The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

News? What news?

As Gordon Sondland throws the president under the bus (probably because (a) he's under oath and (b) the president would do it to him soon enough), there are actually a lot of other things going on in the world:

More work to do now.

Just a couple of things to note

And it's not even lunchtime yet:

  • A storm has left Venice flooded under 187 cm of water, the second highest flood since records began in 1923. Four of the five largest floods in Venice history have occurred in the last 20 years; the record flood (193 cm) occurred in 1966.
  • As our third impeachment inquiry in 50 years begins public hearings, Josh Marshall explains what the Democrats have to prove.
  • Yoni Appelbaum wonders if the country can hold together. He's not optimistic.
  • Via Bruce Schneier, the NTSB has released a report on the autonomous car accident in 2018 that killed Elaine Herzberg. A notable detail: "Police investigators later established that the driver had likely been streaming a television show on her personal smartphone."
  • Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel lists his 50 favorite restaurants in the area. I have a mission.

And you should see Sir Rod Stewart's model railroad. Jaw-dropping.

Pricing in externalities

Uber, the ride-sharing company that pretends it isn't a ride-sharing company, has started a massive PR campaign against the city of Chicago because Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants them to pay for the damage they're causing to the commons.

Let's unpack all of that.

Lightfoot has proposed a $3 tax on ride-sharing trips into the Loop, Near North, Lincoln Park, and other affluent areas, and a smaller tax on trips out of the center city, because trips in and out of those areas cause several kinds of damage to the city's infrastructure. This is the definition of "negative externalities." In fact, Uber's and Lyft's pricing model has caused the following problems:

  • A glut of cars on the road during rush hour, with all the emissions and traffic they cause;
  • Reduced public-transit ridership and revenue, which disproportionately harms less-affluent users;
  • The destruction of the regulated taxi industry in Chicago, including thousands of bankruptcies due to taxi medallions losing more than two-thirds their value since 2014; and
  • The enrichment of Uber's officers and shareholders on the backs of underpaid Uber drivers.

Lightfoot's tax will increase the cost of a trip from Lincoln Park to Chicago by $3. If that pushes people to use public transit instead, we win. If people pay the tax, we win. If Uber's board take home less money, that's a neutral result we can all cheer anyway.

Compared with the way London, for example, has dealt with the environmental damage of cars in the central city, Uber's getting off easy in Chicago.

But of course, having gotten very rich through exploitation of other people, they don't see i that way. (Why are billionaires so whiny these days? Even Carnegie built libraries.)

Because we don't have Satanic mills employing thousands of 9-year-old orphans any more, it's hard to see the direct similarities between companies like Uber and companies like those portrayed in Dickens novels. But guess what? They're fundamentally the same. And Lightfoot's tax is only the first, modest step in Chicago government making life better for everyone in the city in the aggregate. The people complaining the most about the Uber tax are the people to whom $3 hardly matters. You can tell because $3 is more than the price of a CTA ride, and less than the current cost of an Uber ride.

If some Uber shareholders have to suffer a little so that people on the South and West Sides can get to work more reliably, I'm OK with that.

Climate-change protesters pick the worst target possible

Extinction Rebellion, a climate-change protest group, targeted three working-class Tube stops near the Canary Wharf financial district in east London this week. In doing so they've given their opponents a massive boost:

The stations targeted by activists—Canning TownStratford, and Shadwell—are physically very close to the financial district of Canary Wharf. But they are a world removed from it. These stations serve some of the poorest areas not just in London, but in Western Europe. Most commuters shuffling to the train platforms at 7 a.m. (in a country where professionals usually start work after 9) are not wealthy financiers—they’re lower-income workers scraping a living in a notoriously expensive city. Footage of climate protesters with what British people would instantly read as middle-class accents blocking working-class men and women trying to get to their jobs soon after dawn—where they might be sanctioned for lateness—is terrible image-making. It plays into the hands of people who dismiss environmental activism as a hobby for privileged progressives.

These protests not only missed their intended target—the finance companies of Canary Wharf, which are located on private land with ludicrously tight security controls—they ended up creating a false dichotomy, setting up a conflict between the climate movement and public transit users. The optics of the incident end up wrongly implying that working-class London commuters neither care about, nor are affected by climate change.

As the urgency for climate action grows, Londoners who support Extinction Rebellion’s broader aims can only hope that the group can learn from this experience and adjust their tactics accordingly. The group suggested as much in a statement it released after the incident: “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.”

If that happens, a vital lesson will have been learned. The U.K. capital is a critical player in the global battle for decarbonization. The climate movement needs victories here, and can ill afford to lose the sympathies of its residents.

Nice work, guys. Even absent the class conflict this particular action set up, I would recommend not disrupting public transport, which, you know, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ride-sharing platforms have no inherent right to exist

I mentioned earlier today Aaron Gordon's evisceration of Uber's and Lyft's business model. It's worth a deeper look:

The Uber and Lyft pretzel logic is as follows: Drivers are their customers and also independent contractors but cannot negotiate prices or any terms of their contract. Uber and Lyft are platforms, not transportation companies. Drivers unionizing would be price-fixing, but Uber and Lyft can price-fix all they want. Riders pay the driver for their transportation, not the platforms, even though the platforms are the ones that set the prices and collect the money and allocate it however they want, often such that the driver does not in fact receive much of the rider’s fare.

There is a version of Uber and Lyft that might be profitable even if drivers are employees, but it is a much humbler one. It is one that uses the genuine efficiencies of app-based taxi hailing—the very ones Uber and Lyft claim is their actual secret sauce other than widespread worker exploitation—to get a smaller number of drivers more customers for each of them. 

Exactly. If Yellow Cab in Chicago had created an app to find and direct taxis, it would be just as good as Uber or Lyft, but it would cost consumers more to use because taxi fares are regulated. That would be OK by me.

I can't wait to see the effects of California Assembly Bill 5 on the two companies.

Before the Interstates

An army convoy left the White House on 7 July 1919 and finally arrived in San Francisco two months later:

The Army’s road trip got off to a rocky start, with several vehicles breaking down that afternoon on the hilly roads leading out of the District. The party made camp the first night in Frederick, Md., where a brevet lieutenant colonel joined the group as a last-minute observer for the Tank Corps. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then 28, was there “partly for a lark and partly to learn,” he wrote later, because “nothing of the sort had ever been attempted.”

In the weeks ahead, engine troubles plagued the convoy, which progressed at an average pace of less than 6 mph. Still, the expedition continued to attract national attention, and large crowds regularly turned out in town squares as the convoy worked its way west. In Pennsylvania, newspapers reported that the vehicles were greeted by “a large delegation of State and city officials to accompany the convoy into Gettysburg.” State police escorted the convoy across Ohio, and politicians in Iowa opened their dining rooms to the traveling soldiers.

On Sept. 6, 1919, the vehicles limped into San Francisco, where the daily log appreciatively noted “fair and warm” weather and fine “paved city streets.” 

Eisenhower, we all know, later signed the Interstate Highway Act. Today a motivated driver can get from Washington to San Francisco in a little more than three days.

Über alles

What could possibly go wrong with inviting every Über driver in Chicago to one party?

Monday evening, John Morrison saw a convoy of cars with Uber stickers taking over Lake Shore Drive near Hyde Park, all headed to the same place as him: the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Chicago resident had been invited there by a friend who drove for the ride share company, which was hosting an appreciation party for employees at the museum at 6:30 p.m.

But before Morrison could even get near, he had to fight a free-for-all of traffic in the eastern part of Hyde Park. The worst of it was at the 57th Street and Cornell Drive merge, where Morrison said cars were going the wrong way and ended up facing other cars bumper to bumper. A bus drove north in the southbound lanes to bypass the traffic. Police cars scaled sidewalks as officers tried to direct frustrated drivers.

Things didn’t get much better once he made it inside the museum, almost an hour after hitting the congestion on Lake Shore Drive near the 53rd Street exit, he said. Morrison said the museum was “jampacked to the gills” and that caterers and museum employees appeared overwhelmed by the mobs of people heading toward the dinner buffet.

After the event, Morrison Tweeted: "A massive traffic jam filled entirely with @Uber drivers trying to get into a overfilled parking garage to get free stuff is the embodiment of the late-stage capitalist nightmare that is Uber." Yes. And entirely predictable—except, and no surprise here, to Über management.

Today's reading list

If only it weren't another beautiful early-summer day in Chicago, I might spend some time indoors reading these articles:

Time to go outside...

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

Duke killed public transit?

CityLab reports that my alma mater has doomed the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project in North Carolina:

DOLRT has consumed more than $130 million in public money. In 2011 and 2012, voters in Durham and Orange counties approved half-cent sales taxes to fund transportation improvements, including the light rail, to better connect major employers like UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, N.C. Central University, a VA hospital, and businesses in bustling downtown Durham. Construction of the estimated $2.7 billion project was to start next year; an application to the Federal Transit Administration was due this spring for federal funding of $1.25 billion. The state agreed to contribute $190 million.

But all this came to a screeching halt on February 27, when Duke University officials said they would not sign a cooperative agreement. (The project required 11 partners to ink cooperative agreements; only Duke, Norfolk Southern, and the North Carolina Railroad Company, which manages a major rail corridor, remain unsigned.) A week later, Duke declined a request to participate in a mediated negotiation with GoTriangle, the region’s transportation authority.

What happened?

In a letter to GoTriangle, Duke President Vincent Price and other officials cited issues with the light rail’s alignment along Erwin Road in Durham, which runs next to the university’s sprawling medical complex. Price expressed concerns that magnetic interference could hurt high-tech diagnostic and research equipment. Other issues included construction disruption that could affect a utility line, and vibrations from digging and placing the supports for an elevated track, and legal liability. In declining further talks, the Duke leaders said that the project’s route “poses significant and unacceptable risks to the safety of the nearly 1.5 million patients who receive care at our hospital and clinics each year, and the future viability of health care and research at Duke.”

That seems...unlikely. So what is Duke really complaining about? It's unclear. But that they brought this point up now and not in 2016 or even earlier seems intentional. And that's really crappy.