COVID-19 and other matters are causing fast economic changes. For instance, the Democratic National Convention is going to be held on video in four different cities, and there’s already speculation that this may be the wave of the future for conventions. And why shouldn’t it be? We should take advantage of the new technology and find ways of holding meetings without a lot of travel. Naturally, this will have an impact on hotels, restaurants, and air travel, but it will save time for thousands of participants, not to mention lowering the use of fossil fuels. Work from home has had similar impact. Changes like this makes the economy more efficient.
To make changes in society to improve life for all we need to focus on decreasing road use, travel time, and sharing to decrease fossil fuel use.
California and other states are changing their laws in ways that appear to undermine the gig economy. Legal changes via judicial rulings and new laws will no longer permit Uber, Lyft, and similar companies to treat their workers as independent contractors. When people work, they need safety nets like unemployment insurance, but until now independent contractors couldn’t get that through their employment. They had to be classified as “employees.” This is perfectly silly, of course. If someone works part time for three different companies, they should still get unemployment insurance. The cost should be divided among the three employers, depending on the amount of time the worker spends with each. Uber and Lyft evaded the cost simply by classifying their workers as independents.
Now Uber and Lyft are threatening to leave California entirely. One wonders why they can’t just increase the ride cost to cover the insurance and related cost of worker re-classification. But, if they can’t, maybe we should make “ride sharing” into a real “gig job.” Every day there are thousands if not millions of people, driving cars from home to work, and they drive them mostly alone. Why should that be?
The drivers aren’t permitted to charge passengers money unless they are licensed and have insurance that covers the passengers. But if they work for Uber and Lyft they can, because those companies have company wide insurance, covering cars, drivers and passengers. So why not just have lots of “one way” drivers? The computers should be able to calculate the best passengers for each driver to take from his home area to his work area. This sort of business would save lots of driver only cars from hitting the road, cutting down on traffic and saving on fuel. Uber and Lyft could stay in business and the drivers could still make a little money on the road.. Of course, the amount of business has dropped significantly with COVID-19 in play, but not everyone can work from home. The important thing about shared rides is the impact on traffic, road use, and car use. Reducing that improves and helps society as a whole and those elements should be raised to the top of the pack.
If shared riding can be increased, we may find that it is improved if riders from outlying areas can be moved to central delivery points for pickup to downtown areas. In other words, the initial car and driver can drive around in a suburban area, pick up riders, and take them to a gathering spot, from which other cars (perhaps even jitneys) can take them downtown. Uber and Lyft would remain important, because they have already established computer systems that permit riders and drivers to find one another for transport from one point to another.
The way to make changes in society improve life for all is to focus on issues like saving time, decreasing road use and travel time, sharing in order to decrease fossil fuel use, and thereby improving ecology. Unfortunately, our existing system of laws and regulations don’t do that, which means that decisions by courts and administrative bodies may block improvements. We need to think outside the box to keep the law and regulations in synch with technical developments and the environmental needs of our society.
Michael T. Hertz