Sunday, July 14, 2013

Juan Matute 6 is quoted in the New York Times

For a time, the story Juan was quoted in had prominent placement on the New York Times's website. Then the Zimmerman verdict came out.

Juan Michael was quoted in a New York Times story on real-time ridesharing applications this weekend!

In his conversation with the reporter, Juan discussed the emergence of real-time ridesharing applications. 
Last week, on his first full day in office as the new mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti proudly proclaimed that Los Angeles was beginning to leave behind its culture of car ownership. And Juan Matute, director of the Local Climate Change Initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that if more people used ride-sharing services — even just 3 percent of the population, he said — substantial reductions in driving in Los Angeles could result. 
“It would be easier to share rides that are incidental to daily life,” he said.
As of late, Juan has become a subject matter expert on real time ridesharing and the regulatory issues it is facing in California by proxy; it was one of the fifteen topics he authored papers on funded by Next10. Real-time ridesharing applications, like Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar, are examples of so-called "disruptive technology". 

Innovation in technology is moving faster than ever - exponentially so. Consider the story of online carpool matching.

In the mid 1970s, computer-based ridematching was born. Here in LA, the Commuter Computer opened in 1974 to promote ridesharing. I could only imagine that there was a computer the size of my apartment spitting out matches onto a dot-matrix printer. 

Not actually from the Commuter Computer but this is what I imagine it could have been like.

Innovations in online ridematching moved very, very slowly until Facebook arrived, and opened its API for people to build applications. Zimride was one of the first enterprises to leverage the power of the world's largest social network. They built a Facebook app that married a more sophisticated ridematching algorithm with the ability to prioritize results based on degrees of separation vis-a-vis your Facebook profile. Presumably, you could "friend" each other and stalk each other's profiles until you felt comfortable setting up a ride. Along the way, Zimride positioned itself as an instrument for building community amongst digital natives.

PickupPal was the online ridematching solution of choice at Coachella in 2010 and 2011. Attendees who had at least four passengers in their car and decorated their cars (or displayed a Carpoolchella sign in their dashboards) were entered in a raffle to win tickets to Coachella for life.
The arrival of Zimride, and its peers (PickUpPal, RideAmigos, Avego), minorly upended the TDM world. No one likes being told they are old, least of all the baby-boomer TDM planners who had pushed hard for computer-based ridematching at the start of their careers. I don't think Zimride et al. took all TDM planners by surprise (at least not David Mines, the Bruin alumnus who toiled to create the early 90s equivalent of Google Transit at the Commuter Computer). But no one I spoke to at the time could appreciate, or publicly validate, how the integration of social media profiles could change how people approached pre-arranged carpooling. Nor could they anticipate how de rigeur these kinds of integrations would eventually become.

In any case, Zimride provides a high-quality experience to its clients seeking matches for pre-arranged carpools either for a recurring commute or a long-distance road trip.  But it was useless in finding a ride in real-time. 

The market was revealing a need - a demand, really - for a ridesharing solution that would allow you to share a ride in real time. 

In 2010, three years after Zimride launched its Facebook application, Uber opened for business. 

Uber launched as a smartphone app that allowed you to hail a black livery cab. But with its high price point, Uber's original offering was never destined to make a significant difference in cutting solo driving and car ownership.

So, there was still more opportunities. Enter Lyft and Sidecar. 

Lyft, Sidecar and its brethren are able to charge about 20% less than cabs and Uber black car drivers, in part because drivers are using their own personal cars.  

Lyft went into private beta last summer in 2012, and arrived in LA last January.

There was a parade of cars going by our apartment with fluffy, fuzzy pink mustaches on the  bumpers in January. Photo courtesy of Juan Matute

At the Lyft LA community party:
the beginnings of civic engagement
Lyft has also positioned itself very differently in its branding than Uber or with the existing taxicab industry. As it did with Zimride, Lyft sought to create a brand that connected with millennials. When you enter the car, you fist bump with your driver. Lyft drivers affix a pink fuzzy mustache to the front bumper of their vehicle. (Coincidentally - or not - I once owned a pink scarf made in the exact same material of those mustaches. It was something I wore to nerd camp dances in my early 20s.) Lyft community parties are similar to those you see featured on

In the Times, Juan posited that real-time ridesharing applications like Lyft and Sidecar have the potential to support on-going efforts to change how we get around, which would confer great social benefits too. I've heard arguments that these apps aren't "real" carpooling; that these tools still induce vehicle miles traveled. 

The best way I can refute that is, these apps now give me and many others another way to lessen dependence on driving a car somewhere. Perhaps the most significant impact that this kind of mode shift at the margins is the the long-term reduction in demand for off-street parking, which has all sorts of fiscal and social costs that Donald Shoup has written and preached about ad nauseum.

Which is why it kills me to see the taxicab industry up in arms over what they're calling 'bandit cabs'. Firstly, in the NYTimes story, the LA taxicab commissioner claims that he issued his cease-and-desist order because he views Uber, Lyft and Sidecar as threats to public safety. But really, what I think this guy is facing is the fact that he and his constituents are experiencing the same feelings that baby-boomer TDM planners faced a few years earlier. 

Perhaps the baby-boomer generation will never feel safe riding in these "bandit cabs", driven by millennials who, at least in LA, are moonlighting actors. But the things that boomers might see as threats are not threats to me. Mr. Drischler, LA's taxicab commissioner, actively defended his decisions to issue the letter because he is going off the sense of fear that he and others experienced back in the 80s and 90s. According to Mr. Drischler, a cabbie was killed every 18 months before the partitions in cabs got installed. 

Here's the thing though: the demographic that is flocking to Lyft and Sidecar didn't grow up, or come of age, living in that fear that motivates Mr. Drischler. Firstly, violent crime in America is down 40% since the mid-1990s. Secondly, millennials - Lyft's target demographic - is living in cities again (if they can afford it).  They are walking, biking, and riding transit more. 

We're also digital natives highly comfortable with using the social web for all sorts of stuff, from jobs to mates. We're more into using the social web to share things, like our houses and our cars. We're more into using the social web to share details of our lives. Mr. Drischler, if the only thing that motivated your decision to issue the cease-and-desist letter was public safety, then I have to say, I think things are going to be alright. But, of course, I don't think that's what motivated him. And therein lies the conflict.

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