Smartphone apps are challenging the way we look at urban transportation. One such app, the increasingly popular Uber, connects passengers with drivers in urban areas, acting as a ‘taxi service’ for the modern era, although Uber founders Travis Galanick and Garrett Camp are careful not to call it that.
Instead, they argue that Uber is a technology company that provides a service to drivers and riders alike. Drivers that use Uber either own the cars themselves or operate as a part of a taxi or limousine service and simply use the app for additional income during breaks in their schedules. Passengers benefit from the simplicity involved in the app’s use: to order a ride, you simply drop a pin at your location, and wait for your ride to arrive. The cost of the trip (the gratuity is worked into the cost of the ride, leaving riders with only one charge) are processed by credit card through the app itself, so passengers do not need to carry cash. Uber’s standard black car service generally runs about 1.4 to 1.5x the cost of a normal taxi, but many consumers feel that the added benefits from using Uber are worth the higher price. For those who cannot afford the high prices, Uber’s management has created UberX, a ride-sharing service; Uber Taxi, a service that connects passengers exclusively with taxis; and even Uber Moto Taxi, a Parisian service that provides rides on motorcycles, in order to offer low-cost options and widen their clientele base.
One of Uber’s most impressive features is its ability to grow. In mid-2013, Uber operated in 36 cities; by mid-2014, Uber either operates in or has definite plans to operate in 128 cities. Its website proudly touts that it operates within 38 countries. For a business that only began four years ago, that is quite the impressive figure. But in each country and each city, the system operates differently—San Francisco does not function just as London does, nor does London function just like any other city, such as Paris, Hong Kong, or Rio de Janeiro. So how is Uber faring in these differing global markets?
Uber’s success is partly determined by the particular way in which each city works. New York City, for example, with its active party scene and high number of time-strapped professionals, is home to a large number of people that might want to make use of Uber’s services. However, due to large numbers of taxis and high volumes of traffic, Uber may struggle here. It may make more sense during rush hour to hail a cab from the corner or use the Subway rather than wait for a specific Uber car to reach you through the confusion.
Washington, DC is a slightly different story. With a smaller number of taxis, less of a tradition of hailing cabs from the street, and the fact that many people that work or party in DC live beyond the reaches of the Metro, Uber can make a large difference.
Uber faces different challenges in international cities. In Beijing, Uber’s 100th city as of April 2014, payment for now can only be made with international credit cards or PayPal. With the payment system as it is, international travelers may benefit more from Uber’s operations in Beijing than Beijingers themselves.
Jakarta is on the list of cities that Uber will expand to in 2014, but Jakarta poses a new set of potential problems. First, most Jakartans prefer to use public transportation rather than spend money for a cab, and those with the necessary income generally choose the convenience of their own cars. Bad traffic is an obstacle as well, but more importantly, smartphone penetration is low, and the 3G network is notoriously inconsistent. Other services operating within Jakarta generally rely on call centers to make up the difference, but Uber does not yet have this capability. Along the same lines, only about 10 percent of the population carry credit cards, further narrowing the numbers of potential Uber users within the city.
Uber faces legal problems and taxi business opposition in each city that it enters. In Brussels and Berlin, for example, court rulings have essentially barred Uber from operating. The Department of Motor Vehicles in Virginia issued a cease and desist order to Uber and one of its rivals, Lyft, ordering them to stop operations until they comply with the existing regulations for taxi and limousine services. Neither service plans to stop, arguing that the regulations were created prior to the current ride-sharing technology, and therefore new rules need to be made that are tailored to the particular needs of apps like Uber. Ride-sharing services have found success with this strategy in California and are on the brink of success in Washington, DC, where new ride-sharing legislation is in debate.
Opposition is more intense in Europe, where taxi companies are better organized and more heavily regulated. On June 11th, a Europe-wide protest took place, with taxi drivers in at least six European cities participating. Taxi drivers as far away as Rio de Janeiro participated as well.
Still, Uber continues to operate within every city that it has entered. Despite the diverse set of challenges that Uber faces, the company’s popularity with users continues to grow. Its payment strategy and ability to connect drivers more directly with users substantially increases drivers’ incomes and facilitates transportation for passengers. Like most fundamental changes, the old establishment will fight the new approach’s progress every step of the way. If Uber’s popularity amongst users maintains at its current level or grows, it is likely that their new approach will prevail.
This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's July/August 2014 print edition.
But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?
Let’s start with gold.
Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.
In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.
It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.
And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.
It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” —George Washington