Tag Archives: uber

The app battle may shift to carpooling soon

rideshareappoptionsThe responses after the July 29 Birmingham City Council vote creating a classification for digital services like Lyft and Uber in the city’s transportation ordinance have been varied and loud. The day the changes were passed, Mike Smith of AL.com filed this report explaining the definition of ridesharing in Alabama compared to how the companies had been using it. The report included the potential issues for existing options if Uber’s requests had been granted (issues currently being looked at and considered throughout the country). Today’s planned public beta launch of a new offering by Uber (UberPool) — on the heels of a similar one offered by Lyft (LyftLine) — may help provide a clearer picture of what’s next — and a chance to expand the practice of ridesharing in the metro area.

New York Magazine published a story on August 6 via its Daily Intelligencer explaining the latest offerings by the two visible players in the marketplace. (Note another company,  Sidecar, announced a similar ride sharing service that same day.) The post pointed out Lyft’s purchase in April of a  transit-focused app called Rover; the suggested rush to get announcements up suggest the plans were well underway well before the City Council vote. Now, the services offered by the first two haven’t exactly launched without problems (as a report filed onGigaOm from August 12 points out), but their potential long term impact is one being watched by livery service industry insiders, with some media outlets like Vox suggesting it could have an impact on public transit as we know it. They allow users to be matched with either other based on whether or not a driver was headed close to their destination. The passengers would share in the cost of the ride, resulting in it being less than a regular ride and slightly more than a similar journey via transit (though with door to door service available). It potentially makes it even more palatable as an option for residents here with complaints about transit and existing taxi options driving much of the support for the introduction of another option.

Long before the emergence of “ride sharing” apps for smartphones, the term was normally used interchangeably with carpooling by many cities, including those in Birmingham’s metropolitan area. Other companies, like Hitch (in San Francisco) and Carma, have long offered versions of the new services being launched by Lyft and Uber, with their emergence providing an opportunity for carpooling to expand rapidly. It could potentially lead to increased participation in programs like CommuteSmart — the one highlighted in Smith’s piece. One question that still remains is whether or not their entries into the ridesharing ecosystem would affect funding for the programs now or in the future. This website has reached out to the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, the local organization responsible for the ridesharing service, for comment and we will update this post when it is received.

While both new carpooling offerings are in their earliest stages elsewhere in the country, both provide the opportunity for the companies involved to enter the market in a different way than originally anticipated. It could lead to what The Verge suggests could be a new form of public transportation or a dimmer view similar to one shared by Wired — that of neither one of the current industry giants surviving.

A look at the proposed changes to Birmingham’s transportation ordinance

020455-470-uberThere’s been a great deal of conversation online about the pending arrival of Uber in Birmingham, AL since a post first published on this site back on June 19 suggested they were already laying the necessary groundwork. While the City of Birmingham is saying it’s prepared to welcome one of the world’s largest ride sharing apps to The Magic City, they’ve also said they do want to make sure it operates within the existing law. But what’s the law? First, a video posted to the City Council’s YouTube account on Tuesday afternoon:

Uber had already turned to social media to push back against proposed changes to the taxi ordinance, suggesting via email that it would be “anti-consumer” and creating a hashtag, #BirminghamNeedsUber, to garner and organize support for the service. Throughout the entire period though, there has been little discussion about the actual ordinance changes.

THE CHANGES

This link will take you to a copy of the working document published as a PDF; the changes are underlined with strikethroughs visible where language has been removed or modified; a “clean” copy has also been made available for you to review. A copy of the revisions made to the transportation ordinance earlier this year has also been uploaded to provide a point of reference and so you can actually see where changes have been made. An initial review of the documents prior to publishing this afternoon suggest they support statements made by councilors and city officials that the majority of the changes made were simply to define the service for purposes of the ordinance.

The changes appear to be similar to changes passed earlier this week in Columbus, OH and ones being considered in New Orleans, LA (though Uber’s biggest issue there seems to involve fare minimums). This morning it was announced a meeting to discuss the proposed changes in the Crescent City originally scheduled to take place July 22 has been rescheduled for next Tuesday, the same day Birmingham’s City Council is scheduled to take the item back up.

Council members have taken to social media in recent days to counter similar efforts by Uber in advance of the vote (as documented on AL.com), including the video shared earlier in this piece (as part of a longer nearly 2 minute piece) and the following tweet sent via Council president Johnathan Austin’s Twitter account earlier today:

Is Uber preparing for an arrival in Birmingham?