People keep asking me what I think about bailing out the U.S. car makers. I am unqualified to have an opinion on the economics of that question, and the experts seem divided. In situations such as this, where the experts disagree on the best path, I say use the limited supply of money someplace where the experts DO agree that it would help the economy, if there is such a place. I'm not claiming that withholding aid from the car makers would be the best solution. It's just the most rational decision when the best path can't be known.

And this got me thinking about why we have so many cars in the first place. Excess cars cause traffic, pollution, and dependence on foreign sources of oil. And who benefits most by this situation? Answer: car makers.

Suppose the government enacted laws that made it legal for anyone to be a taxi driver in his own car without a special taxi license. And suppose the income was non-taxable. The result would be cheap taxis and high availability. Every time you wanted to run an errand, and had an extra minute, you could choose to pick up a rider and cut your own driving expense in half. Technology will make it easy to match amateur taxi drivers with riders. And the market would keep prices low.

Now obviously there are lots of problems with this scheme, in terms of security, liability, and people puking in the back of your Hyundai. But compare that to our current problems: car expenses, traffic, pollution, global warming, and excess energy use. I think the universal taxi scheme comes out ahead.

None of this could happen while U.S. automakers are still in business. They would lobby to make sure the market for new cars stayed strong. And obviously the professional taxi drivers wouldn't like it. So they would lobby against it.

This sort of thought has been going through my mind lately because I think the current recession isn't going to be temporary. I think we're on the verge of a change as profound as the Industrial Revolution. Society will have to retool its expectations to meet the reality that there just won't be enough money to provide necessary services if we insist on consuming in an inefficient way.

The universal taxi theory won't happen because farsighted politicians changed laws. It will happen because people start doing it on their own in such numbers it will be impossible to prosecute, especially given the dwindling law enforcement budgets.

Likewise, the future includes legalized (de facto or literally) drugs and prostitution, out of budget necessity. There simply won't be enough tax money to chase that sort of perp. And say goodbye to speed limits in all but the most dangerous roads.
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Apr 17, 2009
I agree. Just imagine families with two or three cars. Why do they need this much? I applaud people who are practical enough to know how to commute using a <a href="http://www.affordabletranslimo.com">taxi service from Denver airport</a>
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Jan 15, 2009
Something like this exists in Russia. They are called "Gypsy taxis" and are a relic of the Soviet Union.
Dec 22, 2008
PS. I left out the real point about the ride-sharing in South Africa.

After walking to work for several months (an hour each way), I now get a ride with a young black colleague who lives near me, just got his driver's licence and bought his first car. I insist that I help pay him for his petrol, although he says he's going that way anyway, and I don't need to contribute. I told him -- *this* is how the taxi industry first started, and we need to get back to the original idea. He didn't know the history.

The government here actively encourages lift clubs, to save fuel, cut down on pollution and ease the terrifying traffic jams and road rage we see in Johannesburg.

The irony is that the government makes lift clubs illegal .... to try and cut down on "illegal taxis".

So I told my friend, in the interests of a cleaner world and saving the planet, I'm going to make a criminal out of him by helping him with his petrol each month. I slip him the money very surreptitiously. Please take no notice of this post if you are a policeman.

See http://www.citizen.co.za/index/article.aspx?pDesc=7485,1,22 -- the situation hasn't changed.
Dec 19, 2008
Ride-sharing was the origin of the South African minibus taxi industry -- the single biggest "black business" success story in SA history. People would contribute a couple of rand for a ride. Then some guys got smart and bought huge Valiants and started running routes -- they were the original taxis, in the 1970s and early '80s. Then the minibus came along. Now something like 70% of SA commuters use minibus taxis on a daily basis. The economy would grind to a halt without them.

It is still very largely an outlaw industry -- they are trying to introduce a Bus Rapid Transport system here, and just the other day there were big demonstrations by the taxi-drivers in Cape Town against the system, and one person got killed. The authorities are trying to persuade them that they will be part of this system, but they haven't explained it very well, should we say. There are regular shoot-outs at the taxi ranks as drivers fight for turf, these guys have their own methods of communication.

I use the minibuses all the time, I stopped driving 20 years ago, which makes me a real rarity in my social class. The taxis here completely rule the roads. It's the kind of thing (I always say) that gives anarchy a bad name. Everyone moans about them cutting in front of you. But if you're in them, well, you really appreciate it.

The big trouble is taxi bosses -- the individual driver is just a hireling now, worked to the bone, so they drive like maniacs and don't really care for their vehicles. I think the owner/driver is the answer to that, set up lots of individual operators in the business.

Anyway -- you can check it out, the taxi wars are without doubt the single biggest problem South Africa faces in trying to get the 2010 World Cup together. It will be very interesting to see how that works out.

They also tried an experiment here -- the "HOL", high occupancy lane, if you had three or more people in your car, you could use the fast lane. It worked quite well, they said. So we're maybe ahead of the curve...
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 17, 2008
Hey Scott,

Read this post a few days ago and thought it was a cool idea but one of those "pie in the sky" types that will never actually get implemented. A few minutes ago a coworker told me about a new iPhone application thats sole purpose is to encourage this type of system:


I remembered this post so I wanted to come back and share it. The application locates drivers near you with the same destination or similar routes who have empty seats, and it negotiates a meeting place and even handles the financial transaction. Drivers are rated by people they give rides to, and you can screen potential drivers based on this trust rating or some other factors. Sounds like this might get off the ground after all... ah the power of ubiquitous computing.

Dec 15, 2008
We had this unlicensed taxi thing emerge in Iraq during the 90s due to the economic sanctions and the erosion of the middle class that that entailed. I don't recall riding a "regular" taxi many throughout those years. This drove taxi fares down as there was a lot of competition and those "private" taxi drivers didn't have meeters and hence it was a matter of negotiating the fare with the driver prior to taking the fare. It didn't take long for real taxis and their drivers to stop using their meters as inflation made fares using the meter worthless for the taxi owner/driver and soon afterwords the government dropped the meters from taxi all together.
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Dec 15, 2008
We need to get back to a simpler way of life. We need to look after our families, friends and neighbors. Back to the neighborhood stores, cops walking the beat, people looking out for each other instead of only ourselves. This just isn't effecting the US this is effecting the whole world. And it starts with the greedy people at the top who were more worried about lining their pockets buying 10 houses or 50 cars and who knows what else, and if you weren't one of those people then too bad you loose. Now we have more people than we have jobs, but we want to say to the people that don't have jobs that they are lazy. The people with jobs, the companies that they work for want you to work for less and longer hours while the CEO's and owners bring in more money than what they can spend. Even the people in our government, not once have I heard them say that they would take any kind of pay cut to help cut costs. And this didn't just happen over night people, this has been a downward spiral for at least 10 years now. But now that it is affecting the people with money now they want help. Who was there when I lost my job and home due to NAFTA. There was no one there to bail me out. It's not like they haven't or couldn't have made changes years ago, I made the basketball team one year in 7th grade and I couldn't play because they canceled the winter sports due to a gas shortage. That was almost 30 years ago. What's changed? We've come so far with everything else technology wise and we still haven't figured out how to make cars run on something other than gas. Come on give me a break! Nothing will change until greed is wiped out. Until then things will stay the same or get worse. I'm thinking worse, or until those puppet masters have no more money to manipulate those who do not.
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Dec 15, 2008

"It will happen because people start doing it on their own in such numbers it will be impossible to prosecute, especially given the dwindling law enforcement budgets."

Wait, just like file-sharing and 'piracy' ?

Car producers could start making cars that refuse to run if not all passengers are somehow 'registered' car owners or registered acquaintance of the car's owner (relatives, close friends..), a sort of DRM but for cars.

Anyway, maybe a bit too optimistic, but I mostly agree with your points.
Dec 14, 2008
I'd vote for placing a Gigantic tax on gas and putting all the resulting money into public transportation. And give a tax credit to any adult who doesn't own a car. But what I really want to know is: given your vision of the future (which I agree with) does it make sense for me to continue to follow your investment advice, which is to say to put half my money in a bond index fund and half in a stock index fund? And if not, now what?
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 13, 2008
Interesting....but if this theory were to be implemented, a big loop hole would have to be taken care of...Viz. people continue to buy cars because now they are placated by the fact that the gas charge can be taken care of by giving taxi rides to other people who are in need of it...and the vicious circle might just lead to more people buying cars and less people in the need of a taxi and...well, i dont see an end to traffic jams here! maybe some more stringent taxi-driver rules could be thought of to avoid this situation? :)
Dec 13, 2008
I love it when you solve the world's problems in one blog. You are full of amazing ideas, and I love rolling them around in my mind. I do think that we are on the verge of something completely different. I'm just counting the days till December 21, 2012. I figure something transforming will happen at that moment, and I'm sort of holding my breath until it does. Certainly I'm not putting all of my chips on that premise, but it has credence within my mind.
Dec 13, 2008
I used to work for NuRide (www.nuride.com) and they support a fair amount of what is needed to do casual ridesharing. The issue is crafting an approach that is profitable and therefore sustainable. I think that safety is a red herring - if you want to live in a world with no risk, you should move to a remote location in Idaho and start stockpiling firearms. We're closing in on a day where I can easily text my friends and recurring ridesharing buddies when I am about to go somewhere and they can join in or not as they see fit. This is not quite standing on the side of the road with a thumb out, but it is close. Finally, I'll note that it costs less to pay people to rideshare than it costs to build and maintain the roads needed if everyone drives by themselves, but then - the companies that build roads make big political donations and people that rideshare don't.
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Dec 13, 2008
Sorry to butt in sheeps and burst your nice little 'thought-experiment' party...
but while you have this nice little discussion on whatever the piece of turd you think is important,
the world outside is burning.

I feel like puking when I see the apathy that America has towards the affairs of the third world. Not one comment about how Pakistan is hiding the most dangerous people in the world as we discuss cars and conspiracy theories? Or you just react when a bomb goes off under your bum?

Scott! What happened to you? If you think that your opinion is mighty enough to influence people to choose what stock to invest in and who to vote for, why don't you talk about what you think of your government's foreign policy which sucks like a hoover on steroids? Or is that beyond that the scope of this blog? Just because a few morons with the IQ equal to their ages tell you to be funny, you can't ignore your calling Scott. You wrote God's Debris. You are not just a cartoonist.

Or are you?

Dec 13, 2008
Well the main reason they bail out the car makers should be obvious. People will keep buying cars because they value their image and freedom over the potential economy of compromise. If they can't buy US cars they'll import them. If they import them the money is draining out of the country to where the cars are produced. The only way to save the country really is to make sure peoples biggest expense (cars, houses) are spent locally. Luckily people can't import houses, so its cars next to protect.
The biggest fools are people in countries who import lots of cars. Their economy is eventually gonna drain out as cars are a special class of expensive and volatile good that doesn't last long or hold its value.
Dec 13, 2008
I lived for a short time in Tobago where something similar to this already exists. Whenever you want to go somewhere, you stand by the side of the road and hold out you hand. Within minutes someone will stop and ask you where you're going, and you ride along, either the whole distance or just to his/her destination along the way. This cost was about a dollar for 10 !$%*!$ and every passenger paid this amount. This was done by both locals and tourists and I heard not a single story about there being any safety issues for tourists.
I think the best result of this was the fact that almost every car on the road was occupied by 3-5 persons which made it very environmentally sound.
Dec 12, 2008
Jesus, Scott, this has to be one of the most pessimistic prognostications I've seen in a while. Do you think the future is going to look like some dystopian Mad Max world? Law enforcement will be one of the most reliable growth industries of the future.

The reality is that a human being is FAR less likely to be killed in a war or killed by criminal means than at any other time in human history (one caveat- a limited nuclear exchange triggered by India, Pakistan, Isreal, and Iran could rack up an astounding body count, just because of the population density of some of their cities. But that's a different topic altogether.) Investment in law enforcement will become MORE prominent in a troubled world. Think of Singapore in the 50's and 60's- benign facism is an undeniably effective way to govern, and when people get miserable enough, they LOVE IT.

The problem, of course, is that its hard to tell the benign facism from the evil Hitler/Stalin kind until its too late. But in a world with pervasive communications (Internet, etc.,) those regimes are less likely.
Dec 12, 2008
Brother can you spare a dime ...
Although I am bummed about the current state of affairs, I remain confident that humanity will endeavor to persevere.
Dec 12, 2008
"I am unqualified to have an opinion on the economics of that question, and the experts seem divided."

I disagree with you, Scott. We're talking about Congress spending YOUR taxpayer money. You are always qualified to have an opinion when it's your money being spent. (even though in this case we're most likely borrowing or devaluing currency to pay for it)
Dec 12, 2008
Individuals that have the freedom & opportunity to move from place to place without any intermediaries are the real winners of automobile usage.
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Dec 12, 2008
The ride sharing is a really good idea. If a cell phone company decided to set up a database and algorithms that would match drivers and riders, they could profit. The problem with "green" change is it generally has to be financially driven. My only concern would be crime and fraud. Car jacking will never get easier. I think taxes could be skirtted (or addressed semi-favorably by the IRS) as long as the prices were a reasonable. It's not profitting, it's sharing expenses.

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