A lot of people are nervous about the possibility that privately-run electronic taxi-hailing systems like Uber and Lyft could take over functions that have recently been filled by government-run transit services. Others are disturbed by the sight of privately-run companies like Leap and Bridj marketing local bus services as luxury products. I share some of these concerns, and I've addressed them in previous posts.
What I don't share is the idea that any of these services will create a "two tier" or "stratified" system with one service for the rich and one for the poor. There's a simple reason for this: we already have one.
If you go to a small city like, say, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you'll see our stratified system in action: the people on the buses are mostly poor and nonwhite, and everyone else is driving. Ride the bus in a city like Kingston, New York, where the received wisdom is that "everyone drives because you need a car to get around," and you'll see that there are still people who don't drive: the extremely poor and the mentally and physically disabled. Here in New York the majority rides the subways, but there is a stratum that drives everywhere, and pretty much runs the city.
The bus and rail strata are largely run by the government and paid with tax money, but some of the money comes from fares paid by passengers. In the strata where people drive, passengers often contribute the labor of driving themselves, and pay a lot of money for the vehicles, fuel, insurance and other costs, and also contribute to the construction and maintenance of road, bridge and parking infrastructure through taxes. But as has been shown time and again, they do not pay the entire cost of the system; a much larger share of general tax revenue goes to driving than to transit.
This stratified system can be very cruel to those in the bottom strata, and it generally gets worse the smaller the share of the population that takes transit. The poorer the average transit user is, the slower, dirtier, more crowded, less frequent and less reliable the transit.
Even here in New York, the driving classes are constantly blocking improvements to transit, whether it's another commuter rail track, extension of an el train, allowing bus pickups or dedicating a bus lane. So yes, I know firsthand how bad it is to have a stratified system with minimal investment in the lowest strata. And I can't see how Uber, Lyft, Chariot and Bridj could possibly make things any worse.
In fact, I see it the opposite way: that people who take these taxi and premium bus services are less likely to identify as drivers and more likely to take transit and support transit expansion. If they don't have cars to park, they're much less likely to go crazy over reallocating street space from parking to transit.
As I've written before, I'm not a libertarian, and I'm not even much of a capitalist. One of my goals is access for all to jobs, housing, shopping and services. I would be open to a state solution, a government monopoly on transportation with a single level of service. But to impose a government monopoly on transportation would require drastic state action. Use your transit quota well, comrade! The government would most definitely be coming for your cars. Who would be first up against the wall - Rory Lancman?
In any case, I'm trying to think of an area where our government provides a monopoly with a single level of service, and coming up blank. Housing, food, energy, school - there is usually some government service, but it always has substantial competition from the private sector. Even services that are nominally single-tier like identification, permitting and licensing have inequalities. If you can afford to pay a rush fee or an expediter, or if you just live in a wealthier area, your interactions with the government will be quicker and smoother.
It's not just our government, either. The most revolutionary, egalitarian governments ever have failed pathetically at imposing transportation equality, when they've even tried it. Even the Soviet Union had its Ladas for the Party officials.
Sadly, these people who bleat about "stratification" don't even have the vision to realize the amount of stratification between cars and transit or the guts to mention it, much less address it. They would never think about taking away cars or parking, or defunding roads. They'd rather make a big show of opposing inequality that doesn't exist than address inequality that exists.