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Bham Development: Why We Need Uber

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Many of us would like to see continued Birmingham growth without the accompanying traffic snarls and parking headaches. And it is shockingly easy to imagine a life in many central Birmingham neighborhoods without daily car usage. Besides, who wants to devote precious downtown real estate to another parking garage? The only way to avoid that, of course, is to become less dependent on car ownership, and we think ridesharing services are part of that progress. But as recent press coverage has made clear, it’s not just our core development at stake; outside perception is on the line as well.

In July, AL.com ran a story composed almost entirely of tweets complaining about transportation problems. “The inaugural Slossfest brought national acts and thousands of visitors to Birmingham and to our city’s rusted jewel, industrial-space-turned-park Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark,” AL.com reported. “But outside the gates of Sloss Fest, it was difficult to avoid the clamoring on social media for transportation options.” Republished tweets complained about taxi wait times and expressed surprise that Birmingham Uber and Lyft weren’t even options.

“Resistance to innovation hurts the Birmingham brand,” wrote Art Carden, an associate professor of economics at Samford University, in an AL.com op-ed piece. “The city’s refusal to accommodate ridesharing innovators is sending prospective visitors and residents the message that they cannot expect the same amenities they take for granted in other cities.”

And if you’re not already convinced, there’s a public health argument for ridesharing as well. The Daily Beast reported on a study by Temple University Professors Brad Greenwood and Sunil Wattal which demonstrated the potential impact of Uber uptake on road safety. “Its key findings were that UberX significantly reduces the number of alcohol related motor vehicle fatalities, that the effect takes between 9 and 15 months to manifest, and during times of likely surge pricing, such as weekends and celebratory holidays associated with drinking, the effect is greatly diminished (most likely because fewer people use the service when its rates are increased).” (Click here for the original study.)

But of course this study points to an important caveat: Uber represents necessary progress, but it can’t be the whole answer to a less car-dependent city. Public transit remains an important stumbling block for this city, and one that no amount of Uber cars can fully replace. As we wait for the 2016 rollout of a bus system upgrade, though, ridesharing is a good place to start. And after a recent Uber meeting with city officials, we’re cautiously optimistic.

In the meantime, follow Magic City Movement for updates on the ridesharing movement in Birmingham. We hope you’ll join us in this push for progress.

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