Computerworld reported that the "Uber economy could kill off taxis and help fight global warming."
The referenced MIT CSAIL study, published in PNAS as On-demand high-capacity ride-sharing via dynamic trip-vehicle assignment, claimed that self-driving vehicles from Uber, Lyft, and Via would provide "new user-centric services." A related MIT CSAIL article is Study: carpooling apps could reduce traffic 75%.
MIT CSAIL personnel do not appear to understand the definition of "user-centric," because we already have user-centric services, with the most user-centric service available to ordinary people being private automobiles, followed by the taxi business (jetpacks and drones would be even more user-centric, but that's another story entirely). Potential passengers call for a taxi and the nearest one picks them up. If they want to share a cab, they can, but they also have the choice of riding alone. The time they wait for a taxi is minimized. It's a slightly different case for passengers taking taxis from an official taxi stand, but that's not the current market for Uber, Lyft, and Via.
MIT CSAIL's proposal is self-driving-vehicle-system-centric, i.e. it minimizes the fuel the fleet uses.
I don't have to delve into MIT CSAIL's statistics; I just have to relate my experience at the Denver airport which offers shuttles. One applies for a ride, either in person, via telephone, or via smartphone app. The shuttle company separates customers into geographical groups. Each shuttle travels through its assigned territory. The problem is that certain neighborhoods are always reached first. I've always lived in areas the shuttle company classifies as fringe areas and therefore I sit in the bus longer than any other passenger. My travel time is 2-4 times what it would be if I drove. Not surprisingly, I stopped using the shuttle service.
Anyone who carpools or takes mass transit can attest to the lengthening of travel times. Riders believe that the tradeoffs, less wear-and-tear on their personal vehicle and reduced tolls and fees, are worth it. The common argument that it allows for more time to sleep or read is disingenuous. As to the former, it comes with a requirement to wake-up earlier. As for the latter, it's rather forced.
Russia and former Soviet countries offer shuttle bus services, маршру́тка (marshrutka), which are very popular because they cost much less than a taxi and are usually more convenient than buses or trolleybuses. They pick up and drop off passengers at fixed points. One needs to have a basic knowledge of the local language, however.
Words are important. If MIT CSAIL wants to push an agenda of reducing global warming, then it should be honest and admit that a self-driving vehicle system could help, along with longer transit times for many passengers. And if MIT CSAIL is proposing that Uber, Lyft, and Via create services strictly to move passengers from one official location to another, how is that better than what mass transit does today?
The business model of Uber, Lyft, and Via is to transfer the salaries of taxi drivers to a handful of Silicon Valley types, which is both a libertarian dream and an egalitarian nightmare. And the claim of Travis Kalanick that Uber is not responsible for accidents involving Uber drivers is ridiculous on its face. If he were to next create a business which displayed photos and advertised services which prostitutes normally offer, would he claim that his new endeavour was not a pimping service simply because it was offered via the Internet?
Though I heartily agree that the sooner we get texting, irresponsible youngsters off the road, the better.