A new paper published by the US NBER this week concluded: "the arrival of ridehailing is associated with an increase of approximately 3% in the number of fatalities and fatal accidents, for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians."
It's quite the finding – moreso given the fact that the effects hold when controlled for the other major technology turning drivers into killers, the smartphone.
Being an economics paper, the researchers involved aren't hugely interested in tracing causality; what we're seeing here is a pure statistical finding, isolated with canny examination of the different times that various cities across the USA first got Uber (or Lyft, or a local competitor). Also being an economics paper, the authors seem to find it quite important to put a dollar cost on the deaths, estimating the annual negative externality of ride hailing due to deaths to be in the range of $5-13bn.
Where they do suggest a mechanism, it's both banal and obvious – if no less concerning as a result. Bluntly, more ride hailing means more traffic, more congestion, and so more deaths. Some number of journeys which didn't happen, or which happened on foot, bike or public transport now happen in two-ton vehicles driven by pressured, tired and distracted "contractors", and people are dying as a result.
(That conclusion is backed up by the fact that ridehailing firms increase congestion more in cities that already had large populations who use public transport or carpooling. If everyone already drove, then it's hard to increase car traffic, but if someone doesn't drive and Uber tempts them into the back seat of a stranger's car, that's a net loss for urban sustainability/)
More impressive still is that this increase is happening despite some obvious first-order improvements of ridehailing. Uber probably has reduced levels of drunk driving, for instance; it's definitely made it easier for a small section of society to get rid of their cars entirely. But the much larger substation effects drown that out.
I don't know about you, but that certainly matches the impression I get from how my friendship group uses Uber and its competitors: people who once would have sat on a nightbus home from a friend's house now take a cab when they leave the pub at 9pm. But my anecdotes are faulty, of course: not only are they anecdotes not data, but they also are clearly skewed by the fact that the introduction of ride-hailing came as my friends aged from early 20s to early 30s, with their incomes growing commensurately.
Still, if a narrowly-published email isn't the place the wildly extrapolate from personal anecdote to state-of-the-world musings, where is?
My estate is being taken over by Airbnb. I live in one of those new-build estates that get referred to by Nimbys as "Luxury Flats", which means it has a small gym and a two-staff concierge shared between 1,400 homes –
(A brief aside, here: I hate this phrasing. "Luxury Flats" increasingly means "new flats", because yes, if a developer is building new flats, they aren't going to build shit ones, they're going to make them look nice. The fact that the new flats look nice does not mean they aren't crucial to fighting a housing shortage in central London. Worse, the way we provide affordable housing in the UK means that almost every development of meaningful size is mixed; my estate is heavier on affordable housing than most, with around 60% on affordable rents and most of the rest on private sale.)
– and Airbnb is invading. New build flats are already tempting targets for buy-to-holiday-let, because they're clean and shiny in a way that's particularly appealing to holidaygoers, they come with minor amenities and front doors hidden behind keypads, and – at the extreme end – you can buy four identical flats and efficiently manage inventory by putting guests in whichever one is free.
But the incredibly minor complaint I have, the sort that can only be done in a newsletter of trust, is about keys.
That aforementioned two-person concierge is, of course, paid for by every resident. Even the time between its construction, in 2013, and the present day, has started to push its capacity, as the continued rise of e-commerce turns the staff's role from largely security-based – monitoring cameras, buzzing in deliveries, and keeping an eye on the lobby in which they're sat – to one of near constant parcel management.
But the last year or so has seen a second major job: key management. The estate has always let residents leave keys with the concierge for others to collect – useful if an estate agent needs access, for instance. But now the Airbnb hosts have discovered that it makes the concierge staff perfect hotel receptionists, and so most days a couple of people arrive with their suitcases in tow to collect the keys to their holiday rental.
It's by no means a huge burden on the staff – yet – but it's another example of the way in which so much disruption, particularly in the second tech boom, has actually been about using simple technology to externalise the costs of your business. Hotels pay for their own receptionists; AirBnB does not. Cab licenses raise revenue for the cities whose streets they clog; Uber does not. Department stores can be sued if they sell you something that kills you; Amazon can not. Yet.
After I’d written this newsletter Wired published this great story about what happens when you’re staying in an Airbnb rental that’s just been shut down for massive fraud. Answer? Two blokes with a credit card reader let themselves in while you’re sleeping and demand you pay up.
All but three of my Pokemon have died and I'm halfway through the final boss rush, this is genuinely terrifying, would recommend a Nuzlocke run to anyone who thinks Pokemon is too easy to be interesting.
I bought my partner a Switch as a Christmas present, after a succession plaintive requests for me not to take the console on holiday made clear that Mario Kart 8 was not something we could share any more. But I’m struggling to come up with suggestions for successor games, because our taste is just different enough that I keep unhelpfully recommending things I like instead.
So, what current Switch titles would you recommend for someone whose favourite games are:
• Strong story-based adventures like the Witcher III (at least, when watched over my shoulder).
• Games where you can drop in quickly and play for a little bit, “like Coolboarders on the PlayStation”.
Hit reply with suggestions!