Uber and Lyft are inching toward becoming the next big mass-transit providers

Early uber driver SofianeMomentum Magazine/UberSofiane was one of Uber’s first drivers, and he’s done more than 20,000 trips.

Uber’s vision for itself is huge.

It is recognised as a somewhat expensive on-demand taxi app. But it has since morphed, slashing fares, starting delivery services, attempting to become a catch-all logistics company. One of its stated goals is to one day replace people’s private vehicles entirely.

In order to do that it’s going to need to get much bigger. And that means it will need to fundamentally change the service it provides. Take this passage from Matt Buchanan at the Awl:

…in Uber’s vision, anytime that anybody wants to go anywhere, an app embedded somewhere on their body will signal Uber’s ubiquitous, perfectly optimised network of electric-powered self-driving conveyances that a piece of cargo is ready for transport, because it is so cheap and efficient that locomoting any other way would be unthinkable — requires enormous scale, even before it can replace human drivers.

In the absence of a world-wide fleet of self-driving electric cars, how do you take an individual transport system and make it bigger, cheaper, and more efficient? You make it more standardised. And so ride share companies like Uber and Lyft, once only luxury on-demand taxi companies, find themselves backing into creating the beginnings of privatised mass transit systems.

More from Buchanan:

For the next couple of weekends, UberPool rides between Brooklyn and Manhattan that follow the L line will be just five dollars. This is not for Earth Day, but is part of what is becoming an Uber tradition of ribbing public transit during occasional downtime through promotional fares … In San Francisco, Lyft recently announced “HotSpots,” dedicated, common pickup points for Lyft Lines (its version of UberPool), at which fares cost just three dollars. You may recognise these as “bus stops.”

This is urban-centric, of course — largely in places that already have mass transit systems, which are underfunded because the economics of mass transit often require government subsidies. These companies haven’t quite figured out a way to make cars obsolete in rural, or even suburban, areas. And that, one might argue, is the problem.

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