Here’s a modern-day startup riddle: When is a bus not really a bus?
The ride-hailing company Lyft rolled out its new shuttle service this month, allowing users in San Francisco and Chicago to “ride for a low fixed fare along convenient routes, with no surprise stops.” Some were quick to identify this supposed innovation as a bus, and they seized the opportunity to mock tech-world myopia. “Coming soon, Lyft Open: It only has two wheels, no doors, and you power it with your feet,” tweeted TV host Samantha Bee. A cascade of jokes followed about the various wheels that Lyft could reinvent next.
Others, such as Slate’s Will Oremus, insisted Lyft Shuttle is not a bus — which is precisely what makes it dangerous. It’s “a service that is likely to compete with city buses, for better or worse,” he wrote, which means it poses a threat to public transit and the people who rely on it by siphoning off the most affluent riders.
According to Pew Research Center data, “Americans who are lower-income, black or Hispanic, immigrants or under 50 are especially likely to use public transportation on a regular basis.” Meanwhile ride-hailing apps, reports Pew, are especially popular among college […]