The face of Uber

[Story from The Palm Beach Post] Perhaps when you think of the sharing economy and ‘ride-hailing‘ services, this isn’t the prototypical user that comes to mind. Retiree Nancy Gregory pleaded with the County to keep the ridehailing service going at today’s vote on an operating agreement with Uber:

Palm Beach Post photo

“If you cut Uber, I don’t know what I’ll do because I depend on them,” retiree Nancy Gregory of West Palm Beach told commissioners as tears came to her eyes. She said the application on her smart phone lets her see a picture of the driver and follow the progress of the vehicle and typically she has to wait only three to five minutes for a ride, and she feels more comfortable with Uber than with ordinary cabs.

In a close 4 to 3 vote, the County chose to allow Uber to continue operating through September 20th. Thanks to the County Commissioners who voted yes on this issue, including Steven Abrams and Hal Veleche.

This story illustrates something that our elected officials should bear in mind: As much as they might think Uber is just another overhyped Millennial generation fad, it is helping people like Nancy Gregory. There is a whole cohort of people in this country, let’s remember, that do not drive, voluntarily or involuntarily. I speak with many people who live downtown in either a car-light or car-free lifestyle, and Uber gives them a much-needed, reliable way to get around in the instances a car is required. It’s cheaper, faster, cleaner, and easier than using a traditional taxi. It’s a different experience and a better one.

Palm Beach County is a very car-dependent place, through decades of design and funding favoring the auto-centric development model. I see Uber as great way to leverage the walkable neighborhoods Palm Beach County has in places like Abacoa and the downtowns of Delray, Boca, and West Palm Beach (to name a few), and make it that much easier for households to downsize to one or even zero cars. What would an extra $9,000 in disposable income do for a Palm Beach County family, and for the county’s economy? I don’t know, but I’m certain it will be a good thing, which is more than I can say for some economic development schemes the County has hatched. Rather than being focused on hitting home runs, our County officials need to focus more on base hits that are lower risk and higher return to the taxpayer. We must do better to provide choice in transportation and Uber is a step forward in a positive direction.

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