Friday, September 9, 2016

Could Uber Unsnarl Bogotá's Traffic?

Not if the Viceministry of Transport has its way!

Bogotá traffic congestion - an answer in Uber?
Uber, one of the most disruptive and innovative technologies to come along in awhile, has created lots of enemies.

And in Colombia those include not only cabbies, but also the viceminister of transport, who has vowed to shut down the service by blocking its app.

Uber certainly is unfair. Cabbies invest a lot in their vehicles, training and licenses, with the reasonable expectation that this will provide them a career in driving. And then Uber comes along, and suddenly anybody with a car and a smartphone can suddenly be a taxi driver.

It is very unfair. But that's history. The computer was terribly unfair to typewriter companies, the digital camera to film makers, and the automobile to harness makers (and horses). Printing put lots of scribes out of work.

If Transport Viceminister Alejandro Maya gets his way, he'll not only halt Uber, but also
technological advancement. And Uber is only a piece of the shared, coordinated economic revolution, which just might make life in Bogotá a whole lot better.

Taxis under threat. But can Uber do better?
The New York Times reports that Uber, Google and others are experimenting with carpooling, driverless cars and other forms of transport sharing.

Uber unquestionably fills a desire for more convenient, courteous transport service. But, so far, Uber's impacts on traffic are more debateable. Does it put more vehicles on the roads, worsening traffic jams and pollution? Or, by reducing the need for owning a personal car, does it ultimately reduce the number of vehicles?

Whatever the truth, Uber-type technologies clearly have the potential to slash road congestion and improve safety. Self-driving cars will one day soon be much safer and more efficient than human-driven vehicles. Technological platforms open huge potential for car-pooling (something which Bogotá, insanely, has never really invested in). And the New York Times envisions a future with personal vehicles replaced by commonly-used ones, reducing the demand for parking lots, which consume huge portions of urban areas. (Will the viceminister also oppose that change, in defense of the vested interests of parking lot owners?)

But none of those paradigm shifts will be possible if viceminister Maya succeeds in blocking Uber.

(Incidentally, Colombia's banking system is apparently resistant to working with PayPal.)


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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