You Should Go To Pittsburgh For This

Seemingly out of the blue, Uber is introducing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Steeltown residents don’t seem too worried, but this isn’t Silicon Valley where seeing Google autonomous vehicles is de rigeur. I might plan a trip to the Allegheny just to try one–and you should consider it if you get a chance. Here’s why:

“It’s not our role to throw up regulations or limit companies like Uber,” said Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh’s mayor, who said that Uber planned to use about 100 modified Volvo sport utility vehicles for the passenger trials. The vehicles will also have a human monitor behind the wheel. “You can either put up red tape or roll out the red carpet. If you want to be a 21st-century laboratory for technology, you put out the carpet.”

Pittsburgh gets it. They get the American ideal of liberty and innovation. While places like Austin think they’re being trendy, hip and liberal as hell because they want to subject Uber and Lyft drivers to onerous background checks, Pittsburgh is about to be the focus of a real breakthrough in transportation.

It’s simple: the more “liberal” a place calls itself, the less liberty really exists. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker tacked on a $0.20 cent fee to each ride to help taxi drivers who have been hurt by innovation. The fee can’t be passed on the consumers. But of course, we all pay.

The American experience is all about being able to do something because there’s no law against it, not having to ask “mother, may I?” for every new invention. That concept only gets lip service in most “progressive” places, where you can try something new only until regulators inevitably decide the idea might be unfair to people it disrupts, and proceed to kill it.

Uber started out all about the driver. Make a few extra bucks driving drunks around at 2 a.m. with your own car. Then it became about hauling people to and from the airport or train station. Except at Boston‘s Logan Airport, where you can pick up your sister, but not an Uber or Lyft customer. Because taxi operators pay for the privilege, and we must stop progress.

Progressives are really only for progress when it suits them.

Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission granted two-year experimental licenses to both Uber and Lyft, which now have to pay fees for curbside pickup, and drivers are sometimes inconvenienced in the way rides are prioritized, but at least they allow it.

I’m all for self-driving cars. I own a couple of Subarus, and they both have Eyesight technology, a dual-camera and sensor system that can control the speed, braking, and even steering. It’s one step from what Tesla is doing with their “Autopilot” traffic-aware adaptive cruise control. The Subaru system has saved me from more then one wreck when people have cut me off, and makes short work Atlanta’s infamous traffic. (I, however, do not sleep in my car while it drives.)

The only way autonomous driving technology will bridge the five-nine’s barrier is by logging miles. Five-nines means 0.00001, or 100th of one percent. That’s the experience curve for making something human-reliable: Drive 2 million miles and have 20 miles of “not sure” moments. Google has been reporting on their experience for over a year. They’ve experienced more collisions in manual mode than autonomous mode.

It’s true that self-driving Uber cars will cause many drivers to have to find other pursuits, but in the end, it will be safer, more environmentally friendly, and easier on cities and customers. Plus, it’s the first step in logging enough miles to implement truly autonomous cars that you can own–or share.

I’m no pie-in-the-sky utopian, but if my wife and I could make due with one car versus two, we would. If she could drive it to work and then send it home for me (or I could summon it) as I work from home, how wonderful would that be? If we needed two cars, if we could borrow our friends’ car like getting a Kindle book on loan, it would cut down on pollution, fuel use, and parking spaces.

Imagine going to the mall and dispatching your car to the furthest “autonomous” parking lot with its own access road, and then summoning the car to get you when you’re done (or need to load your bags and continue shopping). This is only a year or two away, but we need to get past liberal regulators to make automakers comfortable that they won’t be regulated out of the market.

Kudos to Pittsburgh. I might just plan a visit there to tip my hat in person.

Alexandria and Austin: A Tale of Two Cities

Two well-known cities run by leftists that ironically invite innovation have made the news recently. One (Alexandria, Virginia) is being applauded for enacting actual progress, the other (Austin, Texas) is being rightfully shamed for perpetuating regression.

Let’s compare Alexandria and Austin, shall we? They are both major cities dominated by Democrats on the city council level. (One-party rule, especially that which tilts left, is quite dangerous.) Oddly enough, both have fairly pro-gun and pro-carry laws. Both cities are historically and culturally important. The former has a population of roughly 150,000, while the latter has a population close to 900,000. Alexandria is just 15 minutes from D.C. proper, while Austin is Texas’ state capital. However, one city decided it cannot suppress innovation any longer–for now, at least.

The city of Alexandria, VA finally welcomed food trucks after much resistance. The city of Austin recently saw ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft pull out after residents voted 56 to 44 percent last Saturday to keep Draconian regulations in place. They lobbied $9 million and ultimately failed.

Alexandria has approved three of five proposed food truck sites. Here’s more about the ordinance:

The new ordinance will allow food truck vending from 7:00 am until 8:00 pm and a food truck may vend no longer than four continuous hours at one location. The locations are expected to have 4 parking spaces designated for food truck parking and that would accommodate up to three food trucks.

Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin citing the city’s ridiculous rules for fingerprint checks, data reporting, and vehicle identification, for example. Here is the reasoning for Uber and Lyft pulling out of Austin:

Officials with both companies have said fingerprinting requirements are burdensome and unnecessary, given their own name-based background checks. City officials say fingerprinting adds another layer of security and balked at the multimillion-dollar corporations seemingly writing their rules here.

How could a city in conservative Texas reject the innovations of the ride-sharing economy, yet a city in purple Virginia embrace it? It’s quite confounding.

Bureaucrats and cronies enjoy saturated markets because they control them and can easily root out innovation. Why? These innovations breed opportunity, prosperity, and competition–concepts central planners and crony capitalists greatly fear. In contrast, the standard options only offer a top-down structure, terrible service, and no potential to grow. Quashing the American thirst for innovation still has serious consequences. As a result, Austin will soon feel the wrath of free market forces.

For individuals who pride themselves as “progressives,” leftists and their crony enabler friends dominating city councils exhibit cowardice for discouraging innovation. Until more freedom-minded people are elected to city councils across the country, innovation will be threatened by big government and crony capitalism.

Liberals Abhor This: Inner City Blacks Don’t Use Uber or Amazon Prime

“Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” –Ronald Reagan

The sad tyranny of data speaks for itself. Über and Amazon, with a combined market capitalization of $353 billion, live and die by data. They look at cold, hard facts, and those facts paint a picture liberals don’t like: African-Americans are just not using those company’s premium services as much as others in inner cities.

Dante Ramos at the Boston Globe laments that the companies need to “grow up.”

Because lots of tech firms develop great products against daunting odds, they get a pass for behavior that would get established companies in trouble with regulators or the public. Eventually, though, a successful firm stops being a scrappy startup that can focus on its own survival alone. At that point, it should step up to a greater level of corporate social responsibility.

What does that mean? It means that Amazon’s new same-day delivery service is available in areas where there are enough Amazon Prime users to justify it.


That crosshatched patch in the middle of Amazon’s same-day service area in Boston tells the story. Roxbury is a heavily black-dominated area comprising three zip codes where the service isn’t available. To liberals, this is racism in action. How dare Amazon use data to make decisions on where to offer service! How dare those–those capitalists!–pursue business in such a color-blind and objective manner.

There’s no evidence that Amazon makes decisions on where to deliver based on race. [Craig Berman, Amazon’s vice president for global communications] [no relation —Ed] says the ethnic composition of neighborhoods isn’t part of the data Amazon examines when drawing up its maps. “When it comes to same-day delivery, our goal is to serve as many people as we can, which we’ve proven in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.” Amazon, he says, has a “radical sensitivity” to any suggestion that neighborhoods are being singled out by race. “Demographics play no role in it. Zero.”

Oh but it should play a role, according to liberals. Perhaps Amazon should offer free Prime membership to inner-city blacks. Maybe that would incentivize them to use the service. You can’t force them to use it, because that would be like forcing people to buy insurance and subsidize hospital administrator $500,000 salaries.

And Über, those radicals, refuse to hire drivers like buggy-whip cab companies who bribe city officials buy limited issue, enormously expensive “medallions” to run a highly regulated hack franchise. They dared to use rider feedback to kick low-rated drivers off their app. Because it’s not fair to use data to determine who keeps their job and who loses it–wait, it’s not a job, it’s called the free market.

They also forgot to tell riders that the tip was included in their Internet-enabled, app-processed payment. So a liberal Massachusetts lawyer hit them with a class-action lawsuit, which the company settled by paying up to $100 million and noting the tip is included in the app. They will also give poorly rated drivers more warning before giving them the boot.

Pauvre petit enfants.

What to do? The liberal solution–if they won’t “grow up” and stop using data to make business decisions, we’ve got to regulate’em. Let’s make Über into just another cab company, and let’s make Amazon into Ma Bell, and force them to offer service to everyone. Then charge a “universal same-day delivery fee” on every Prime user’s account so that Roxbury can have a service most people who live there will probably never use.

[Update: Amazon gave in to the pressure and will deliver to Roxbury. Of course.]

This is why we must keep liberals (of either party) out of the White House and out of Congress.