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On Uber, urban mobility, turkey sandwiches, and the TSA confiscating some wild shit... 
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[No. 042] Happy New Year, Amirite?

Lest you think I forgot about this, Greg’s Newsletter is ready to start the year right, a scant three weeks late.

One thing I do want to point you to is my new website: greg.town. Why greg.town? It sounds cool. But it’s an ongoing project to wrangle in things I do on the web. And it includes a new blog, that will be periodically updated with probably more interest-based posts, including one about my new Polaroid fascination (am I a walking cliche? Perhaps). But on to why you came here!

Today’s edition includes lots of talk of urban mobility, especially Uber (still popular! still losing a ton of money! still screwing drivers!), but also of future positive urban mobility developments (cities could become cleaner and cooler!), NBA players reaching really high for turkey sandwiches (lol!), some Twitter and Facebook conversation, and more! Welcome back, y’all, and be sure to read along while listening to January’s playlist, below.

LINKS

THE LEDE

Facing a Price War, Uber Bets on Volume [Bloomberg]
Uber brings in massive revenue numbers but it’s still losing money in North America. CEO (and noted jerk) Travis Kalanick promised employees that Uber would turn a profit in Q2 this year. And then they cut fares across the country, the third straight January that they reduced prices.

Right now, Uber is hellbent on ride volume - in North America and abroad. Globally, they lose money on every ride. As they cut prices, they’ve been taking larger cuts of drivers’ fares (while adding new “Safe Ride” fees to users). They can do all of this at the blink of an eye, because the drivers are “contractors” (a debate for another time) and not employees (or unionized).

So who loses? Uber is losing money, but poised for an eventual windfall of profit (with a massive treasure chest of private investment to keep growth going for now). Consumers are seeing discounted prices - Lyft followed Uber in January - but an increase in seemingly arbitrary fees.

It’s the drivers who are losing. In the lede of Bloomberg’s article, we learn that “in Detroit, Uber drivers’ per-mile rate is less than it takes to cover their gas and the depreciation of their cars.” Damn. To me, this says that actual human drivers are the stopgap in Uber’s eventual autonomous mobility system.

LONG READS

The worst thing about driving is about to change [Mother Jones]
Apparently this is an auto-heavy edition of the newsletter. Almost like I work in the industry or something.

Anyways, lost in the shuffle of autonomous urban mobility (and economic/consumer/cultural impact) is how it’ll affect urban space. Consider:

  • The U.S. has about a billion parking spots, roughly 4x the number of cars and light trucks
  • Parking spaces, in total, have square mileage bigger than Connecticut
  • Parking lots have made cities ugly and are economically expensive to build (with costs often passed to consumers)
  • 30-60% of cars you see driving in a downtown area are circling, looking for parking, making it an environmental issue

All that is to set up this: people are increasingly moving to urban centers and self-driving cars are on the horizon. One efficient, ride-share autonomous vehicle could replace 12 passenger cars. Parking lots/structures may be a thing of the past (at some point in the future, of course).

Think of what that could mean for a big city. Lower environmental footprint. Less congestion. More green space. Reclaiming urban concrete space to things that are useful, productive, aesthetically pleasing - the possibilities are pretty cool and smart minds are starting to think big. 

GOOD STUFF

Politwoops up and running in 25 countries, more to come [Politwoops]
The Open State Foundation, which aims to promote public information through open data and improve government/business/policy transparency, has restored their amazing tool, Politweeps. The OSF operated the tool in order to keep track of tweets that politicians have deleted. That includes everything from regrettable tweets from before their political careers to offensive/insane/dangerous stuff said while in office. 

All done under the premise that what those politicians said - on record - is of importance. If an elected official publicly threatened a colleague or constituent but then tried to delete it from the web, don’t you think we have the right to know? I do. If a politician runs on campaign promises to, say, fight for social justice and against discrimination but had tweets several years back that were completely contradictory and inflammatory to that cause, don’t you think we have the right to know? I do.

Twitter claimed that OSF's archiving of deleted tweets violated their terms of service, but have since given Politweeps an exception. The OSF’s tool is a simple-sounding concept, but one of vital importance and, hopefully, an inspiration for other orgs/developers to creatively figure out how to use available data to hold those in power (in politics, business, and elsewhere) accountable.

MUSIC

Playlist: GREG’S PLAYLIST - JAN 2016 [Spotify]
January is always a good month to revisit songs of yore, old classics, those gems that haven’t risen to the top in a while, and other older, random tracks. To that end, January features one of my favorite tracks of the past several years (“How Bout Us” by Katalyst), tracks from Stereolab and Spiritualized. Also included: a few from Anderson Paak, one from his new Malibu album, which will be my new album of the month. If you caught 2015's Best of the Year playlist, you should be familiar. 

Enjoy!

Copyright © 2016 Greg's Newsletter, All rights reserved.


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