Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lyft, Airbnb, and Unintended Consequences

Because I drive and live in San Francisco, I come face to face with Lyft and Airbnb every single day of my life.  Lyft (and Uber, too) because their ubiquitous cars are constantly stopping in the middle of the street and blocking traffic and turning without signaling and generally driving like they don't give a shit about anyone else.  Airbnb because the sight of a bunch of Europeans with wheeled suitcases and track jackets going into what appears to be private homes instead of hotels is now commonplace.  And there's a full-time Airbnb hotel on my block, as I've mentioned.

It occurs to me that both of these companies have similar origin stories and similar trajectories from high-minded idealism into rank Monolpoly-man-style capitalism.  According to its origin myth (recounted at some length in this excellent TechCrunch piece "Lyft-Off: Zimride’s Long Road To Overnight Success," Lyft (then Zimride) began as a way, basically, to coordinate carpools.
If the Santa Barbara MTD gave Logan reason to question the future of transportation, it was a trip to Africa after graduation with his friend Matt Van Horn that gave him hope: Locals in Zimbabwe used carpooling to get around more efficiently.
“The streets were quiet because nobody was driving, and the government was too busy ruining the country to think about providing services like public transportation,” Logan says. So instead, people piled into shared minivans as a way to get around.
“There was this crowdsourced transportation network where anyone could be a driver and they could set their own routes,” he tells me. It impressed Logan that a country like Zimbabwe, which he says “had close to zero resources,” in many ways had a better transportation network than an affluent city like Santa Barbara. When he returned from his trip, he set out to change that.
Great stuff.  Who could be against a service that puts people going the same direction into the same car, reducing the number of single occupancy cars on the road?

Fast forward to today.  The current business model of Lyft, at least in San Francisco, appears to be: Dump as many untrained drivers, unfamiliar with San Francisco[*], onto city streets as possible, and encourage them to pick up and drop off as many people as possible.  It's gone from Casual Carpooling to a Vast Unlicensed Unregulated Off the Books Taxi Service.

[*] I say this because in my limited experience taking Lyft rides, I have yet to meet a single driver who lived in the city.  Many - if not most - had only a vague idea or none at all about where my destination was.

Airbnb has a similar story.  In the begining it was just a couple of guys renting out air mattresses on their floor for $80 so they could afford their rent.  Aw, that's sweet!  Now it's a global behemoth that pushes city governments around and encourages people to evict their tenants to operate off-the-books full-time hotels.  (Not everyone, of course.  There are still people who occasionally rent out a spare bedroom to help pay the bills.  To those people, Godspeed and have fun.  That's not who I'm talking about.)

What does it all mean?  I guess that people want to make money, and if your beautiful idea to improve humanity doesn't make money, either (1) it will stop being a thing, unless it's a charity, and no one thinks transporting drunk millennials around town is charitable, or (2) someone will monetize the fuck out of it.

Who cares?  We'll be under water or living in a Mad Max style dystopia in 30 years anyway.  Release the hounds.


Rachel said...

Yep, and your statement about Lyft drivers (and many Uber drivers, too!) not knowing their way around the city is one of the reasons I won't use those services again.
They rely on GPS and rarely when I have suggested alternate routes have they taken my advice.
A trip to 450 Sutter took twice as long as it needed to and ended with the driver trying to drop me off on Bush (which would not have worked) and then asking me if he could go through the Stockton tunnel (um, no, we are on top of it).

GG said...

I feel like it's going to be more of a "Children of Men"-style dystopia, but I guess we'll all find out together

TK said...

Rachel - I had a Lyft driver try to go down 18th Street on a Friday night, which GPS told him was a good route but which is ABSOLUTELY INSANE if you know the area. So yeah, not good.

The flip side of this is that Wife & I were using Google Maps to navigate us through rural Sonoma and it kept sending us on gravel roads through farms and shit. The cows were probably like "Fuckin noob."

GG - I've never seen Children of Men, so to each her own dystopia.

KBN said...

Children of Men is a desert island pick, top five, all-time, etc, etc. Skip the fireworks and get er done.

Stoney said...

You must see Children of Men.

TK said...

OK! OK! I'll see Children of Men!

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