Thursday, January 26, 2017

Uber/Ola surge pricing proves that we need a regulated public transport

In Jan-17, Uber euphemistically announced 'price adjustments' as their communication of  increased fares. With them earlier having abolished time/distance pricing and surge multiplier in favour of 'flat fares', there was no new benchmark or way to compare the impact of this adjustment. If a government agency had done this, there would have been a hue and cry about opaque rule making, edicts etc, but when private companies like Google/Uber make decisions using Black Box algorithms, they cloak their rationale or data under the guise of 'proprietary business secrets'. Anyways, while regulation is usually considered bad by those negatively impacted, it is essential to address market failure which happens in public transportation. Imagine your fire safety, water supply, and utilities tariffs being determined opaquely and with time of day pricing. Would you accept it? Answer is probably no. A player with deep pockets(eg Uber) can sweep into a city, under cut the existing public transport systems by cherrypicking profitable business, and then increase tariffs and profits instead of expanding supply. This is my apprehension with allowing 'innovative' startups to operate under a non level playing field, in such an important field. Those with private cars or ability to afford taxis can probably cope with surge pricing, but the vulnerable folks who rely on public transport which eventually hollows out to Ola/Uber, would not have any back up option. I have covered some of these problems in another blog post here

So what is the solution? Regulations like below are a good starting point once refined in the consumers favour.

But the fact remains is that unless the new age startups address age old problems of access, discrimination, non refusal of rides, regulated tariffs with surge limits, we risk later issues

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