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Does superior information make us more discerning? What Uber drivers can teach us about learning and rationality

Roxanne Bauer's picture

In 1957, Herbert A. Simon (Nobel Prize in economics 1978) introduced the concept of bounded rationality that recognizes that in decision making, human rationality is limited by the information we have, our own cognitive biases, our training and experience, and the finite amount of time we have to make a decision. Individuals and firms do the best they can with the information they have, and since they don’t have time to evaluate and rationally pick the optimal solution, they simplify their choices and go with one that is satisfactory rather than rationally optimal—this is called stastificing.

Behavioral economics accounts for this by attempting to incorporate psychological insights. While most economists agree that there are some limits to the reasoning capabilities of individuals and firms, there has been much discussion about where and how to account for bounded rationality.  On the spectrum between perfect rationality and the total absence of it, where are humans?

To explore this question, let’s take a look at cabdrivers and Uber drivers.

The things we do: Why people hate Uber’s surge pricing so much

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Globally, citizens from Guadalajara to Chengdu both love and loath ride sharing app, Uber. 

We love it for the convenience, the ease with which we can pay, and the ability to avoid intemperate weather conditions— all though a few taps on our mobile phone. 
But… we loath it when surge pricing is in effect.  “Surge pricing” increases the cost of rides by many times the normal fare when demand is swelling, most commonly at rush hour, during inclement weather, or on a public holiday.  In these cases, the supply of drivers is constant or even low, creating a shortage of available rides.  By raising the price of each ride, Uber encourages more drivers to pick up passengers and rations the available supply of rides to the customers who value the service the most (those who are willing to pay more).
 
Nevertheless, while surge pricing may make economic sense, it feels like price gouging for many customers.  The recent clampdown on surge pricing by the Delhi and Karnataka governments illustrates the intense debate over Uber’s policies that has been circulating worldwide. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal even called surge pricing “daylight robbery”.
 
The debate has polarized opinion not just in India, but also in cities as diverse as Sydney, Paris, New York and Budapest. The reaction is even more severe when there is an emergency, such as during the December 2014 hostage crisis in Sydney, where a masked gunman held people captive in a café. As the central business district was cleared out by police, surge pricing automatically kicked in. Customers were appalled by Uber’s apparent insensitivity to the situation. The outrage grew so intense that Uber was forced it to suspend surge pricing and offer free rides.

Colombia says "Yipi" for public transit

Leonardo Canon Rubiano's picture
As many Colombian cities struggle to keep public transit ridership levels, one city is innovating using technology, gender-sensitive employment, and ideas from Asia to curb the “mototaxiing revolution” and restore ridership loss.
Moto-taxis in Sincelejo, Colombia. Photos: Leonardo Canon

An increasing “motorbike revolution” – represented by spectacular increase in motorbike motorization and reliance on door-to-door motorized services – has changed the rules of the game and cannot be obviated in transport systems.

Flicking through the Uber website, we found that the company used to offer an “UberMoto” service in Paris from 2012 to 2013. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the local Colombian newspaper headlines discuss the legislation forbidding male passengers on motorcycles in a number of cities in an effort to curb moto-taxis.

The impact of motorbikes cannot be ignored. Purchase of motorbikes and operation of moto-taxis have been identified as key drivers for a modal shift from public transit to private vehicles in many places around the world, including Colombia. The nationwide phenomenon of moto-taxis has revolutionized mobility in small and medium-size Colombian cities, and has become a source of income for many.