Report says Uber surge pricing has a twist: some drivers flee – SFGate

When his Uber app notifies him about a surge, a price increase in an area where rider demand is high, Sollars knows just what to do: He drives his black Ford Escape somewhere else.
“The seasoned drivers don’t pay any attention to surge,” he said. “By the time you get to that part of the city, the surge is over. Often, even when I’m sitting dead center in the middle of a surge area, I don’t get a ride request. Then, as soon as the surge is off — bam! — here comes a ride.”


Still, by quashing demand, surge ensures that passengers who are willing to pay more can get a ride quickly, achieving its basic goal. “One side is working; it definitely impacts demand, but the impact on supply is minimal,” Wilson said.


“They missed a lot of what surge does with respect to supply,” said Keith Chen, a UCLA associate economics professor currently on a two-year leave to work with Uber as its head of economic research, designing the third iteration of its surge system. During busy times, the study’s method would miss cars that “got gobbled up” by riders and instantly replaced by other cars, he said.

Idea: perhaps Uber should provide an estimated duration for the surge to its drivers.

via Report says Uber surge pricing has a twist: some drivers flee – SFGate.

Paper: Peeking Beneath the Hood of Uber, IMC 2015

Waze – Did it Steal Data from a Rival Traffic App? –

How did PhantomAlert discover the theft?

PhantomAlert claims that it became aware of the data theft after realizing that Waze displayed its proprietary information. The traffic app maker claimed that Waze used information for which they never obtained authorization or consent. PhantomAlert goes ahead to say that Waze not only copied it’s database, but also went a step further and incorporated the same on its platform. PhantomAlert made these claims through its lawyers when filing the lawsuit against Waze.

via Waze – Did it Steal Data from a Rival Traffic App? –

Waze’s RideWith carpooling app (Israel)

RideWith uses technology developed by Waze, an Israeli start-up bought by Google in 2013 for about $1bn.

Its navigation system, which uses data from users’ smartphones to give live traffic information, learns the routes drivers most frequently take to work and matches them up with people wanting to travel in the same direction.

It is aimed at people who work for the same company and live reasonably close to each other.

An estimated 200,000 people participate in carpooling in Israel already.

via Google revs up carpooling with Waze app in Israel trial | Technology | The Guardian.

Thus Waze knows exactly where we live and work, as well as our preferred routes for getting between the two. Moreover, they know precisely the time that we leave these locations, even if we have not activated the app on our devices.

It is clear to see how Google is tip toeing around now, so as not to broadcast a clear and present threat to the local cabbies, and avoid confrontations with regulators who in turn could cause a legal fuss for their users. Google is calling this a “ride sharing service”, saying that it is a “green and social way to get to work”. They have even gone so far as to euphamize the payment system, saying that users are “pitching in”, just like people have done for years with a few bucks for gas when their friend gives them a ride.

via Waze’s ride sharing service launches in Israel.

Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill | MIT Technology Review

The results are interesting, if predictable. In general, people are comfortable with the idea that self-driving vehicles should be programmed to minimize the death toll.

This utilitarian approach is certainly laudable but the participants were willing to go only so far. “[Participants] were not as confident that autonomous vehicles would be programmed that way in reality—and for a good reason: they actually wished others to cruise in utilitarian autonomous vehicles, more than they wanted to buy utilitarian autonomous vehicles themselves,” conclude Bonnefon and co.

And therein lies the paradox. People are in favor of cars that sacrifice the occupant to save other lives—as long they don’t have to drive one themselves.

via Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill | MIT Technology Review.

Efficiencies and Regulatory Shortcuts: How Should We Regulate Companies like Airbnb and Uber? – Working Paper – Harvard Business School

Enjoyed reading a comprehensive working paper from the Harvard Business School on the upsides, downsides, and potential downsides of two-sided markets (aka platforms); implications and challenges for the legal system with respect to regulating these new types of services. The paper suggests ending “protectionist” regulation and discusses negative externalities (many of which have initial evidence but require further study), asymmetry in information (as compared to incumbent services), cognitive biases such as racial profiling based on profile picture, not being incentivized to provide “universal service”. The paper provides a nice overview of both driver and consumer perspectives, concerns, and challenges.


New software platforms use modern information technology, including full-featured web sites and mobile apps, to allow service providers and consumers to transact with relative ease and increased trust. These platforms provide notable benefits including reducing transaction costs, improving allocation of resources, and information and pricing efficiencies. Yet they also raise questions of regulation, including how regulation should adapt to new services and capabilities, and how to correct market failures that may arise. We explore these challenges and suggest an updated regulatory framework that is sufficiently flexible to allow software platforms to operate and deliver their benefits, while ensuring that service providers, users and third parties are adequately protected from harms that may arise.

It appears that the potential and role of government in regulating these services is to provide sustainability of these services (whether through private or public, one or many players); this means long-term and consistent reliability and wide-spread and fair access. The role of government is to look beyond the capitalistic systems upon which corporations operate and look beyond the short-sighted-ness of individual citizens, as a way to protect it’s people.

Regulation can usefully set minimum standards to protect consumers who fail to recognize potential problems and to protect against problems prior consumers could not notice… Many long standing transportation requirements address aspects of safety that customers would struggle to access even after a ride–for example, requiring vehicle inspection with heightened frequency or rigor.

What is role of statistics and control theory in these questions of providing assurances to the consumer?

via Efficiencies and Regulatory Shortcuts: How Should We Regulate Companies like Airbnb and Uber? – Working Paper – Harvard Business School.

Citation: Edelman, Benjamin G., and Damien Geradin. “Efficiencies and Regulatory Shortcuts: How Should We Regulate Companies like Airbnb and Uber?” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-026, September 2015.

Getting Over Uber — Backchannel — Medium

Susan Crawford (Professor of Law) promotes improving taxis in urban areas, as a way to provide reliable and cost-effective mobility to people in general. Uber aims also to provide reliability, but the definitions are fundamentally different.

This following trends makes sense, given the incentives (and purpose) of corporations to produce profit:

Uber drivers have a tough time making a living; they’re responsible for their own cars, fuel, benefits, maintenance, tolls, and certain insurance as well as the kickback to Uber that takes a substantial slice out of every fare they pick up. They may or may not know where they’re going, and they may or may not be driving cars that are safe. Uber consistently squeezes its drivers as tightly as it possibly can; new drivers are paying an even higher cut to Uber than the first generation did.

These trends will be particularly true for the lower-income drivers, who rely on driving as their primary income.

It would be interesting and insightful to do a historical analysis on the AT&T monopoly in telecommunications and draw parallels to this pending monopoly in transportation networks.

So even when private companies provide basic transport and communications services — in America, that’s often how we do it — they do this subject to extensive public obligations. That’s where the whole idea of “common carriage” came from — transport and communications networks operated by private companies that provided a high level of uniform service at uniform rates under uniform promises of safety and reliability.

I’m not sure that taxis are the answer, however, though the model of Mobility-on-Demand (MoD) systems is extremely compelling in urban areas, not necessarily operated by a single player (or even a single private player). As some commenters point out, taxi drivers also face many of the same issues as Uber drivers. Taxis are an old and slow-moving system, not very suitable to “compete” in today’s fast-paced world. Governments and public agencies must be willing to experiment, break their own rules, and move fast, if they wish to protect its people.

One last curiosity: bus drivers in some American cities are paid well and have nice benefits. They welcome riders with a smile and some centralized system optimizes their shifts so they have variety in their weekly routes. Perhaps there is something to be learned from public transit systems when considering MoD systems.

via Getting Over Uber — Backchannel — Medium.

A very nice response by Tim O’Reilly addresses many additional problems and differences between taxi and Uber, most notably access to a private vehicle. (Taxis are rented; Uber drivers are required to have their own vehicle.) He lays out several actionable items for the government:

1. Removing outdated taxi regulations that make it difficult for taxis to compete with Uber and Lyft, even given comparable technology. For one example, consider Washington D.C., served by taxis with geographic restrictions. A taxi driver can pick up a passenger in Montgomery MD and bring her into DC, but must then drive back to Maryland to pick up another passenger, since he is prohibited from picking up in the city. A driver from Virginia can only pick up Virginia-bound passengers at Washington National Airport. And so on.

2. Working closely with Uber and Lyft to understand how well the city is being served. There is some evidence that Uber and Lyft are improving availability in previously under-served neighborhoods. Cities should be working to build on and verify these studies.

3. Understanding whether the reputation systems (and other self-regulatory regimes) of Uber and Lyft are producing results at least as good as the older regulatory regimes under which taxis operate. The passenger experience suggests that they are doing considerably better than the older regulatory regimes, but cities should actively be pursuing data to confirm or disprove this anecdotal evidence, and introducing regulation only when systematic problems have been uncovered.

4. Working with Uber and Lyft to understand the tradeoffs between lower fares for passengers and driver income. There is a risk that in pursuit of low prices for consumers, these companies could end up exploiting workers. Government does have a role in making sure that companies produce great experiences not just for their customers but also for the workers delivering their services. But guess what: government has abdicated that responsibility in low wage industries like retail and fast food, where workers are paid so little that they must supplement their wages with public assistance. (Recent estimates put the taxpayer subsidy to these industries at $153 billion/year.) I’d much rather see government focus on areas like this where there is a clear and present problem rather than in new industries like on-demand transportation where the market has not yet settled on the right balance between value to customers and value to workers. The fact that Uber and Lyft are competing so hard to attract drivers suggests to me that the market still has a lot to say about that balance.

5. Improving crime reporting so that there is a consistent basis for evaluating the relative safety of taxicabs versus Uber and Lyft. While there are many anecdotal accounts of bad Uber experiences, there are also anecdotal experiences of bad taxi experiences, but crime statistics are not reported in a way that allows cities to understand if new safeguards are needed.

via Getting Over Uber — Backchannel — Medium.

From Mobile Data, Drawing Social Circles | MIT Spectrum | Fall 2015

MIT CEE group utilized cell phone traces from 25mil people in 155 cities in France, Portugal, and Spain over 6 months (7+ bil records).

Through this data, González and her team deduced that one-fifth of urban movement is for social purposes.

González is currently working with the metropolitan planning office in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh to help policymakers coordinate a bus system that reflects urban travel patterns. … Building a bus system with stops and frequencies that anticipate how groups of people actually travel will hopefully encourage more passengers to use it.

This summer, González is working in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, upcoming site of the 2016 Olympic Games. The city is trying to coordinate traffic routes, as street capacity will be reduced during the events. Understanding how to encourage travelers to use fewer cars will be key. “I’m analyzing how similar people might have similar mobility patterns. Knowing how people move helps us propose solutions,” such as carpooling, González says. … By quantifying how much urban movement is social, it could be possible to pair like-minded travelers through social media apps that increase traveling efficiency. González points to ride-sharing service Uber as a company that leverages this kind of dynamic social mapping.

“The information that we generate can be captured in real time, from people using their devices, and we can actually see mobility in a city. This is the age of instant information, and it can directly affect policy. Imagine you have a set number of people traveling along a certain route, and you want to add an extra lane—this data can tell the mayor that you need it, and you can really quantify the need,” she says. “It’s hugely exciting.”

via From Mobile Data, Drawing Social Circles | MIT Spectrum | Fall 2015.

HT Alex

Greek town glimpses mass transit future: driverless buses – US News

The buses go no faster than 20 kph (12 1/2 mph), but the trials in Trikala (pronounced TREE-kah-lah) potentially represent a major advance for automated transport.

Trikala already has already tested EU-funded pilot medical programs, including schemes to relay heart test data from home to the doctor’s office and use tracker devices for Alzheimer patients. In the center of the city, a “digital tree” with solar panels allows benches to carry phone-charging outlets.

The 28-nation European Union is targeting gasoline use for city transport as one area where it wants to reduce carbon emissions. With oil prices and city populations expected to rise in the coming decades, a major shift to battery power and more shared transport could blur the line between private and public vehicles.

Senior transport analyst Philippe Crist at the International Transport Forum, an OECD think-tank based in Paris, says transport trends are hard to predict as the world moves more toward automation.

Crist said researchers looked at “shared and route-optimized on-call taxi-like services replacing all car and bus trips in a mid-sized European city. We found that these systems could deliver almost the same mobility as today but with 95 percent fewer vehicles.”

So far, the CityMobile2 has had mixed reviews on the streets of Trikala. Not everyone is happy to lose parking spots or replace human jobs with machines. Still, retiree Michalis Pantelis said he was proud that his city was selected for the testing.

via Greek town glimpses mass transit future: driverless buses – US News.

The Data You’ll Get Your Hands On | HubHacks 2 | ChallengePost

Every 911 call made to Police with time and address (except domestic abuse)
Every 911 call made to Fire with time. Address included only for non-medical calls.
Every 911 call made to EMS.
Every parking ticket written.
GPS location of every bus every minute
Every user reported alert (jam, double parked car, pothole, accident) on Waze
Other City data including Permitting Detail, Entertainment Licenses, Licensing Board, Zoning
Data sets from the Boston Public Library, Big Belly, RunKeeper and ZipCar

via The Data You'll Get Your Hands On | HubHacks 2 | ChallengePost.

City of Boston data hub: link

AT&T to hook up its automated home and connected car services | Reuters

AT&T said it had about 20 million connected devices from cars to cargo ship container sensors in 2014, up 21 percent from the year earlier. It has not yet revealed its revenue from its "Internet of Things" business.

via AT&T to hook up its automated home and connected car services | Reuters.

Ready for all sorts of demand inference, route inference, etc.