Gaming out the VW affair from the Oval Office

If you were President, what could you do today about the VW scandal?

Imagine you were the President of the United States. (Sure, that’s daunting, but remember you’re more qualified for the job than about 90% of the people now running for it.)

You just found out that all the Volkswagen diesels sold in the U.S. over the past six years are in massive violation of pollution-control standards, and that the resulting excess emissions have caused, and will continued to cause, deaths and injuries. Apparently, in order to get those models past emissions certification without sacrificing mileage or performance, VW installed an elaborate software patch on the computer that runs the engine.

The program cleverly detects whether the car is being emissions-tested (apparently a testing machine isn’t much like an actual driver) and, if it is, turns on the emission controls. Once the test is done, the program notices that, too, and turns them back off. So the car-on-the-test-treadmill looks legal, but the car-on-the-road is grossly illegal.

GM, Ford, and Honda have all been caught before playing similar tricks; so had VW. There’s even a term of art for them: “defeat devices,” because they’re designed to defeat emissions tests. And Bosch – which supplied the code to VW, supposedly to be used only in testing rather than actual operations – also supplies several other automakers, so there may be other recent-model cars with the same problem.

Even after the cheating had been detected by some very clever engineers at West Virginia University, VW officials kept denying that there was anything amiss until the EPA threatened not to certify its 2016 models. Then the company changed its tune. (Note that if the people making those denials knew them to be false, they may have serious personal criminal liability; 18 U.S.C. 1001 (a) provides, in relevant part:

[W]hoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or (3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years …or both.

In that situation, Mr. (or Madam) President,what should you be trying to accomplish, and how should you go about it?

I submit that your goals should be:

1. Getting the cars off the road – or fixed, if that turns out to be possible – sooner rather than later. The death rate is unknown, but a month’s delay will, more likely than not, kill at least one person.
2. Identifying whether there are similarly gimmicked non-VW cars on the road, and deal with them as well. Again, time is of the essence.
3. Ensure that justice is done with respect to VW as an enterprise and the VW officials who engaged in this conspiracy. Of course legal guilt or innocence remains to be determined in each case, but there’s no doubt there was a conspiracy to cheat the testing process; VW has now admitted what was done, though of course the company is trying to blame a “small group” of engineers. Doing justice is not merely a matter of revenge; this is your best opportunity in years to establish the principle that deliberately planned regulatory violations that cost lives can have drastic consequences for firms and individuals.
4. The decision whether VW stays in business is now up to you and people who work for you. There’s a case for corporate capital punishment. But there’s also a case for using the leverage this case gives the government to force VW to spend company money on environmental improvement. That needn’t involve VW’s own operations. To choose an example not quite at random: pollution from new cars – even faux clean diesels – is trivial compared to pollution from old cars. The problem with a systematic “cash for clunkers” program is that it encourages people to keep their clunkers rolling until a buyback comes alone. It’s also hard to get Congress to come up with the money. But a buyback paid for by VW as part of a settlement of the criminal and civil cases against it would – precisely because it was unpredictable and unlikely to be repeated – pose no such problem. Buying and scrapping a million old cars at $1000 a copy might be an excellent way of spending $1 billion that the Congress never has to appropriate, and it would almost certainly turn the whole event into a net plus from the perspective of morbidity and mortality, even given the inevitable fact that some of those cars would have been headed for the scrapheap anyway.

All of those purposes are served by promptly gathering information about who did what at VW and elsewhere. No doubt folks at EPA and at various universities are feverishly inventing tests to detect defeat devices, so it’s likely we’ll eventually learn about most of the schemes that have been put into practice recently at any substantial scale. That still leaves the problem of detecting older or smaller schemes, and the further problem of determining which individuals at the offending firms were responsible.

You could speed that process enormously by instructing the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into conspiracies to install defeat devices.  Again, you’d need to be careful to make it clear that you weren’t imputing criminal liability to any specific individual or firm, but it would be well within your legitimate function to say, or have your Attorney General say, something like this:

On the facts as reported, it seems more than likely that criminal laws have been violated, and at least possible that they have been violated by more than one manufacturer, with regard to “defeat devices” designed to evade pollution controls. People have gotten sick and died, and others are getting sick and dying right now, because of the excess pollution that was deliberately and illegally emitted. These are not “regulatory violations” in the sense that someone forgot to file the right paperwork; this was a deliberate scheme to put toxins into the air we breathe and to conceal that fact.

Starting this week, Federal agents will be asking automobile manufacturers and their employees for information about defeat devices and other attempts to cheat the emissions-testing process. For now, those requests for information will be voluntary; no one is obliged to answer. But everyone involved should also know that making a false statement to a federal official in such a situation is a felony.

It also seems very likely that eventually one or more grand juries will be empaneled and subpoenas issued. Again of course, everyone involved has the right to assert the Constitutional privilege against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions that might lead to his own prosecution. As in any such investigation, those who come forward early and make a clean breast of things are likely to wind up facing less serious consequences than those who wait to be called.

To facilitate the process, we have established a hotline, 1-800-DEFEAT-D. People who call that number have the option of giving their own names or remaining anonymous. Of course, those who think they may be facing personal criminal liability should consult an attorney first.

We need to find any other cars that have similar gimmicks and get them fixed, or off the road, as soon as possible. Every mile driven by any of those cars makes this country just that much less healthy to live in.

The truth is going to come out eventually. I appeal to anyone who can help it come out faster to call that hotline.


So far as I can tell, of the eleventeen people currently running for President, only Hillary Clinton has made a statement on the issue; hers was forceful but brief. There’s no sign of any legislative action.  The contrast with the phony Planned Parenthood scandal couldn’t be stronger.


The moral universe of the corporate killers

What makes it possible for well-educated, well-paid corporate execs to – in effect – conspire at mass murder?

Daniel Fisher – not otherwise known to me – writes for Forbes, covering “finance, the law, and how the two interact.” Naturally, given where he works, he hates plaintiffs’ lawyers, which is his right and privilege in this great and free country of ours. So his first reaction to the VW emissions-cheating scandal was to criticize - not VW – but a class-action law firm threatening to sue VW on behalf of consumers.

His point is that the buyers of the supposedly-clean-but-actually-filthy-dirty VW diesels weren’t in any direct sense harmed by VW’s fraud. By disabling pollution controls except when the car was being tested, VW managed to pack more performance and fuel economy into a car than it could have done while also actually meeting the emissions targets. So when VW issues a recall notice it will in effect be asking consumers to trade their existing car for one that performs worse and gets lower miles-per-gallon. So, he says, except for a few Marin County cranks, they’re mostly going to ignore the recall.

Therefore, the plaintiffs’ lawyers are being silly again.

Tort reform, tort reform, sis, boom, bah!

Now, I don’t know what it is you need to know to be a Certified Financial Analyst - that’s the credential Fisher claims – but apparently it isn’t logic or economics.

Continue reading “The moral universe of the corporate killers”

Volkswagen tötet Babys

A rough estimate of the deaths caused worldwide by Volkswagen’s emissions scam: 1, 450 to 5,800.

(h/t to a famous campaign of the 1970s against Nestlé’s marketing of baby formula in Africa)

How many people did Volkswagen kill with their conspiracy to rig the diesel emissions tests? Kevin Drum has come up with a back-of-the envelope estimate of 12 in California. For the world, it’s much, much higher.

Step one: VW have admitted that the engine controllers may have been fitted to 11m vehicles worldwide. The Guardian has estimated the excess emissions:

A Guardian analysis found those [482,000 VW and Audi] US vehicles would have spewed between 10,392 and 41,571 tonnes of toxic gas into the air each year, if they had covered the average annual US mileage. If they had complied with EPA standards, they would have emitted just 1,039 tonnes of NOx each year in total. The company admitted the device may have been fitted to 11m of its vehicles worldwide. If that proves correct, VW’s defective vehicles could be responsible for between 237,161 and 948,691 tonnes of NOx emissions each year, 10 to 40 times the pollution standard for new models in the US.

Step two: translate that into excess deaths. Continue reading “Volkswagen tötet Babys”

Pure evil, VW edition

I don’t suppose we’ll never know how many people died – asthmatics, for example – because Volkswagen designed its “clean diesel” vehicles – all 482,000 of them sold in the U.S. since 2009 – to burn dirty except when they were being tested. The story reads like the most paranoid anti-corporate fantasy, until you get to the line where the firm admits what it did, and then discover that Honda and Ford got caught years ago doing the same thing in a less sophisticated way. There’s even a  term of art for such tricks: they’re called “defeat devices” because they’re designed to defeat emissions testing.

In the VW case, code was written into the engine-control software to detect the pattern of pedal and steering operations characteristic of an emissions test. Then, and only then, the car’s emissions-control machinery would kick in. Once the test was over, the software noticed that, too, and returned to normal – that is to say, illegally and dangerously dirty – operations. That meant emitting about 40x the permitted -and advertised – level of nitrous oxide, which makes smog.

Now just think about the depth of corporate depravity involved. This wasn’t one rogue engineer or engineering group at work. People up and down the chain had to be party to the crime.  And note that the conspiracy held together for six years, and was finally broken not by an internal leak but by the work of outside scientists at West Virginia University. Wasn’t there a single decent human being around when this was being planned and carried out?

Some quick comments:

1. The news stories discuss fines that might be levied against VW.  When people conspire to commit a crime that harms the health of untold numbers of people,  criminal charges are appropriate. And not only against the company, but against every official in it who can be shown to have known about the conspiracy.

2. At minimum, the civil penalties and civil-lawsuit damages should be sufficient to put VW out of business. That might make managers, and boards of directors, in other firms a little bit less casual about lawbreaking.

3. Keep this case in mind when evaluating the claim oft heard from Koch-funded “criminal justice reform” advocates that it’s wrong to “criminalize” regulatory violations. Of course no one should go to jail for paperwork errors. But deceiving the regulators is a fraud on the government, even when it isn’t – as it is in this case – a physical assault on the public.

4. Can we hear some more from the Republican Presidential candidates how business is Good and government is Evil? And is there any hope that a reporter will ask them whether they think the perpetrators of this appalling crime should face prison time for it? (Again, note that VW isn’t denying what was done, and can’t possibly deny that it was done deliberately.)

Footnote  I’ve quoted C.S. Lewis on this before, but his words bear repeating:

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.

The most horrible thing about this case is that very few if any of the people involved will have lost any sleep over their guilt in making sick people sicker (and killing some of them) and none will lose face among their friends and neighbors. Even if some are found guilty of felonies, life won’t be nearly as bad for them as it is for someone who gets caught committing burglary. And yet no burglar’s contribution to human suffering can hold a candle to what the VW conspirators managed to inflict.




Weekend Film Recommendation: A Civil Action

The courtroom drama can be a pretty tired plot vehicle for many, perhaps justifiably so. It sometimes seems that the clichés are so well rehearsed that even the counter-clichés appear just as threadbare: people redeeming themselves through the law (e.g., see here and here) are about as compelling as people damning themselves because of it (e.g., see here and here). In this weekend’s film recommendation, Steven Zaillian’s A Civil Action, there’s no attempt to play around with or develop those clichés. Nonetheless, the true story from which this dramatization is lifted is more than enough to hold your attention.

John Travolta plays Jan Schlichtmann, a Boston-based personal injury lawyer. It doesn’t take long to develop an unflattering opinion of Schlichtmann: no sooner has he dismissed the charge of being a mere ‘ambulance chaser’ than he is distributing business cards to car crash victims as he passes by them on the street. There’s no question that Schlichtmann is in it for the money, as he’ll leap to consider the depths of his clients’ pockets—or those of his wretched opponents—far sooner than he will consider the probity of his legal arguments. He’s a money-grubbing lawyer of the scummiest kind.

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Schlichtmann receives a phone call from the distressed mother of a recently deceased child. She entreats him to visit her and the parents of seven other recently deceased children—all taken by leukemia—in the nearby town of Woburn. Schlichtmann’s initial inclination is to decline because of the prospect of a paltry payout; it’s just not good business, as far as he’s concerned. But the suspicion of a huge payout from a big name corporation’s toxic dump upstream spurs him to take the case and pursue it feverishly.

After the initial premise is set, surprisingly little focus is then spent on the film’s original motivations, namely Schlichtmann’s efforts to uncover malfeasance and the thorny mismatch between his venality and his clients’ desire for no more than a formal apology.

Instead, the film’s pace and tone pivots to Schlichtmann’s sparring with the opposing counsel Jerry Facher, played by Robert Duvall. Duvall is as superb as expected, with an understated and unplaceably buffoonish villainy to his demeanor. Facher’s free time is spent lecturing at Harvard, where he delights in instructing his students on how to avoid the very traps in litigation that he has set for Schlichtmann. While Schlichtmann has flair and flourish, Facher has cunning and wile.

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The conceit pitting these two lawyerly styles against one another doesn’t translate into the courtroom bombastics that might typically be expected from late-‘90s Hollywood. However, the juxtaposition of the two characters sets up a nicely developed theme, which recurs throughout the film, of the centrality of prestige and class in the law. It goes to show that it’s not so much the substance of the arguments, and in some instances it’s not even the skill of their delivery, that wins the day; sometimes, the gates remain closed simply because you’re just not cut from the right cloth to compete among the big boys (and boys is accurate—the supporting cast, though tremendous, is almost exclusively male). As Keith pointed out so well in his review of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, even when at their most subtle these observations on class can be used to devastating effect: Facher has few scruples parading his old-money connections with the judge (a delightfully crabby John Lithgow) for all to see, just as Schlichtmann is evidently perturbed by his dull Cornell pedigree among the Harvard muckety-mucks.

Of course, all of this is merely a prelude to learning that the Woburn case isn’t really the film’s point at all. Rather, it’s Schlichtmann’s search for purpose and his journey toward redemption after his colossal abdication of moral sense at the film’s outset. That journey is troubled and arduous, and he has few compunctions with endangering the livelihoods of his partners in the process.

As mentioned, the supporting cast is a treat. It includes Sydney Pollack, Stephen Fry, William H. Macy, Kathleen Quinlan, Tony Shalhoub, Dan Hedaya, and James Gandolfini in a much more tender role than the macho kind for which he was traditionally associated (e.g., see my reviews of True Romance and In the Loop).

The vultures circle the Clean Power Plan

The legal risks to the CPP are higher than they look at first sight.

How safe is Obama’s Clean Power Plan, adopted on Monday with conspicuous lack of ostentation, from legal attack?

It’s a regulation implementing the Clean Air Act of 1963 and its many later additions. The Supreme Court agreed in 2007 in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency that carbon dioxide was a pollutant for the purposes of the Act, so the defence should be plain sailing – on paper.

Not quite.

The resounding defeat Chief Justice Roberts meted out to the plaintiffs in the fanciful challenge to ACA in King v Burwell widens the door for challengers to the CPP. Simon Lazarus at Jack Balkin’s highly expert constitutional law blog explains some of the problems.

John Roberts’ new doctrine of statutory construction lays down (italics supplied) that

A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.

Lazarus accepts that the 2007 ruling is a binding precedent for SCOTUS, so he doesn’t see a direct challenge on jurisdiction succeeding. IANAL, but with this politicised Court, can we be so sure? Carbon dioxide was clearly not specifically envisaged by Congress in 1963. Adding it in was a judicial inference. I for one can easily see this Court reopening and reversing Massachusetts in the light of its shiny new doctrine.

That case was a suit by various progressive states to force the EPA to reverse its 2003 finding that it lacked authority to regulate GHGs from vehicles under the Act, so the interpretation is not a matter of the bleeding obvious. Roberts’ new doctrine does, it seems, weaken Chevron deference to executive interpretation of ambiguous statutes in matters of great policy importance.

Pace Lazarus, carbon dioxide is easily distinguishable from other pollutants. The Act’s target is
“air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” Mercury, soot, sulphur dioxide and so on quite demonstrably and measurably endanger public health. For CO2, you have to rely on welfare, a much more ambiguous concept. Climate change does endanger Americans through several channels: desertification, a rising sea level, a greater frequency of extreme weather events like floods, and spillover from climate-linked conflicts and disasters elsewhere in the world. However, these impacts depend on global emissions, of which the US is only responsible for 16% annually, though 29% cumulatively. This fact makes it tricky to justify the cost-benefit ratio of regulations to cut emissions, considered unilaterally. It was certainly not part of Congress’ legislative plan that the implementing regulations could become part of a grand cooperative global scheme to reduce emissions by treaty.

I pray that the CPP survives the blizzard of legal challenges which will be launched against it the day after its publication in the Federal Register. But these challenges are far more credible than the later ones against ACA – King v Burwell, which failed, and Hobby Lobby, which succeeded against the odds.

None of this helps the increasingly desperate coal industry and its champion turtle Mitch McConnell (footnote). For the war on coal is completely justified by the proven health impacts alone, which are essentially local and regional. A reversal of Massachusetts and rewriting of the regulation around health impacts alone would only help natural gas, which emits CO2 but hardly any other pollutants.

Barack Obama is a skilled politician. I would be surprised if he has not gamed out such a scenario. The emissions target is unambitious by European or Chinese standards, though it was quietly raised from a 30% reduction in GHGs from 2005 to 32%. This modesty makes it much easier to defend the regulation on shockproof health grounds alone. Meanwhile, the regulation is law. Whatever they think of it, state officials now have a duty to carry it out, and company directors to consider its impacts on their business plans. Obama plans to be on the side of a cultural sea-change, as with gay rights.

In the end, vultures have no talons and cannot kill their prey.

Mitch McConnell, in a WSJ op-ed: “States report that the regulation’s mandates are not technologically achievable..” The CPP will lead to a renewable share of generation of 25% in 2030, according to the EIA base projection. Germany is already at around 30% renewable electricity generation. (Update 6 August: the share was 34% in the first half of 2015, according to Fraunhofer ISE). But then, it’s a well-known conservative factoid that Germans suffer constant power cuts and brownouts from all that unreliable wind and solar … More likely, they would take to the streets if their 15 minutes of annual outages suddenly increased to the four hours Americans put up with.

Guns again

The NRA seems to have been struck dumb, at least for the moment, in response to the shooting in Louisana.  Let me help, because the event demands analysis, not to mention that it’s always correct to say that what we need is more guns.

The tragic events in the Lafayette movie theater could have been prevented if only Louisiana had not disarmed its citizens. If it had ‘shall-issue’ rules for concealed carry, and allowed anyone over, say, 16 open-carry permission, the theater would have been full of armed citizens who would surely have killed the shooter the minute he drew his own weapon…and, in the darkness and confusion, presumably several of each other, grateful for the chance to personally water the tree of liberty.  Instead, senseless tragedy ensued. Governor Jindal, when are you going to give your citizens their Second Amendment rights?

Another recent episode teaches us the importance of everyone, always, packing heat; in New York, this woman would never have suffered violence and robbery if she had only been carrying an appropriate weapon and had training to use it.

Uber v. taxi in Brooklyn and Queens: twice as fast but no cheaper

The results of one day’s observation of taxi and Uber service in the outer boroughs of New York – the pilot phase of what is planned as a larger study – are now in.  Our riders in fact used three systems—street-hailing yellow cabs or Boro cabs, phoning NYC car ride services, and app-summoning UberX—in two randomly-selected low-income, low-crime areas, one in Brooklyn and one in Queens. 

Even ignoring the substantial number of cases where no taxi or boro-cab service was available within a thirty-minute period or where the request for a ride was refused entirely, total time from initiating the request to being in a car was half as long for Uber as for the two varieties of taxi service. That more or less matched the results from Los Angeles. By contrast with the LA results, there was no measurable difference in price.

Uber v. taxi, Round II

The BOTEC Uber-v.-taxi study in poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles, which I blogged about Monday, had some important limitations as a source of definitive answers:

1. It only covered L.A.
2. It didn’t address, e.g., service to people with disabilities.
3. It was paid for by Uber.
4. Uber had the final say on publishing the findings.

Of those, #4 was especially problematic. It’s well known that (before the FDA cracked down) pharma companies used to fund multiple safety-and-efficacy studies of new drugs and then cherry-pick which results to publish. I’m close to certain that wasn’t the case here; we only did the one study, and the idea came from us, not from Uber. Still, the question mark remains.

One way to cure that is for others to carry out similar studies. As I mentioned before, we’re happy to make our data available for re-analysis and our methods available for replication to anyone who asks.

#3 would be more of an issue had Uber been allowed to influence the study design or influence the data analysis, interpretation, or presentation. But that wasn’t the case, and the methods were entirely straightforward.

I agree with those who say that it would be better to have more studies not funded by Uber, and I’m aware of at least one independent group interested in trying. But the fact that Uber wanted the research done, while apparently the legacy taxi industry and is regulators don’t want it done, or at least don’t want it done enough to pay for it, suggests to me that everyone involved had the same intuition I did, and that was borne out by the study results: that Uber would turn out to be faster and cheaper in servicing low-income areas.

As to #2, of course service to those with disabilities is an important issue, one of many raised by the emergence of ridesharing. But no single study can cover all the issues.

The picture just got brighter with respect to both #1 (geographic scope) and #4 (the risk of cherry-picked results). Uber – motivated, no doubt, by the vote previously scheduled for tomorrow in the New York City Council on the Mayor’s proposal to cap the number of Uber drivers (but not privately-owned cars) in the name of reducing congestion – has decided to fund a similar study in New York.

That doesn’t entirely get rid of problem #1, but two research sites are better than one when it comes to generalizability.

Better yet, Uber agreed to fund the study but not claim ownership of the data, so we will be free to report whatever we find, thus avoiding problem #4 entirely.

The bad news is that, given the political calendar, data collection needed to be compressed into a single day. As I write, a small team is riding around New York, comparing UberX with both yellow taxis and what are called “boro taxis,” which operate only outside Manhattan (which accounts for 90% of all yellow-taxi trips).

So we will only be able to report pilot-scale data: a target of about 60 observations. If the differences turn out to be as dramatic and consistent in New York as they were in Los Angeles, that won’t matter, because such differences will show up clearly even on a small sample. If the differences are narrower, we may not be able to reach a firm conclusion at this stage. The plan is to do it again, more slowly, at a much larger scale.

Anyway, watch this space. The team expects to have the analysis done late tonight (California time), so there should be results up tomorrow.

Twice as fast, half as expensive

The debate about how to regulate ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft – even whether to ban them entirely – has suffered from a surfeit of passionate assertion and a deficit of systematic data collection.

Ridesharing has been alternately criticized for its supposed mistreatment of ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and the poor, and praised for providing those communities with an alternative to the inferior service they get from the regulated taxi industry.

A research team at BOTEC Analysis, with funding from Uber, set about to gather actual evidence about the relative performance of taxis and UberX in a sample of low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles. (I’m on the author list, but only for editorial help: Rosanna Smart and Angela Hawken did the design and number-crunching, while Brad Rowe ran the data collection.)

The design could hardly have been simpler; we sent pairs of riders to call for taxi service or use an app to summon UberX for travel along pre-planned routes. The riders recorded how long it took – starting from the moment of picking up the phone or opening the app – before they were actually in a car and on their way, and also how much the ride cost, including a standard 15% tip for the taxi drivers and any premium charged under the Uber “surge pricing” system.

After each ride, the riders switched off; whoever took a taxi last time took an Uber next time. Our riders didn’t know that Uber had paid for the study.

The answer was clear-cut, and consistent across neighborhoods and days: summoning an UberX took less than half as long as calling for a taxi, and the trip cost less than half as much. UberX was also more reliable, with no very long wait times.

Even though Uber had no control over our data analysis or interpretation, the fact that Uber paid for the study makes some skepticism about our results natural and proper. We will happily share our data and methods with other research teams for re-analysis and replication.

It was not possible for a single study in a single city to answer all the relevant questions about ridesharing. Would the same relationship hold in other cities? Would it hold in the small number of very-high-crime neighborhoods we excluded in order to protect our riders? Would it hold after dark?

This study didn’t address questions about service for minority groups; though the neighborhoods we selected tended to have high concentrations of Latinos and African-Americans, we didn’t systematically vary the ethnicity of our riders. Nor could our study address the question of how taxis and ridesharing compare in handling riders with disabilities. And people who lack either a smartphone or a credit or debit card cannot use ridesharing at all, though they can use taxis. It would be helpful to know how often people lacking one or the other use taxis.

So this study ought to be the beginning of the scientific effort rather than the end.

But for now, anyone who asserts that ridesharing services disadvantage poor people or poor neighborhoods is making a claim that is not merely unsupported but actually contrary to the findings of the one systematic study of that question. The evidence in hand strongly suggests that UberX outperforms conventional taxis in serving low-income neighborhoods, at least in Los Angeles.

Full report here.