Build public transit, fight climate change, fuck Uber

Transportation is the number one source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. In order to reduce that load, we need to get cars off the road and replace them with much more and better public transit that is not just “affordable” but free at the point of service to everyone. 

Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft and Via have made the usual efforts at greenwashing their businesses: purchasing carbon offsets, claiming that by decreasing individual car ownership they will eventually decrease the number of cars on the road. They have also claimed to be a complement to public transit and not a replacement: providing “last mile” services in places public transit infrastructure doesn’t cover. DART, our local public transit agency, recently made a deal with Uber whereby DART will subsidize Uber Pool rides from 6 regions at the edges of the DART service area. 

Of course, in its recent IPO, Uber openly acknowledged that its business model is built on direct competition, not “partnership”, with public transit: their explicit aim is to replace public transit, to privatize a public good. And as for Uber and other rideshare apps’ claims that they can make their car-centered business models “green”, the bottom line in every case is this: it doesn’t matter if you’re decreasing the number of people who own their own cars when you’re increasing the number of cars on the road. Which based on empirical research, the rideshare apps absolutely are doing. To quote CityLab’s overview of a recent UC Davis study

“If ride-hailing services continue to operate as they have in most U.S. cities, the robust evidence of this study points to an unabated rise in congestion and emissions. Although the Uber and Lyfts of the world may complement a small portion of non-driving trips, overall, “these services currently facilitate a shift away from more sustainable modes towards low-occupancy vehicles in major cities,” Regina Clewlow, the lead author of the report, said in a statement. If cities seek a different future—where traffic is tamed and carbon footprints are shrunk—public leaders will need to take aggressive policy action.”. 

And yet, halfway through a year long process to develop a Dallas “Climate Action Plan”, which acknowledges that transportation is one of Dallas’s major sources of CO2 emissions, Dallas is at one and the same time preparing to welcome a new Uber hub to Deep Ellum with a raft of corporate welfare grants and tax breaks. 

The bill so far is $9.3 million dollars in grants and tax breaks from the city of Dallas, $24 million in state provided grant money from the Texas Enterprise Fund, and possibly $10 to $15 million on top of all that from NCTCOG in transportation infrastructure investments specifically to support the new Uber hub. In return for all this, plus putting more cars on our streets and more pollution in our air, and weakening with an aim to privatizing our public transit, Uber is supposed to deliver 3000 new jobs. 

So, what are the chances the “job creators” at Uber actually deliver on this promise? 

Uber’s biggest shareholder is SoftBank, creator of a gigantic venture capital fund called “Vision Fund 1” underwritten in large part by money from the Saudi government, and responsible for the recent disastrous failed IPO of WeWork, which lost its investors 11 billion dollars. SoftBank is notorious for risky bets, of which Uber, which has yet to turn a profit, is another one. Uber’s initial IPO was disappointing if not the complete disaster that was WeWork, but according to NYU business school professor Scott Galloway, Uber is still hugely overvalued: “…the consensual hallucination continues. [Uber] have to maintain the illusion of growth. They have to maintain the growth story. Without the growth story, they’re worth 20 percent of what they’re worth now. I think that chops off 50 to 80 percent in the next 25 months.” 

Softbank is currently trying to raise money for a “Vision Fund 2”: they’re having a hard time finding investors. 

In the U.S., even after the 2006 financial crisis, we still love to lionize private entrepreneurship, the romantic figure of the risk taking genius capitalist. So much so that even in the face of impending climate disaster we choose to spend 35 to 50 million dollars of public money, not on improving our bus service and public transit infrastructure but on “incentives” for a massively overvalued company which has never turned a profit, and whose stated aim is to replace public transit with even more cars. Without the romantic capitalist blinders on, does this make common sense?