The technology company of the year, promising massive shifts in real-life behavior -- rather than mere digital-lifestyle changes -- is, to me, Uber, the app-based car service.
It also steps, disruptively, into the ever-growing debate about urban income disparity, wherein happiness, ease and advantage invariably go to the highest bidder.
While the information superhighway was imagined, came into existence and matured into the most important business in the U.S., the actual American highway and ever-degrading transportation infrastructure have remained relatively unchanged. Various lonely futurists have talked about a mobility revolution that would involve driverless cars. The prevalence of the Zipcar logo has suggested a new, well, zip in the rental care market. And starkly lower car-ownership trends among Millennials have begun to frighten the automotive industry.
But at the same time, the struggle to get from point A to B, other than that it can be facilitated with GPS, is ongoing.
Until Uber. Or, for some, until Uber.
The black car, as transportation solution and status symbol, gained currency in the go-go 1980s as a perk of Wall Street and other excessive businesses. In a sense, it was part of the democratization of the rich -- or expansion of the obnoxious class. Whereas before the truly rich had chauffeurs, now the wannabe rich could have a waiting curbside chauffeur by the hour (often a minimum of four hours). This gradually divided New York, as well as other economically powerful cities, into a top tier of black SUVs, followed by a layer of hold-your-breath taxis, then the daily traffic of cumbersome and parking-challenged private cars, and, at bottom, public transportation.
Uber, allowing you to rent a car and driver on demand and by the minute, is a viable alternative to, and arguably an improvement on, the first three levels. You launch the app; a car is almost instantaneously found for you, with name and picture of driver and make of car; its arrival time, nearly always within a few minutes, is specified; and you can watch its mesmerizing progress on the app's display. You're greeted with deference and courtesy, taken to your destination with GPS accuracy. And, with credit card details logged in at sign-up with the app, no money changes hands.
The cost beats a hired car; it can be competitive with cabs and rent-a-cars; and, for ever-growing city center populations, it is beginning to challenge the economics of private car ownership -- certainly dual car ownership. (continued...)
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