Comparing a transport company to a broadcaster!


In the midst of the earthquakes last night, it was striking to compare the performance of two key public and private institutions, and , and the things that motivate them.

As dozens of people noted, RNZ put in a stellar performance: Susie Ferguson rushed to the studio, and she and others provided a steady stream of calm, clear, important information, delivered both quickly and accurately. The driver for them was – I think we can assume – not financial but altruistic: wanting to help a frightened and confused public understand what was going on and how to react.

In contrast, according to reports on Twitter, Uber’s surge pricing – a process that increases the price of a ride when demand is high – pushed the cost of hiring one of its drivers to 2.8 times the usual amount.

Comparing a public broadcaster to a private transport provider is rather strange and I don’t think tells us anything. The better comparison is public vs private media and public vs private transport providers.

So let’s compare media responses to the earthquakes. Yes Radio NZ did a very good job by all accounts. But so did the two big private media companies – Fairfax and NZME. I found the Herald and Stuff sites excellent with updates, and also the reports by their staff on Twitter.

So I don’t see any difference there.

As for transport companies, well the public transport companies all closed down generally – no trains and sparse buses if any.

Taxis are private sector also but let’s look at how they reacted compared to Uber. I am pretty sure that few off duty taxi drivers jumped into their cars at midnight after the earthquake rather than stayed at home with their families.

Uber however has a model which incentivised their large pool of drivers (none of whom have fixed rosters) to make themselves available so more people could get transport. Uber itself made no or little extra money from this – the drivers did.

What would have sorted things out very clearly is a classic public sector process: finding out people’s circumstances, assessing their need based on their overall situation not the size of their wallet, and allocating resources (rides) accordingly. Of course Uber doesn’t do that because it’s not a public service. But that brings us round again to what performs well, especially during tough times – and that, unsurprisingly, is both the public sector’s spirit and its processes.

OMG. I’m sorry but the though of some committee forming to decide whose needs are greater and get first priority to grab a taxi is farcical. This was an earthquake. People are the best judge of their own situation as to how bad their need is.

I normally won’t pay surge pricing of more than 2.0 but if it was after an earthquake I’d happily pay 4.0 pricing to mean I got a lift as quickly as possible to get home.

And if I didn’t want to pay Uber’s surge pricing then I could call a taxi and wait for one to become available.

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