Tech's predatory pricing, ditching delivery apps, the oceans are in trouble, Uber killing transit, NYC taxi bailout, & more!

Issue 105

Hey urbanists,

A big thanks to everyone who reached out for Radical Urbanist’s second anniversary and shared the newsletter with friends and colleagues!

I kicked off this issue with a bit of info on the visionary ideas coming out of the U.K. Labour Party that are making me very excited. Then, a rumination on predatory pricing in tech, the problem with delivery apps, the IPCC’s report on the oceans, Uber and Lyft caused taxi spending to soar while transit spending decline, AOC wants a bailout for taxi drivers, Car2Go is gone, and the importance of imaginative fiction.

I was at the Climate Strike in Auckland this past week. The energy was fantastic! I hope you made it out wherever you are.

Have a great week!


🇬🇧 U.K. Labour held its party conference and it produced in a radical, ambitious slate of policies: a four-day workweek, folding private schools into the state system, a second Brexit vote between a renegotiated deal and remain, a “People’s Zipcar” made up of 30,000 electric vehicles for rent, a commitment to freedom of movement and closing detention centers, and a universal basic services program to “roll back the frontier of the market and decommodify services that were previously unavailable on a universal basis.”

“For many decades the boundaries of what is politically possible have been policed by a closed network of politicians, advisors, corporate lobbyists, think tanks and journalists. […] The wave of radical policies passed at this week’s Labour conference did not come from PR lobbyists or the scribblings of special advisors. Instead, they came from the blood, sweat and tears of thousands of thinkers, doers and campaigners from all across the country and beyond.”

Tech dystopia

💸 “Amazon’s model, which underpriced competitors in retail and eventually came to control the whole market […] used to be illegal, and was known as predatory pricing.” WeWork is the latest example of this sham, which Matt Stoller calls ‘counterfeit capitalism’, and it makes “competition purely based on access to capital.” Last month, Rani Molla wrote that there are a bunch of conventional companies masquerading as ‘tech’ and that designation misleads investors as to their value and growth potential, allowing the companies to raise more capital than their competitors who don’t pretend to be tech companies. That has the effect of driving the latter companies out of business because they can’t raise as much capital as the false ‘tech’ company, and thus compete on price. Uber and WeWork are chief examples.

📉 New documents reveal SolarCity was insolvent when it was purchased by Tesla, and it appears Elon Musk misled Tesla investors about the acquisition. He’s being sued by investors for violating his fiduciary duty to shareholders. He was also found guilty of violating the National Labor Relations Act for threatening and retaliating against employees who tried to unionize.

🌯 Delivery apps “are using investor money to create a business where there isn’t one. Delivery shouldn’t be this cheap or free. But now we as consumers are trained to think it should be, because these companies are willing to eat the losses to create a market. Restaurants that want to remain competitive feel pressured to offer delivery, no matter the commission.”

🇬🇧 Uber granted a two-month extension after failing to obtain a full operating license in London. New reporting also reveals its special investigations team’s job was “first to protect Uber,” and that meant not reporting crimes to law enforcement or telling victims to seek legal counsel.

✊ 80 Google contractors in Pittsburgh have voted to unionize with United Steelworkers because they work alongside Google workers but get less pay and fewer benefits. They will now enter into contract negotiations with their employer, HCL Technologies.

Kim Kelly explains why the AB5 fight matters and what it means for workers

Environment and climate crisis

🌊 IPCC’s special report on the oceans says they’ve warmed nonstop since the 1970s and have absorbed 90% of excess heat. 680 million people in low-lying costal areas will experience annual flooding by 2050 that would have previously occurred only once a century. The Antarctic ice sheet may be reaching a point of no return, which could cause multimeter sea level rise in the next two to three centuries. Oceans have absored 20-30% of carbon released by humans since the 1980s, making them most acidic and inhospitable to corals that millions of species depend upon. That will force species to continue to move. The worst can be avoided, but only with drastic action now.

Six million people turned out around the world for the Global Climate Strike. New Zealand and Canada had the largest turnouts as a percentage of population.

🏭 Fewer than 20% of the world’s largest companies are on track to meet their Paris emissions reduction targets, and those targets aren’t even enough to keep warming below 1.5ºC. Voluntary compliance doesn’t work. There need to be strict, government-enforced targets with huge penalties for non-compliance.

🇺🇸 Since 1990, California’s CAFE emissions standards “have helped reduced tailpipe emissions by 5 million metric tons, and fuel efficiency has grown by 35% from 1990 to 2016. But emissions still rose by 21% over that period. Why? Because driving—as measured in vehicle miles traveled, or VMT—increased by 50%, more than cancelling out the technological gains.”

🇧🇸 Solar microgrids are helping the Bahamas bounce back from the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian

🚗 Bolt, an Estonian ride-hailing company, is taking off in London. It promises all its rides are carbon neutral, even though it’s relying on carbon credits that it hasn’t obtained yet.

🇩🇪 Germany is making a massive commitment to rescue its forests

🌏 Who are the global leaders and laggards on climate action? You might be surprised… or maybe not!

Transit and trains

📱 Lyft’s redesigned app gives much greater prominence to scooters and transit. Uber is doing the same, along with adding food delivery instead of having it in a separate app. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi confirms what I’ve been saying the transit integration is all about: providing better routing and making the Uber app more attractive. It’s why the transit agency, not Uber, should be the ‘Amazon for transportation’.

🇫🇷 Le Grand Paris is about more than new metro stations. By going beyond the Périphérique to connect the suburbs to the core, it hopes to change the idea of what Paris is and who belongs to it.

🇺🇸 “If you have the time, I highly recommend riding Amtrak. But even more highly, I recommend that we build a real train system in this country.” Trains are actually surprisingly competitive with flights between some major North American cities.

👎 Average household spending on taxis (including Uber and Lyft) tripled from 2015 to 2018, while transit spending fell 15%

🚄 Virgin Trains USA is pushing a Los Angeles to Las Vegas train, but it doesn’t actually plan to go to downtown LA. Rather, passengers would have to connect 90 miles northeast of the city, which doesn’t make much sense.

📷 Beautiful photos of subway stations from the Soviet Union

Cars, bikes, and roads

🚲 “I never expected that the risk-assessment skills I developed in war zones would be relevant to my life as a Brooklyn dad with a desk job in Manhattan, but that was before I started biking to work. […] The problem is the absence of an infrastructure that gives bikers, pedestrians, and even delivery trucks what they need so they don’t go to war against each other for the rat-infested crumbs of asphalt the city has them fighting over.”

🚕 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for a bailout for New York City taxi drivers whose livelihoods have been decimated by ride-hailing services

🚗 Car2Go, the car-rental service which makes it easier for people to go car-free, is closing operations in five major North American cities because ride-hailing services have taken so many of their customers. This is a terrible development.

🇺🇸 San Francisco picked four new scooter operators: Lime, Jump (owned by Uber), Scoot (owned by Bird) and Spin (owned by Ford). Within twelve months, the number of scooters could reach 10,000.

🇫🇷 Paris is going big on e-bikes. Véligo, a new e-bike rental service, will cost €40/month on a six-month contract, and the Île-de-France region (where Paris is located) is offering a €500 rebate on e-bike purchases.

🇨🇦 A GM factory in Oshawa, Ontario is slated for closure. The workers are asking the federal government for $1.4-1.9 billion so it can be retooled to make electric vehicles for public institutions like Canada Post. Sadly, the government is unlikely to provide assistance.

🛴 Wired says you should stop renting scooters, and just buy one already (I happen to agree). But Boing Boing says you don’t have to shell out a lot of money: pick up an impounded Bird or Lime for next to nothing at a municipal auction, then swap out the control unit for $30. Easy!

🚫 Car bans shouldn’t just be for a single day; they should be made permanent. But some attempts to close roads in London are running into trouble, especially as taxi drivers vehemently fight any removal of road space.

🗺 More cities are setting geofenced areas where scooters can’t be used or their use is restricted

🇧🇪 Survey finds most scooter users in Brussels are white men with degrees who only use scooters to replace car trips a quarter of the time

(It’s not just Cleveland.)

Housing and homelessness

🇨🇦 Montreal’s Parc-Extension neighborhood is experiencing a major redevelopment as an AI-centered university campus moves in, but that’s let to rising rents and evictions for its vulnerable and low-income residents. The neighborhood is in Justin Trudeau’s electoral district, yet he’s done little to address residents’ concerns.

😑 Two weeks ago, I wrote that California’s rent control, allowing increases of 5% plus CPI, wasn’t that great. A new report suggests landlords are pretty happy with it.

🇬🇧 The socio-economic profile of some of London’s most deprived areas is being significantly altered as high-income people move into “regenerated” neighborhoods

🇺🇸 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s housing bill would rein in predatory landlords, make it illegal to discriminate against tenants who receive housing assistance, prohibit mortgage for landlords who’ve harassed tenants, and set a national rent cap. Another bill could link U.S. federal transit funding to housing construction.

🇬🇧 Social housing tenants, including children with disabilities, are still being excluded from communal areas in a multi-million pound development in London

Other great reads

🔮 “Imaginative fiction trains people to be aware that there other ways to do things, other ways to be; that there is not just one civilization, and it is good, and it is the way we have to be.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

🇦🇺 David Levinson gives his impression of Melbourne and how it compares to Sydney

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