The New York Times is evidently mad—really mad—at rideshare companies.
Greg Bensinger, one of the editorial board members, aired his many grievances in a recent opinion piece, but the argument reads more like a ranting screed from a jilted customer as opposed to a thoughtful column.
Within it, Bensinger produced a laundry list of complaints about rideshare companies—including that they haven’t yet achieved some of their more audacious long-term goals—and as such, he concluded that ridesharing companies can’t be entirely trusted. While I have no earthly idea why he affixed his ire on these businesses, much of his article is way off target. Instead of denigrating well-intended bold objectives and innovative thinking, we should celebrate them—especially if they’re pursued without subsidies.
“Piece by piece, the mythology around ridesharing is falling apart,” Bensinger opined. Among the many myriad complaints propping up a misguided thesis is unhappiness that the ridesharing industry hasn’t deployed more self-driving cars and Uber has yet to introduce flying cars (seriously).
Look, I am also upset that we don’t have widely available flying cars because that would be really cool, but I am not sure if we can blame ridesharing companies. I don’t recall a guarantee that autonomous vehicles or a Jetsons’ styled car would be available by today’s date. Rather, rideshare companies invested heavily in self-driving cars and even explored the idea of developing flying cars. They did so with the goal of large-scale deployments, if and when they became safe and profitable.
As it stands, there are some roadblocks to rolling out large fleets of either. Despite this, all evidence points toward a future with increasing numbers of highly autonomous vehicles, which promises to reduce deadly accidents, since machines don’t fall asleep behind the wheel, text and drive, or drink alcohol. In fact, in small numbers, autonomous vehicles already navigate roads across the United States. Flying cars, on the other hand, I am not so sure about just yet, but it seems as though they could cut commute times down considerably—a boon to the impatient like yours truly. Whether this notion gets off the ground is another story, but this sort of outside-of-the-box thinking is what drives innovation.
Technological limitations and government regulation, however, often slow progress—that and the naysayers who deride entrepreneurs—and that’s where Bensinger is so off target. Rideshare companies have a history for setting bold goals, and that’s a good thing. Like all companies, sometimes they succeed quickly, and other times it takes a little longer thanks to a host of external factors.
In most cases, Americans should want entrepreneurs with wacky ideas to succeed because their progress benefits more than just private companies; it also aids consumers. I’d wager that most people thought the Wright brothers were a little nutty when they droned on about how they would fly like birds one day. But they did, and now we have airplanes. More recently, a once-obscure company (Moderna) that had never produced a single approved vaccine decided to take on the COVID-19 pandemic. It has since created the most effective COVID-19 vaccine in the world and uses new mRNA technology, which had never been distributed on a large scale before the pandemic.
Even ridesharing was a bit of a quirky concept at first, but it worked. Now it offers flexible jobs to drivers, coincided with a massive reduction in drunk driving arrests, and even provides convenient services for food delivery. The latter proved invaluable to the immunocompromised and elderly during the pandemic.
Is the ridesharing industry perfect? No, of course not, but setting audacious goals will help them improve, provide more services, and be even more efficient. The good news is that they look to continue exploring technologies and models to keep them on the cutting edge.
Certainly, some of these endeavors will be dead ends, while others will pan out in time, but just because they haven’t met Bensinger’s timeline doesn’t mean that they should give up or that they are untrustworthy. Bold objectives have led to great innovation and great outcomes, and will continue to do so. If anything, we need more audacious entrepreneurs willing to take calculated risks—some will fail, but some will change the world for the better. So keep those goals lofty.
As the adage goes, “It’s better to aim for the stars and miss than to aim for manure and hit.”
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.