There are few things more properly in the public sphere than urban transit. Yes, private transit — personal cars requiring expensive parking, limousines with chauffeurs — has always been a feature of urban mobility for the few. But publicly directed and publicly funded means of getting around our cities (such as public buses and subways, and publicly regulated taxis) have made modern urban life possible for the many.
That may be changing. The latest example of the paradigm shift is appearing on the sidewalks of Washington and other cities. Walk down any street in downtown D.C. and you will see them: electric scooters and dockless bikes — parked everywhere and nowhere in particular. This is “public” transit, available for use by subscribers to various private services.
The new two-wheeled transportation options are no casual amusement. In the past few weeks alone, private venture capital firms have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in their deployment at a time when subway systems in New York and Washington are struggling with operational woes and funding deficiencies.
Billions more are likely to pour in soon. Who decided that our urban transportation grid needed scores of buzzing scooters and free-range bikes, instead of (for example) newer and cleaner buses or better- functioning subways? Who weighed the respective claims of youth-friendly scooter-filled sidewalks against the desires of senior citizens or the disabled for more accommodating passage in our public spaces?
The answers to these questions point to how much we have privatized “public” transportation and the subtle but important impact this shift can have.
Uber and Lyft have made it a point to do more to support their drivers. As Harry Campbell, an industry analyst known as the Rideshare Guy, told Curbed, pay and retention are key issues for both of these billion-dollar ridehailing giants, who have been promoting new apps and investments in community driver hubs in efforts to make the lives of independent contractors easier and more profitable.
With summer driving season coming up, hundreds of drivers from across the company have a suggestion: Help them pay for rising gas prices. A petition on Coworker.org started by driver Holly Rubino asks both companies to help drivers pay for rising gas costs (“gas prices are driving us out of the rideshare industry”). More than 500 have signed the petition thus far.
With gas prices expected to rise 14 percent this summer, according to U.S. government forecasts, it’s not a trivial concern for drivers worried about their take-home pay.
The new dockless bike-share companies that have taken off in the District are attracting a different kind of customer than the traditional Capital Bikeshare system: Their riders are more racially diverse, slightly younger and less affluent, according to transportation officials and an academic review of the services.
A new study by Virginia Tech found that a good share of the bikes are taking trips to areas that are historically majority-minority, a clear distinction when compared to the share of trips made on Capital Bikeshare bikes, the city-sponsored system that is known for its distinctive red bikes and docking stations.