Tag Archives: Uber

Colbert’s Late Show Interrupted by Hecklers

As Stephen Colbert’s new show is in its first week, the show has, so far, had a bunch of top-notch guests. Last night, for example, Joe Biden was on the show — complete with the press corps in tow… chomping at the bit as to whether he is going to run for President.

But, the show appeared, at least to the audience to have been stolen by some New York City cabbies.

I’ll turn things over to Sarah, who claims to have been seated in the audience for yesterday’s taping. She posted a litany of tweets about incidents involving Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (disclosure: who I met at the Uber DC launch party many years back.)

Since there are so many Tweets about this (what happened to blogging?) I am going to put her Tweets into a sequential, linked monologue. (Last word of tweet is link.)

Here we go:

So, so excited to see this interview. Some insane stuff went down. I’ll talk about it if they don’t show it. First thing got cut. Extremely edited. Makes sense.

Two separate times during the interview with Uber guy, some cabbies in the balcony yelled stuff and interrupted the conversation. They were criticizing Uber’s disruption of the NYC cab system, and they were very aggressive and made everyone rather uncomfortable.

I mean, I don’t blame them, their argument is valid. But I initially thought it was a bit, but the crew started looking around frantically. Instead of having the men removed, Stephen acted with complete respect and control. He listened intently to what they had to say. When the guy finished, Stephen said that he was planning on asking a similar question, and politely asked the man to be seated.

He then turned back to the interview and addressed exactly what the man had yelled about. It was very smooth.

The whole thing was cut, tho.

Then five minutes later, another man got up and yelled something else. The Uber guy started to talk back to him, but Stephen calmly touched his arm and quieted both him and the cab driver in the balcony. He said that he would ask the man’s question “in a more respectful way.” Then he again respectfully asked the man to sit down, and he asked exactly what the man had yelled about. Very, very smooth transition.

Both encounters and all references to them were cut for the air. The Uber man actually had some decent (prepared) answers to the questions, & Stephen was able to make it funny, but Biden deserved more air.

But – it was truly remarkable to see how Stephen handled the whole interview. He easily could have had the men removed. But instead, he truly listened to what they had to say and directly incorporated their concerns into the interview, completely smoothly. It was incredible to see how well Stephen handled it all. Absolute class and respect, the whole time.

And he had complete, *complete* control over the entire theatre. The audience, the band, the crew – we were all confused/a little scared, but Stephen calmed and quieted everyone. He didn’t call for security, he just dealt with the men and then continued an excellent interview. It was a fantastic thing to watch happen.

He handled it with class and earnestness & showed just how skilled he is as a performer and host.

I’m actually sort of sad none of it made the cut. They must’ve talked for at least 15 mins, & what they showed was kind of awkward & short. But I understand why they didn’t show it all.

I’m just glad I got to witness it and see in person just how phenomenal Stephen Colbert is. Sorry I just tweeted like three essays, but I wanted to put it out there. Important stuff.

Confused? So am I. Unless you were in the audience tonight (some WH poolers were, but this didn’t make the pool report, so I assume they missed it) there is no way of knowing what was said, what Colbert did, and what made it to air.

However, some reporters from Business Insider and BuzzFeed were there. I suspect they’ll have more substantive reports come morning. Until then, a few questions/thoughts:

  • Why let hecklers get away with it? In this instance, after Colbert reacted, allegedly, nicely to the first cabbie, yet the second later chimed in. Would the same thing have happened if you just kicked the first one out? Perhaps.
  • Letting hecklers go into a monologue, and listening until they finish just seems like a bad idea. I’m not a producer, but that’s bullshit. Subjecting guests to that is a dumb move.
  • Only Colbert and his writers know if it is indeed true whether Colbert was “planning on asking a similar question” to the ones the hecklers brought up. This could just be a disarming tactic, but it could become a very bad precedent. Granted, only the people who are in the audience know what was said in the room and what aired or didn’t air.
  • BUT, consider that on any given night, reporters from BI and BF, or any other outlet are in the audience… you never know who is there. If you start caving to hecklers and suggest you were about to ask their questions to calm them down (Colbert is democratizing the questions, as we saw with Jeb Bush) you only encourage people to act badly. And it’s weird if you ask the questions they asked before you, and don’t air them. Seems crazy.
  • If guests know you might make them answer questions from the audience to keep hecklers at bay (albeit reworded by the host) that might cause good potential guests to forego the show. After all, Colbert doesn’t have subpoena power to require guests to appear, there are alternatives.
  • Which is an interesting question, heckler tactics aside: Do you offer a cushier interview or do you let things run like the wild west? In television, it can go both ways.

Which way will Colbert go? Perhaps we’ll find out in the late morning.

New Yorkers Complain About Economics

From the ever-expanding “This Isn’t Price Gouging” Department, the New York Post reports:

Passengers are blasting the Uber car-service app for its “surge’’-pricing scheme, which kicked in during the city’s first snowstorm of the season — in one case pricing a short trip across town at a whopping $132.

But in Boston, blogger Jessica Gioglio — who bills herself as “The Savvy Bostonian” — shelled out $91 for a 3.18-mile, 16-minute trip from Beantown’s Back Bay to Central Square.

Posting a screenshot of her e-mail receipt, she called the fare “price-gouging” and said, “I’m really disappointed in u guys.”

Uber, much maligned by regulatory fiends and taxi cab sympathizers, has really upset the taxi cabal in many major U.S. cities. Namely by providing better, more convenient service for a more premium price.

Unlike taxicabs, whose drivers can usually only impose a change in prices when allowed by decree from the government (i.e. during a snowstorm, or when gas prices are unusually high), Uber can raise prices to reflect market demand. And users are clearly made aware of this before they agree to take an Uber, as seen below.

The Post continues:

The app’s practice of surge pricing is actually designed to help consumers, Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian insisted Sunday. The higher rates “get more cars on the road quickly when demand outstrips supply, helping to guarantee that New Yorkers can get a ride when and where they want,” she said.

“As soon as demand falls or supply increases sufficiently, prices return to normal.”

Uber cars and their drivers, like everything else, are a scarce resource with alternate uses. Uber is right to raise prices to incentivize more drivers to work than to accept private contracts (as many Uber drivers do in Washington), hunker down with their family, or go out and get supplies for their homes. Just like laws prohibiting so-called “price gouging” during a storm serve as a disincentive for shop owners to stay open, the rules that govern taxi cabs often result in less taxis being available.

Which, in turn, might cause Uber’s demand to surge even higher than it normally would if taxis had greater flexibility to charge market rates. bsig

Could Pop-Up Hotels Solve Disaster Housing Shortages?

I read with interest a recent piece in Businessweek about an innovate company that has managed to make something akin to a hotel food truck:

This year, Snoozebox Holdings is shipping 40 to 400 stackable containers to house guests at events including Le Mans, the Edinburgh Festivals of plays and concerts, and the G8 Summit. The prebooked rooms are equipped with flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, and running hot water.

Who would want to stay in one of those, you might ask? The company, Snoozebox, has already found some markets for its product.

snooze

The answer is, mostly, rich people. However, like with most innovations, what starts as a toy or luxury for the rich (telephones, VCRs, televisions, internet) usually becomes pretty affordable and widespread.

Take the devastating tornado that recently ravaged Oklahoma. Or the one in Joplin, Missouri. Housing is one of the most needed commodities in the wake of natural disasters. Could Snoozebox, or its competitors save the day and provide a market-based solution to help people in need?

While the obvious answer is yes, the reality is probably not. Or at least not anytime soon.

Whenever an innovation disrupts the current natural order, vested interests often use the law and politicians in an attempt to stifle competition. Economists call the former “creative destruction” (good) and the latter “rent seeking” (bad).

Creative destruction, in the form of the Uber car service or food trucks, is really great for consumers. Their competition — well established taxi cabals and brick-and-mortar restaurants — don’t see it that way. They get politicians to enforce laws that would inhibit any competitor from setting up shop, and if the laws doesn’t exist for that purpose, those interests usually push politicians to pass them.

Let’s rewind the clock to a day after the tornado hit Oklahoma. You work at Bomblebox, a fictional competitor of Snoozebox. Oklahoma would be an ideal place to offer your services to a populace coping with disaster. Hotels are overbooked, people are cramped in the houses of friends — often far away from the site of their former home. There’s a natural market for the Bomblebox.

Could Bomblebox drive a couple of trucks over and set up shop somewhere? In this hypothetical, it’s unlikely.

Each of the fifty states has their own laws and regulations governing hotels and lodging. And it’s unlikely that a company not already licensed to do business there could get all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted before the window of opportunity closes.snoozebox-exterior-sunshine

Second, local hoteliers, their trade groups, and other interest groups would probably object. There are a ton of ways they could do this:

Would Bomblebox’s products be up to snuff with Chapter 285 — the part of Oklahoma law that regulates lodging establishments?  Is the plumbing consistent with the Oklahoma Plumbing License Act? Is the electricity system consistent with the Oklahoma Electrical Licensing Act? Does each unit “maintain at least one lighting fixture suitable for reading”? Do all the bathroom floors have “impervious floor surfaces?” Is the sewage disposal system consistent with “regulations adopted by the Oklahoma State Board of Health?” I don’t know.

Remember, these laws are for your safety. Created, supposedly, to protect you — but they also often serve to protect the current natural order from competition.

You get the point.

The time and money it would take to ensure compliance would probably guarantee that such a plan wouldn’t get past the research phase. There are a lot of questions to answer just to drive a box that people would pay $400 a night to stay in while watching a race or stay at a festival like Bonnaroo. Put another way, if people are willing to pay that much to stay in a box at a race or a festival, my guess it’s probably good enough for  to stay in after the wake of a disaster.

But that’s not how regulation and the natural order operate. Mutually agreed upon and beneficial transactions, even under extenuating circumstances, are often illegal outright. You’re not necessarily free to transact with others as you see fit. While FEMA does provide disaster assistance — think FEMA trailers —  some people probably would be willing to pay more, and could afford to get something a little nicer than a crappy camper because for their well being they want the comforts of home.

Let’s pretend for a second that Bomblebox is a Missouri company, and has plans to do business all over the southland to help people recover from disasters, and provide housing during political conventions and festivals.

Could Bomblebox then, had it complied with all the varying laws regulating hotels and motels, go into business? Again, the answer is probably not.

Ill-advised price gouging laws in each of the states would likely prohibit Bomblebox from charging the market rates necessary to make it profitable. And thus, local hoteliers and the government — which also hates competition — would likely object and prohibit the “evil” Bomblebox corporation from helping people at a time when they need it most.

What about renting (or selling) house-like version of the Bomblebox? At first glance, that might appear to be a better option.

But, again, the complex web of laws and regulations would make that difficult, and in addition to hoteliers, the competitors of the natural order (RV makers, prefabricated home makers) would likely throw in a monkey wrench to complicate things.

In my lifetime, we’ve seen creative destruction move at an amazingly fast pace. The days of radio-dispatched cabs that come because of a call from your home phone or payphone are over. We’re in the Uber era now, where my smartphone will get me a black sedan in mere minutes. Instead of having to go and wait in a long line to get a Georgetown cupcake, food fad fetishists can be satisfied by a 3 minute walk to Farragut Square where multiple food trucks offer similar (and often better) products with shorter lines and often at lower prices. Or, if you really have your heart set on Georgetown cupcake, Seamless can deliver it for you.

Generally speaking, our regulatory system and laws are outdated. Uber is discovering that first hand across the country, most recently in Los Angeles. The byzantine shackles of a outdated laws and regulations that keep cities (like my hometown of Cleveland) from returning to their former status of greatness exist all across the country in various degrees.

What keeps them there is politicians who cater to the special interests, and who see themselves as wizened sherpas of the regulatory Mt. Kilimanjaro rather than people whose job it is to make their constituents’ lives easier through good policy, not political dependency.

Going forward, the cities and states that recognize the burdensome constraints of outdated regulations and laws are the ones that will prosper. They’ll have the Ubers, the food trucks, and — when times are tough — people willing to provide innovative solutions to help them in their time of need.  Their citizens will lead happier, better lives, and bounce back from adversity faster than their friends in the cities and states whose leaders who let archaic policy and outdated thinking rule the day.

Few people argue for no regulations at all, but the people who think that deregulatory advocates believe this are often the very politicians who say “everything is fine.” Odds are, it’s not. And the joke’s on you if you believe them.

 

 

 

A Competitor for Uber?

As I returned home from Scotland yesterday, I noticed a building in my neighborhood had a new neon sign adorning the top floor. For years, a vinyl banner read “YOUR NAME HERE.”  Now it read “TaxiMagic.”

Curious as I am, I googled it. TaxiMagic is the new name for RideCharge, Inc. According to their profile on the Google Play store, they have two apps TaxiMagic and SedanMagic, the latter sounding a lot like Uber. The former looks like an Uber-like system, but for cabs.

Here’s how they describe TaxiMagic:

– Find taxis based on your location
– Book a taxi in a few quick taps
– Track the arrival of your taxi through dispatch updates and a map view
– Charge the ride to your credit card
– Expense the trip with an e-receipt

‘Magic Booking’ is available with 65 leading taxi fleets in over 40 major U.S. cities, with tap-to-call fleets in 4,000 U.S. and Canadian cities.

TaxiMagic makes its money through a $1.50 charge to pay for your ride via credit card.

Android users seem to think it is a swell app, though it has about as many negative votes as it does 2 and 3 star votes.

Since it’s a national company, I’m glad they chose Virginia — a very business friendly state — to call home.

How will it fare in the DC region since Uber has dominated DC?

SedanMagic does not have many ratings yet, so I presume it is a newer product. They did make this promo for it, which could have been improved if they got Ranjit from How I Met Your Mother to star in it (some free marketing advice for my neighbors.)

My guess is they will focus on expanding SedanMagic in cities that don’t have Uber yet, and eventually grow that product before they focus on competing with Uber — sort of like how Cars2Go and others waited before taking on ZipCar.

They have racked up a ton of client cab companies in DC according to their website, but the million dollar question is, even if their product is good, can they overcome the hatred of DC cabs that Uber has been able to use to their advantage?

That will be tough. Hatred of cabs in DC is pretty entrenched, and Uber has been able to convert that to new customers and dollars in the bank. TaxiMagic will not be able to erase that over night.

However, later at night when Ubers are more scarce, TaxiMagic will be able to probably grow the partier market into a nice customer base.

I love Uber, but as a free market guy, I love competition. Since it’s evident that certain drivers don’t like following the regulations they’ve pushed for (to drive out competitors!) late at night when the regulators have gone to bed (see: Union Station), this is a good way to get away from the failed current model. Cabbies (or their companies) will be better able to self-select their clients and their destinations. In short, it improves the market since consumers and suppliers are better able to communicate their wants.

RideCharge will have to tread carefully in DC, given this recent war between the taxicab cabal and the livery drivers, and that they are working with both factions.