxis.
It’s not that competition might succeed where laws have failed. It has. These traditionally underserved communities now have transportation options not previously available to them. And those options exist because of Uber and Lyft.
But for those of you who live in those communities, Lara Weber is going to stick to patronizing the people who she believes would and do deny you service because of “how [you] looked or where [you] needed to go” for a whole bunch of reasons that don’t even make sense on their face.
I’ll let you decide what that says about Ms. Weber.
Last week, AFSCME Council 31 released a short online video taking some swings at the Illinois Policy Institute:
All in all, this is pretty ho-hum stuff, and just about what you’d expect rhetorically from AFSCME. Up to and especially including the obligatory, “Ahhhh, the boogeyman!” mention of the Koch Brothers.
But let’s take a quick look at some of the liberties AFSCME took with this video.
First up, the Chicago Tribune column from Diana Sroka Rickert. Rickert is VP of Communications at IPI, and regularly publishes a guest column in the Tribune. Here’s the freeze-frame from the video where they highlight the headline and the byline:
Notice the byline. Now look how it actually appears on the Tribune‘s website:
Just a name. No identifier. Here’s now the identifier shows up in a footer at the bottom of the column, emphasis mine:
Diana Sroka Rickert is a writer with the Illinois Policy Institute. The opinions in this essay are her own.
I’ve looked, and I can’t find where this article appears with the byline as displayed in the AFSCME video. I’m left to assume that the video image has been edited to add “a writer with the Illinois Policy Institute” behind Rickert’s name or to remove the second half of what appears in the footer, clarifying that “the opinions in this essay are her own.”
The second part is important. Rickert is not writing this piece in an official capacity for IPI. She’s expressing her own opinions. I would like to imagine that AFSCME would appreciate the same courtesy being extended to their members and officials when expressing their opinions in a private-citizen capacity and not as speaking on behalf of AFSCME. Otherwise, it’s fair game to attribute everything AFSCME members say to the union itself. Things like, perhaps, this.
Also left on the cutting room floor? The real, complete thrust of Rickert’s proposal:
Lay off the entire state workforce, and close the pension system. Work with the General Assembly to open a different retirement plan for newly hired government workers, modeled after the nation’s most popular retirement vehicle: the 401(k). Then offer to rehire state workers under the new retirement plan.
Guess they forgot to mention that whole “hire them all back part.” Oops.
Overall, there’s no sourcing for anything in this video. Most political campaign ads include some kind of citations where, if you’re really interested, you can go find and examine their justification for the claims being made. But AFSCME doesn’t tell you where you can find any context for what they’ve chosen to excerpt here.
For example, they’ve attributed the words “abandon pensions” to IPI CEO John Tillman. A quick Google search for John Tillman “abandon pensions” returns no results. And even if I stipulate that Tillman has said these two words consecutively at some point in time, there’s no way to access any greater context for those remarks. They’re two words. I imagine if we went back through the statements of AFSCME officials we could have some tremendous fun excerpting two-word phrases out of context from their greater statements.
Later on, the video asserts that IPI’s agenda is to “Wipe Out Unions.” Their justification for this claim is this:
Establishing local right-to-work zones = “wipe out unions?”
First of all, we’re only talking about localized right-to-work zones. In this particular case, this is about legislation that was approved in Lincolnshire that only governs that village. Simply put, there are unions within right-to-work zones. There are 26 right-to-work states in the country, including union-heavy Michigan. There are unions existing and operating within all of those states. The only difference is that there are no closed shops. No one has to join a union (or pay tribute) in order to take a job and work in those states. They can choose to. But they’re not compelled against their will.
Claiming the establishment of local right-to-work zones is tantamount to “wiping out unions” is absurd, and pretty self-indicting the part of the unions. What they’re really saying is that they believe when people are extended a choice on whether or not to join a union, people will overwhelmingly choose not to join, thus resulting in the union being “wiped out.” They’re saying that they themselves believe unions are only sustainable when people are coerced and compelled into joining and supporting them. What does that say about unions?
If this is really the best that AFSCME has to offer, then that’s pretty weak sauce.
There are plenty of people who are disenchanted with the current election cycle. But I think it’s safe to say that Reboot Illinois publisher and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Madeleine Doubek is not looking forward to this fall’s state contestso:
Why should we care about what happens in contested state legislative races all over the state this year? Each really is about the battle for control between GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. You knew that, but perhaps you didn’t realize we all will lose no matter who wins.
I can empathize with the general feeling. I’ve accepted that, for me, this year’s presidential election ends in tears no matter what happens. I’ve taken to describing it as the Alien vs. Predator election. Whoever wins… we lose:
Anyway, let’s get to why Doubek thinks this:
Every election cycle, there typically are a couple dozen hotly contested state legislative races, even after one political party or the other gets done rigging maps in their favor. Each party in both chambers has seats they can swipe from the other side. It’s in those races, traditionally, where most of the money is raised and spent.
This year is no different. But where it has changed, is that Republicans now are energized because of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner changes the political landscape in Illinois with his determination to shake up Springfield and his bottomless checking account. After years and years of failure, Republicans have their best shot in decades at winning the nuclear arms race that is funding and winning campaigns. …
Rauner shook up Springfield all right. Now, instead of one dictator, we now have two.
Rauner and Madigan control how much money goes into the key races like never before.
Tthe importance of money to political elections is generally overstated. Yes, it’s important. But it’s not everything. If you think money is everything, be sure to tell that to people like Republican Presidential nominee Jeb Bush or Illinois U.S. Senator Blair Hull. Or Bryce Benton, who challenged State Sen. Sam McCann, backed by a large amount of money, and lost by a sizable margin. They’re all examples that spending all the money in the world can’t make people vote for you if they don’t want to.
And the “dictator” line is just ridiculous hyperbole.
But this general consternation over how much money is being spent in Illinois political races, of the type being expressed here by Doubek, seems to be a recent phenomenon. And, at that, one prompted mostly by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s regular and significant investments in Republican candidates and infrastructure.
But for years, House Speaker Mike Madigan was the central bank of political contributions in the state. He controlled a fortune that was doled out to the candidates of his choice. And yet, it seems that far fewer people ever batted an eye at that hegemonic control of the campaign purse than they are at Rauner’s attempts to level the playing field for Republican candidates.
How can we constituents fight to be heard when the politicians all owe their jobs to Madigan and Rauner?
I’d say they can be heard in that there’s an alternative to Madigan’s singular control over politics in this state. At least there’s an alternative. And I think she gives far too little credit to voters, assuming they don’t know what they’re buying, or what is generally at stake in this election.
We’ll find out in a few weeks time what the voters think.
If there is one thing that Chicagoland politicians are good at, it’s finding all kinds of new and creative ways to separate you from your hard-earned money. Take, for example, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has the benefit of being viewed as reasonable and competent by far too many people mostly because she’s not Todd Stroger. According to Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times, she’s currently mulling a tax on soda and other sugary drinks as a desperation ploy to try to close the county’s budget gap:
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is “looking hard” at a new tax on sugary soft drinks — anywhere from half a penny to a full penny an ounce — to close a $174.3 million budget shortfall without employee layoffs, sources said Tuesday. …
Now, Preckwinkle is returning to another controversial revenue idea she considered last year: a tax on sugary soft drinks long championed by public health advocates to curb obesity and diabetes that drives burgeoning health care costs.
Anything to avoid admitting the need for structural reform, I guess.
Back when the state was considering a similar tax, I wrote about why taxing soda — and other so-called vice taxes — are inherently contradictory in rationale and just generally terrible public policy:
First, the notion that obesity is an epidemic is commonplace but also grossly overstated. And the idea that people aren’t aware of what the First Lady of the United States has spent the last 5-plus years working to combat is absurd.
But the bigger insult to logic and reason is the 2nd paragraph in the quoted text above. We hear this same kind of reasoning, typically from Democrats and the left, when it comes to cigarette taxes. It goes like this: “This tax increase on [cigarettes, soda, whatever] will be a good thing because that tax revenue will help fund this really, really, really important government program. And, also, by raising the price of [smoking, drinking soda, whatever] it will discourage people from doing something that really just isn’t all that good for them.”
I hope you can clearly see the problems there. Cigarette taxes, and now soda/sugary drink taxes, are seemingly the one area of life where the left will acknowledge that what you tax you get less of. You tax cigarettes, you get less smoking. You tax soda, you get less consumption of soda. You tax income/work … you get less work? Of course. Except the left usually never makes that connection on that last one. Weird.
On the other side of the argument is the notion that said cigarette or soda tax revenue is going to help pay for some critical government program. Except that typically there won’t be enough revenue generated by the tax to actually fund the program, especially when you consider the diminishing returns on the tax revenue by the higher cost of consuming the drinks. The cigarette tax that was to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, had one major problem: it needed about 22 million MORE smokers in order to fully fund the program. Oops.
That’s all assuming that this tax will actually be successful in driving people to other drinks. …
For the tax to have the effect Rep. Gabel desires, to drive people to drink something other than soda or other sugary drinks, it needs to be significant enough to make it costly enough for people to seek other alternatives. Will a penny per ounce do that? Unlikely. Adding extra $.12 to a can of soda or $.20 to a bottle, or $.32 or $.64 to fountain drinks isn’t likely to be enough of a cost burden to drive people to seek alternatives. There are a whole gaggle of people who regularly shell out $4 or $5 for a coffee or cappuccino at Starbucks. Do you really think that less than a dollar of extra cost is going to make that big of a difference? For most people, again, unlikely.
Which brings us to the last big problem: the problem of acceptable alternatives. Say the tax is effective in driving people to want to buy something other than soda or the other sugar-filled drink they like. It won’t be, but let’s say it does work. What alternatives exist out there? It seems clear that most people won’t be satiated with just water. Not everyone is going to want to drink coffee instead — into which people often put a significant amount of sugar. Nor does it seem likely people will flock to tea — iced tea often being sweetened, as well.
There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of alternatives out there for people to choose from if they don’t want to bear the cost of the tax on sugary drinks. So, they’re then still likely to just bite the bullet and buy the drink they want.
This tax just isn’t significant enough to have the discouraging effects that they proponents claim to want.
Which makes the real point of this gambit clear. It’s about revenue. It’s not about a concern for people’s health. And, why is it any of Rep. Gabel’s business what people want to drink any way? It’s a clear example of politicians feigning concern for your well-being in order to regulate the minutia of your life. And, finding new and exciting ways to separate you from your hard-earned money, to boot.
It was a terrible idea then. It’s a terrible idea now. And if Preckwinkle pursues it in this year’s budget, it’s nothing more than kicking the can of real, meaningful reform down the road even further for Cook County.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the Illinois Policy Institute has a new documentary film coming out on Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The trailer:
The kicker: the website for the documentary is www.MichaelMadigan.com. Which begs the question, even if he famously eschews technology, how on earth did Madigan’s team not own that URL?
Capitol Fax‘s Rich Miller is in the film. But he’s claiming that he was “duped” into participating. From Miller’s Crain’s Chicago Business column:
I was duped by a right-wing organization into appearing in what will probably be a propaganda movie. It’s my own fault. The producer claimed that while some people were pointing fingers at House Speaker Michael Madigan, his company was interested in doing a fair and balanced film about “what’s really at the center of it all.”
Two days later, I found out that the forthcoming “documentary” is backed by an arm of the well-funded Illinois Policy Institute, one of Madigan’s fiercest critics and a staunch ally of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The institute’s top executive is also a close Rauner adviser. I’m not exactly popular with that group, although I have strongly supported several of its small-business initiatives in Chicago. I’m not expecting to come out of the editing room looking too well.
Such is life.
I’m curious if Miller really thinks that the film will slice and dice what he said to make him look bad, ala the modus operandi of The Daily Show. Anyway, I can’t wait to see what he had to say if he’s openly fretting that he won’t “come out of the editing room looking too well.”
As for this controversy… look, I wasn’t there. But I’ll say this much: there’s a lot of pre-judging of a film that no one has seen yet going on here. It’s hardly uncommon for documentaries to have a distinct point of view. Take a look at some of the recent Oscar winners for Best Documentary:
- 2014: Citizenfour, which is a very sympathetic look at NSA whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden.
- 2010: Inside Job, which contends that the 2008 financial meltdown was, well, an inside job perpetrated by the corrupt financial services industry.
- 2006: An Inconvenient Truth, a very one-sided and widely disputed take on global warming/climate change featuring Al Gore.
- 2002: Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore’s anti-gun take on the Columbine school shooting.
And those are just some of the winners. Nominees with distinct points of view have included films like Super Size Me, Jesus Camp, Sicko, Food Inc., Gasland, and plenty of others that were never nominated. If “propaganda” is now being defined as a film having a point of view, then you’d have to say all of these films are propaganda. And it’s pretty hard to judge the Madigan film, since it hasn’t been released yet. Let’s cross that critical bridge when we come to it.
But something caught my attention in the comments on the first Capitol Fax post about this story. Here’s a supposedly anonymous comment:
And Miller’s response:
Sounds awful threatening. And so much for anonymous comments being anonymous, I guess.