Editor’s Note: Uber Forever

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Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore
Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

A few years ago, in the days before Uber, a friend came to town on a business trip and stayed with us. He had an early flight out, so the night before we called a cab company and told them we needed a taxi to the airport at 5 a.m. No problem, they said. But at 5:30, the cab still hadn’t arrived. I called the cab company. “Oh, we couldn’t find a driver available,” the dispatcher said.

The way taxis work—or, more specifically, don’t work—in this town is dumbfounding. Imagine a company that promises to perform a service, then simply chooses not to. And doesn’t even bother letting the customer know. If ever there were a business model in greater need of disruption, as the wonks say, I can’t think of one.

In this month’s issue, Scott Henry writes about the standoff at Hartsfield-Jackson between regulated taxi companies and rideshare firms like Uber and Lyft, which still are forbidden (technically, anyway) from picking up passengers at the airport. It’d be foolish to predict how this will ultimately be resolved, but this isn’t Austin, where Uber and Lyft have pulled out of the city altogether in the wake of demands that all their drivers be subject to background checks.

Indeed, there’s reason to think Uber and Lyft will become only more popular here. Just as we were about to go to press, Morgan Stanley released a report that argues that major Southern cities—such as Atlanta, Houston and Birmingham—might do well to focus less on politically fraught mass transit options and instead encourage carpooling on a mass scale. The report’s idea? “Cities that currently have little tangible mass transit infrastructure provide subsidized accounts for shared services to low income and disabled travelers, saving significant costs over running their own local systems. With less need to fund traditional mass transit, capital is diverted to roadways.” Private industry is already experimenting with the carpool idea: UberPool allows you to share a ride with a passenger going in the same direction, making it cheaper than a solo Uber ride.

But throwing in the towel on expanding mass transit? It’s a nonstarter. Plus, I have trouble imagining how government can sufficiently incentivize someone who drives solo to work that it’s in their best interest to share a ride with a few strangers, even if doing so would lessen congestion and save on parking. An unassailable truth about Americans, and especially Atlantans, has always been: I love my car—even if I hate yours.

This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.

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