Can LA's Embarrassing Public Transit System Be Saved?


Amidst the charged political polarity surrounding ideas like abortion, gay marriage, voting rights, the NSA and gun control, sustainability has become a far less controversial topic than it used to be. Sure the GOP is still hard-pressed to admit that global warming is a real thing because, well, dinosaurs, but they’ve finally bought the idea that developing less wasteful infrastructure saves money. Of course they also still enjoy treating the earth as a toilet for corporations, and would rather start foreign wars for oil than invest in clean energy, but one step at a time I guess. Unfortunately for everyone, though, their agenda (throwing that in their face for once) is far more protected by law than the liberal converse. Being wasteful is ingrained in free market capitalism, and a sharing economy was never intended for.

Controversy surrounding a new company called Lyft (and also other sharing economy companies like Uber, Sidecar, and Airbnb) is currently pointing out this bureaucratic barrier in Los Angeles as Lyft has threatened to change the old-fashioned landscape of taxi driving. The issue began long before present day though, back when the car giants of lore bought up the railroad to insure a demand for their product. As time went forward, at no point did law makers see it fortuitous to challenge those companies, and instead have allowed Los Angeles to become the ultimate embarrassment to public transit. Lyft has emerged as an outlet to change this inefficiency, and it’s certainly ruffling lots of feathers.

Lyft succinctly describes the service they offer as “on demand ride sharing.” It all begins with an App, as most things do nowadays. You use the App to request a “lyft” and drivers choose whether or not they want to, or if it is convenient to pick you up. Anyone can sign up to be a driver after passing a background check, and then make their own schedule and use their own car, demarcated by a pink mustache on the grill. In a city whose economy is made up of more freelancers than any other city, the service presents a great way for independent contractors to make some extra cash.

The perks are not exclusive to drivers though. Not only is the service enormously cheaper than a typical taxi, but the fee is considered a donation, and the passenger has the choice to pay more, less, exactly or none of the suggested donation via App for up to 24 hours after the ride. This protects both the drivers and passengers through the integration of social media. Both parties have profiles that can be rated and commented upon, encouraging good behavior from everyone involved. If drivers are poor or passengers refuse to pay, the App relays that information and you can make an informed decision on whom to pick up and who to receive rides from.

The whole premise is not just centered on eliminating the overpriced and sometimes miserable experience of taking a classic taxi, there’s a goal of promoting sustainability involved with the service, or at the very least subvert the oppression of monopolies. Statistically only twenty percent of seats on the highway are taken, and if you’ve ever sat in L.A. gridlock for hours that fact is made all the more ridiculous. Personally I believe that within the lifetime of millennials we will see mandatory ride sharing, because the big ol’ American ideal of personalized everything cannot be sustained by our resources for much longer. Lyft provides a subtle entry into the era of a sharing economy, with the passenger and driver still maintaining a certain level of autonomy.

Not everyone sees the service as such a positive addition to the city, especially those whose business the service offers an alternative to. On June 24 the Los Angeles police department issued cease-and-desist orders to Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. The order originated from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s taxicab administrator, and stated that because the companies had no licenses or permits to transport passengers for money, it was illegal for them to do so. The obvious defense to that is that Lyft and its like-minded competition are not taxi companies; they are Apps that expedite ride sharing.

What is also obvious is that the city is linking arms with independent businesses because they receive the benefits of taxes and licensing fees incurred by those companies. Because of the obvious illegality of the order Lyft has continued to operate because they have already signed a contract with the California Public Utilities Commission allowing them to do so. Authorities have threatened that drivers will be subject to arrest and having their cars impounded if they do so.

Lyft held a “Save The Stach” community event on Tuesday to promote awareness for the cause. As you can see in the video the event was a huge success for demonstrating how Lyft is merely trying to create a more social and sustainable public transit network for Los Angeles. In an email to Lyft advocates and users, community manager Emily Castor said that thanks to the support Mayor Garcetti is beginning to listen, but Castor also urged Lyft-ers to create short videos on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #WhyILyft to continue to garner attention.

Similar battles have already occurred in New York, Austin, and San Francisco, all with the outcome ending in the favor of other shared economy companies. With the out pour of support and catalogs of reason for why Lyft should be allowed to continue operating, it looks like Lyft will prevail. What also might prevail though is the kind if anti-sustainability policy and bureaucratic red tape that sustainable companies are being forced to jump through if the issue is swept under the rug, victory or not.

State and federal governments are reluctant to even release a statement when corporations begin out dating or outsourcing positions through technological advancements or illegal labor, but the second an App transgresses upon a business that the government receives taxation kickbacks from, action is taken. Hopefully Lyft can help lead the way. Godspeed.