The City Council And Surge Pricing

The only way drivers can make a living (June 7)

Steve Paselk’s recent letter (“Letters: Regulate Uber Drivers — For Their Own Good”) about Uber drivers purportedly earning a mere $9.21 per hour is unintentionally ironic, given the Honolulu City Council’s decision Wednesday to cap surge pricing (“City Council Votes To Cap Uber And Lyft Prices”) for all local ride-hail drivers.

The study Paselk quoted contains myriad errors in its methodologies, but one of its biggest is its failure to take fares earned during surge-priced periods into account. As anyone who’s driven for a ride-hail service, myself included, can tell you, these surges are the only means by which the vast majority of Uber and Lyft drivers earn a decent wage.

Bill 35 Rideshare Supporters Opposition signs at the Honolulu City Council today.
Supporters of Uber and Lyft show their opposition to a cap on surge pricing at a recent City Council meeting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Regrettably, a majority of the council fails to grasp the whole point of surge-pricing: to ensure enough vehicles remain available during periods of peak usage. Surge levels are directly proportionate to demand, and absent this equilibrium, Uber and Lyft would almost certainly end up with the same extended-length waits emblematic of the taxi industry — a primary reason consumers began abandoning them in the first place and switching to ride-hailing services. 

Finally, the taxi industry is one of the few in the consumer world in which demand-based pricing isn’t already the norm: Look no further than airlines doubling or even tripling fares the week before Christmas for proof. 

— Jeff Kirk, Honolulu

Are we also going to ban seasonal prices? (June 7)

The City Council wants to “protect” us from market forces. Why are they more concerned about the taxi company profit than they are about how we spend our money? If the price of something is too high, I won’t buy it.

If the city bans Uber surge pricing, please also ban surging seasonal prices at hotels, Hawaiian Airlines and avocados at Safeway!

This surge, by any other name, is called the law of supply and demand.

And please tell Councilwoman Kymberly Pine to not worry about Wall Street and Uber; Uber is a private company, a good portion of its equity held by Softbank of Japan.

— Tom Cook, Honolulu

Honolulu Rail

Maybe the feds want the project to stop (June 7)

Most decisions, if not all, had to be approved by the Federal Transportation Administration (“Feds May Require Honolulu To Sell Bonds For Rail Project”).

No one knows what the FTA wants. This may be a signal telling Honolulu to stop the project, that it really doesn’t want to give the other $744 million because it will just go to waste. They may be looking beyond  just getting the train running. They may be thinking that Honolulu will not survive trying to foot the bill of the day- to-day operations.

Our leaders  should look at this as an omen.

— Brian Chang, Mililani

Rail agency has the right to record audit interviews (June 8)

I found your recent story on State Auditor Les Kondo’s negative and almost bullying reaction to the fact that HART wants employees interviewed by Kondo to be able to record their statements disturbing (“State Auditor Says Rail Agency Is Interfering With His Work”). If the auditor is recording them and will not let HART or the employee interviewed access to the recording, it stands to reason this should be allowed.

Audits were originally to offer an agency suggestions on how to improve their operations. All too often now, state and city audits only look for “gotcha” moments that will grab headlines.

Like the disputed city audit, I also find it difficult to believe that the auditor’s office has the in-house expertise to adequately review as complex a subject as the Honolulu rail project without hiring outside financial experts in the first place. This alone should make the audit’s findings suspect.

I also found former Attorney General Michael Lilly’s assertion that HART’s desire to record its employees’ interviews would be in violation of the state’s whistleblower statute absurd. It appears to me that allowing the interviewee to record his or her interview actually protects the employee more that it restricts the opportunity to turn whistleblower.

— Hal Barnes, Kailua

Mental Hospitals

The pendulum has swung too far (June 8)

Dr. Kozak continues with her usual cogent columns but especially her recent one about the need for psychiatric inpatient care (“Health Beat: Bring Back The Mental Hospitals”).

A brief history: From the imprisonment of bedlam (Bethlehem Hospital in London) to mid-20th century, hospitals were mainly just for confinement, not treatment. In 1950 half of all hospital beds were filled with patients with schizophrenia.

With the introduction of Thorazine in 1952 there was a great movement to empty the hospitals. but the pendulum has swung too far. There are, and probably always will be, psychiatric patients that need to be in the hospital for long-term.

— Dr. Mark Stitham, board certified adult and child psychiatrist, Kailua