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By Paul Bendix

Über Alles

Uploaded: Dec 3, 2014

One can only commend the entrepreneurial verve of companies like Uber and Lyft. These firms have revamped ridesharing. Thinking outside the box, they have spurred a new form of semi-public transportation. They're also thinking inside a new sort of box...that being the double-edged way of technology. It's up to us to understand and address the implications.

Try alighting anywhere in the Bay Area...in a wheelchair. No one wants to try this, of course. But trust me, age or fate or some combination of the two can intervene. Anyone can wind up in a wheelchair.

Say you're at San Francisco's Caltrain station and want a ride. First, phone a cab company. Thanks to City incentives, most firms have a few wheelchair-accessible taxis. Yes, the system is antiquated. Yellow Cab's dispatcher will ask for the street address of the Caltrain station. San Francisco has one railway terminus, and its whereabouts is well known to taxi drivers. Nevermind. Glancing at a nearby building will give you an approximate address. Then wait. Of course, this can mean an hour or more. Something like 10% of the City's cabs are wheelchair accessible.

You'd like to grab your smart phone and summon Uber, but that's out of the question. Or is it? After all, it's not impossible for someone with a wheelchair-lift van to be an Uber driver, right? Not impossible, but not very profitable...or likely, that is to say, reliable.

In general, should we worry about this? The question gets to the heart of who we are as a society. America, Europe, Japan...all established industrial societies are aging. The graying of the population means a gradual reduction in mobility. Even without a wheelchair, someone with a walker or cane can cut into an Uber driver's time. Frankly, the mobility impaired are not very profitable.

One way to think outside the box...is to reduce the size of the box. Entrepreneurial ridesharing can actually shrink travel options for a growing section of the populace. It's up to communities to decide what's important. We can encourage innovation...while establishing ground rules that benefit the largest number of people.

What do readers think?

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