Friday, September 28, 2018

Do Uber and Lyft really care about being environmentally sustainable corporations?

In my role as director of Mobility Lab, I got interviewed for this CityLab article. Here are some tidbits:

For Paul Mackie, director of communication and research at Mobility Lab, which studies transportation behavior and policy, the announcements are another sign of how these companies are adopting roles as “societal partners” rather than just ride-hailing services—ones that can change the way public transit is marketed to the masses. In moving into the bike- and scooter-sharing markets, Uber and Lyft are also encouraging more people to ponder driving alternatives, and making it easier for them to change their behavior.

Lyft’s campaign resembles the new subscription service the firm is experimenting with in Salt Lake City, in which participants pay a flat $200 every month for 30 rides. But by integrating bikeshare and public transit, Lyft’s “Ditch Your Car” initiative goes one step further, potentially demonstrating how public transit agencies could benefit from a new payment model. “You think of these other smart industries—like Netflix or food recipe subscriptions—those are working and it's showing that it's what people want,” Mackie said. “Why is public transit so slow to have that model?”

 ... “It would be naive for anyone to think that Uber and Lyft aren't thinking about what’s best for their bottom line,” said Mackie. The two companies also want a seat at the policy-making table, with both ramping up their lobbying spending over the last few years. (Uber’s backing of congestion pricing, as CityLab previously reported, could be a win-win for both company and city.) Uber is still scrubbing its brand after the multiple scandals associated with former CEO Travis Kalanick, while its smaller competitor Lyft is sticking with its famous “better boyfriend” strategy, donating to the ACLU and giving voters free rides to the polls.

But the companies are still leaving out the one thing cities really want: data. Uber’s gift to SharedStreets may be a gesture toward handing over more of this precious resource, and Mackie thinks this could be another win-win for both sides. “Cities have curb space and parking—things that could really help Uber and Lyft,” he said. “We like to think that if they did share their data, then the governments can work with them to make cities much nicer working grounds.”

 And Mackie also credits Uber and Lyft with encouraging more people to consider sustainable transit options. Despite the rise of ride-hailing, Americans are largely still holding on to their private cars, and the concept of shared mobility remains novel to many.  “So it’s another thing to be a bit of cheerleader for Uber and Lyft because we want them to incorporate this sharing mindset in all of us,” he said. “It’s a noble experiment in behavioral change.”

E-bikes: An exciting alternative

This article originally appeared in the Sierra Club's newsletter.

It’s too early to tell if electric bicycles hold the secret to grand pronouncements such as “the
future of transportation.” But there’s definitely something interesting happening.

Anecdotally, I researched e-bikes for years before I felt comfortable enough to buy one as a
way to improve my mobility options in a ridiculously congested place like the Washington D.C.
region. There weren’t enough retailers who would also be able to make necessary repairs,
something this is more complicated than with traditional bicycles. The battery technology
wasn’t good enough to carry a charge decent enough to get back-and-forth across the city.

The first e-bike I bought ended up being too difficult to get repaired and I returned it,
thankfully (after lots of headaches), for a full refund from the German company, with a
California wholesaler and a D.C. retailer.

But earlier this year I tried again. After test riding many e-bikes and researching online (and,
despite the excellent Electric Bike Reviews site, with so many manufacturers and models, it’s
still an intimidating purchase decision), I purchased an excellent Magnum Metro from Hybrid
Pedals in Arlington, Va.

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t agree that, after riding an e-bike, it changed their life. The
problem is that so few people have actually ridden e-bikes. The U.S. market grew by 25
percent in 2017, to 263,000 e-bikes sold. At that rate, it will take a long time to make much of a
dent in the still-small percentage of people who bike for utilitarian purposes like getting to
work, going to eat, or meeting friends.

Some of the good news is that new and trendy options like Uber, Lyft, e-scooter shares,
dockless bikeshares, and soon autonomous shuttles may slowly be getting people out of their
century-long drive-alone mindset. In an increasingly crowded and polluted world, e-bikes could
play a valuable role in being a gateway to switch from this bad habit to these healthier, more
sustainable, more affordable, and just plain fun choices.

If all bikes today - every single bicycle in the entire world - were suddenly thrown away and
replaced with e-bikes, that wouldn’t be good for the environment. Obviously.
But e-bikes are good for the environment in a somewhat surprising way: because riding an ebike
is less physically demanding than a regular bike, making it easier to climb hills and go
longer distances, people might ditch cars for e-bikes.

Sounds far-fetched, but research says otherwise. An extensive survey of more than 1,800 ebike
users in the United States by the National Institute of Transportation and Communities
earlier this year found that most participants switched to e-bikes to reduce car use.

“What stood out, however, is how many motives involved eliminating driving hassles,”
Bicycling’s Selene Yeager wrote of the study. “Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they
bought an e-bike specifically to replace car trips. Others pointed to craving a more car-free
lifestyle, such as using e-bikes to carry cargo or kids, avoid parking and traffic woes, be more
environmentally minded, and have a more cost-effective form of transportation.”

But Americans are buying e-bikes at much lower rates than people in China and Europe. In fact,
the Wall Street Journal quoted a transit expert in 2016 claiming that 60 percent of all battery
production in China was for e-bikes. That’s a lot of batteries.

So how can we fix this? We can educate people on the benefits of e-bikes (and make sure they
know that riding an e-bike is still good for your health). We can advocate for better bike
infrastructure, which is proven to increase rates of bicycling across the board.

The research holds for me personally as well. I definitely bought my e-bike to maneuver more
easily and efficiently through D.C.’s stressful traffic. My car trips have gone way down, and
now my 17-mile roundtrip work commute is often the best part of my day.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cord cutting my cable gives me unlimited TV options this fall

Some might think my recent decision to get rid of cable TV for the first time ever is crazy in the midst of the peak-TV era. But I'm super excited to watch as much TV as ever with my simple cord-cutting strategy.

I've got Amazon Prime, Netflix, Sling TV, YouTube, and MLB on my Roku and get to spend about $100 less than I was with Verizon Fios, which I basically never watched and had a big pile of junk on my DVR that I always felt obliged to watch.

After trying a few other apps, Sling TV is clearly the best. I'm paying $45 a month for the channels I want to watch and even have 50 hours of cloud DVR included. And maybe the best thing about Sling compared to cable is that I can watch live or recorded TV anywhere on any of my devices.

Here are some shows I hope to catch this fall and where I'll watch them:

Netflix brings continuing tales like Ozark, and new shows like Maniac, which stars Emma Stone and Justin Theroux in a drug trial gone wrong. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina sounds intriguing as a bit of spinoff from Riverdale and starring Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka as the protagonist.

Amazon's new Forever, starring Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph is being billed as a must-see take on a faltering relationship. And The Romanoffs is producer Matthew Weiner's first return to TV since Mad Men.

Viceland on Sling has The Hunt for the Trump Tapes, with Tom Arnold searching journalist-style for at least a handful of Trump's pre-presidential idiocies. I can't imagine The Cool Kids could be good, but it is co-created by It's Always Sunny's hilarious Charlie Day and I can watch Fox on Sling. I'll probably also continue to give The Good Place a shot on Sling's NBC.

Once the football, college basketball, and baseball seasons end and I can switch up my sports-heavy Sling subscription (you can change it around anytime rather than being locked into a cable contract), I'll subscribe through Sling to Showtime. Jim Carrey is being hyped as a return-to-form Mister Rogers type in Kidding. And Escape at Dannemora, about the recent prison break in upstate New York, looks like true-crime fun.

I might have to splurge for the HBO app at some point too. Not that Lena Dunham's new Camping is the thing that will break me towards doing it, but it won't hurt either.

And of course, like any good cord cutter, I bought an antenna for $20, which allows me to watch the two "networks" I don't get through Sling TV, CBS and PBS. Can't think of a reason besides football that I would ever watch CBS, but the Native America documentary on PBS could help me put that antenna to use.