You've got to hand it to Uber: the ridesharing giant sure has got a lot of PR chutzpah.
Thanks to Uber, Lyft, Juno and Via, the streets of Manhattan are traffic and environmental nightmares. The number of cars affiliated to the Big 4 soared from 12,500 in 2015 to 78,000 in 2018.
Those additional vehicles help explain why New York City buses crawl along at an average 6.4 miles-per-hour, making it faster for a person to hoof it down east-west corridors such as 42nd St than to hop on a bus.
Mary Buchanan, researcher at TransitCenter advocacy group, noted that bus speeds "are considerably slower than another New York City transit fixture: the rats running through our subway system, who can sprint faster than 8 miles per hour.” Ouch.
Gotham’s clogged streets are the reason why New York State has just approved a congestion pricing scheme for drivers crazy enough to try their luck and test their sanity by navigating below 60th Street.
The pricing plan, which is supposed to go into effect in 2021, is designed to remove cars from the streets, reduce pollution and generate funds for NYC’s subway and commuter rail lines.
And who is the biggest champion of congestion pricing? Surprise, surprise, Uber tops the list, shelling out $2M in favor of a congestion pricing plan that could very well serve as a model for other cities across the US.
The Financial Times reports that Uber and Lyft have been blamed for putting more cars on the street and undermining public transit systems. For instance, San Francisco’s county transportation board fingers car-booking services for 50 percent of the city’s congestion.
Uber is sly as a fox when it comes to congestion pricing. It views the plan as the lesser of regulatory evils, such as efforts to tax ridesharing or limiting the number of cars on the road.
While NYC taxi drivers adamantly oppose congestion pricing, Uber says “bring it on.” Ridesharing has already decimated the city’s taxi business as the price of a medallion has plunged from $1.3M in 2013 to $160K today. Yellow cabs are an endangered species in the Big Apple. They soon will only be memories, like the legendary Checker Cabs.
The FT believes Uber’s support of congestion pricing is part of CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s plan to improve the company’s reputation, which was stained under former CEO Travis Kalanick. That’s a good strategy, especially for a company with an impending IPO.
But my hunch: it's all about business. Uber figures that a $12 congestion price to enter NYC’s business district will discourage tens of thousands of people from driving into Manhattan.
That scenario would create more customers for Uber, less crowded streets and cleaner air for its drivers.
Congestion pricing is a win, win, win situation for Uber.