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Uber Wants to Replace Your Local Department of Transportation


If you were unsure about what Uber's long term goals are, their April Fool's joke makes things crystal clear. Along with surge pricing, Uber is testing long held consumer assumptions about transportation.

It's not acknowledged as such, but there are truly limited choices when it comes to transportation. You have your selection among available cars, but car ownership itself is a bundled package. You're paying a hefty premium to be able to use your car whenever you want. On the other side of the spectrum, you have the option of a completely fixed public transit system. For a very low price, you're able to get from fixed points on a preset schedule. Compared to your other options you're getting a bargain, but you are constrained by the lines and timetables on your transit map. Cabs have always been in the mix as well, but are closer to cars on this spectrum: you're paying a premium to choose your pickup and dropoff location on your schedule.

I previously thought it would take a widescale adoption of driverless cars to bring about this sort of change. Uber is trying to break long standing consumer expectations and make people truly think about what they want when it comes to transportation. Looking at private cars and public transit as two sides of a spectrum, Uber is trying to give consumers a choice of any point between them. You can pay through the nose for a cab to pick you up right outside the bar now. Paying $2.50 is great, but you may not want to wait 45 minutes for a subway. I'm sure there are lots of people out there who would be willing to pay something in the middle to walk a block and wait 8 minutes for the next shared cab to come. Especially when you know exactly where it is on your phone.

This system is not even novel. In New York, several major outer borough streets leading to express subway stations have informal rush hour cab share systems. Over time, cabbies have begun picking up people at bus stops, and usually charge around $2 per person. Someone waiting for the bus in the morning can choose to pay $2 more than they normally would to get a faster ride now rather than a slower trip 8 minutes from now to the subway station.

When Uber builds up its fleet of cars and institutes this sort of pricing en masse, this April Fool's joke will look hilarious in hindsight.

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