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February 10, 2014

Hypothetically: Would You Ride AirLyft?

Let's do a hypothetical thought experiment. Cue the voice of Ron Sterling and "imagine if you will...
Imagine a situation where the Pittsburgh Airport is unhappy with the absence of regional air service. What service there exists, is intermittent and very expensive. Some Pittsburghers want to fly Spirit Airlines out of the Westmoreland County Airport but can't get a connecting shuttle flight to get out there.

The airlines that do serve PIT have a lock on local air service and they're happy with the status quo. No new entrants are willing to break into the local market. Every week, the local economy suffers.

Local government has tried and tried to stimulate some activity to no avail. Finally, enough is enough, and the Airport has taken a page out of another transport mode's playbook and introduced: AirLyft™

AirLyft™ will introduce local, on-demand flying using local private pilots and the small aircraft they have access to. All pilots will be FAA certified private pilots and will be current in the aircraft used. They will not be commercial pilots, but since these are not regularly scheduled flights that may not be necessary; they are plane-sharing.

Just meet your friend with an airplane at PIT or the convenient West Mifflin airport and be on your way to Erie, State College, Harrisburg, or any Pennsylvania destination.

Would you ride on AirLyft, with the pilot who doesn't have a commercial license, in a plane that's not certified to carry passengers for hire, in a situation with no insurance coverage in a crash happens? Would you want your loved ones doing it? If your niece or nephew had a pilot's license, would you want them flying this sort of a run?

Isn't this the same thing as Lyft is doing with cars? People may be frustrated with Yellow Cabs. Is putting people in unlicensed jitneys, with drivers without a commercial license, without insurance to cover the passengers or pedestrians, the right thing to do?

Is it right for government officials to acquiesce in this shady operation?

When Sidecar attempted to run a similar business in Philadelphia in 2013, the authorities ran a sting operation, gave the drivers serious fines, and impounded the cars. Will Pittsburgh respond differently?



Anonymous said...

Big difference is that "Yellow Air" isn't protesting every new airline that tries to come in here and service all the drunken "self pilots" here.

Julia said...

Yes, in a heartbeat I would.

You should have done a google search for plane sharing, someone else thought of it first:

BrianTH said...

I can see how a service like this could in fact work, but it is pretty obvious how this "analogy" is intended to work rhetorically:

(1) You are significantly increasing at least the perceived risk by switching to an inherently more difficult and dangerous activity; and
(2) You are dramatically decreasing the likely public benefits by switching to a transportation mode which is not regularly needed by most people.

That game can, of course, be played both ways.

Suppose you needed a "commercial" food-producing license, "certification" for any food-producing operation, "insurance" for any risks related to food production, and so on. Further suppose the food production industry had been subject to regulatory capture and cartelization. And further suppose as a result, many people were not able to afford enough food and were starving.

So people start growing vegetables in their gardens, raising chickens in their backyards, and so on, and want to sell the products to their neighborhoods. But then along come the jack-booted thugs of the state, to smash those vegetables, kill those chickens, and throw those people in jail, because they have dared to challenge the regulatory state.

Would you cheer on the jack-booted thugs as people starved?

Hopefully my point about analogies is clear. Basically, this is a tough question, and you can't really give a reasonable answer to it without looking at the details of the actual case in hand, including what harms are being produced by the status quo, and what, if any, alternative remedies might exist.

Colleen Spiegler said...

A: The skills required to operate a plane and a car are two completely different animals. Do I need a Captain Sullenberger driving me across town? No. Would I prefer he be piloting my puddle jumper? Hell yes.
2: The poor can't afford to worry about whether the jitney driver they use is insured enough or insured at all, heck they can't even afford the attorney to sue them if something DOES happen. They can barely afford the jitney fare. They just need to get to work on time or get to the grocery store. They don't want to wait on the corner for a bus in their bad neighborhood because there's dangerous stuff going on there. Taxis are too expensive and won't even go to bad neighborhoods.
III. Those who can afford airfares can also afford to drive or rent a car to another airport, they're not going to fly.
四. What good is insurance if I die in a plane crash? I have life insurance; will my insurance company not honor my policy because I chose to fly AirLyft? (I'm asking seriously, I'm clueless about insurance)

I can't answer this hypothetically. It's like comparing commercial moon rockets to some guy with a rickshaw.

BrianTH said...

Incidentally, not-so-hypothetical question--as was pointed out in the previous thread, unlicensed jitneys are already operating in the Pittsburgh area. My understanding is they are particularly popular in lower-income neighborhoods, and that some people rely on them on a regular basis. And it appears the local police and other officials are turning a blind eye to this industry, or at least doing very little about it.

So in light of your analysis of the risks of Lyft, would you also propose that the local police change their policies and dedicated resources to trying to wipe out the existing jitneys? And what would you say to be people currently relying on them?

Vannevar said...

Hi Julia, in fact those pilots have commercial qualifications.

Vannevar said...

Hello BrianTH, from 2234 last night: Yes, you're right that these questions move all across the "sharing economy". Generally, what matters is when people go from sharing to selling. When people start selling food, then public health becomes an issue. When people start selling rides, public safety becomes an issue.

Regarding the unlicensed jitneys - You're also right (hey you're right a lot!) they exist. They get ticketed once or twice a year, and they clearly enjoy a benign begrudging tolerance. They've never had politicians welcome them. It will be interesting to see if the black jitneys still get ticketed while the American Eagle jitneys are welcomed by politicians.

My only complaint with Lyft is that they're misrepresenting the insurance risk to their drivers and customers. If they were above board and transparent about that, they'd be good with me. Listen to what the people who don't work for Lyft, like the state insurance people and the state regulators, say about Lyft. That's my only gripe.

Vannevar said...

Hello Colleen, actually they're pretty similar. You're trusting a stranger to move you across time and space in the presence of risk. You're more likely to die in a car than a plane. Airliners and pilots, cabs and cabbies have higher training, licensing, and drug testing, and insurance protections.

My car insurance will not cover any passengers for hire in my car. I don't know about life insurance in that situation. It's a great question.

BrianTH said...

"Generally, what matters is when people go from sharing to selling. When people start selling food, then public health becomes an issue. When people start selling rides, public safety becomes an issue."

I'm not sure I understand this principle. Shared food can presumably be just as harmful as bought food. A friend giving you a ride can also get into an accident and may have inadequate insurance. There may be reasons to have different regulatory schemes for different kinds of transactions, but I don't think it is true that public health and safety are not at all a concern prior to monetary transactions. In any event, my point was more that regulatory cartels can do very serious harm to people, and in an imperfect world it may sometimes do more harm than good to insist on inflexible enforcement of existing regulatory schemes.

All that said, I agree potential Lyft users should be well-informed about any insurance issues, and probably should not just rely on whatever assurances the company is making,

BrianTH said...

By the way, Lyft's Terms of Service does have an insurance provision. I actually don't know how it compares to, say, a traditional taxi company's insurance policy, but apparently it was recently enhanced in response to state regulator concerns:,0,2842325.story#axzz2t1wILKcT


Lyft procures an insurance policy that provides Drivers with excess automobile liability insurance up to $1,000,000 per occurrence. The policy offers excess liability protection over a Driver's existing insurance while such Driver is transporting Rider(s) on a trip arranged through the Lyft Platform. The policy coverage is limited to liability only and does not provide coverage for collision, comprehensive or wear and tear damage to a Driver's vehicle. As with any automobile insurance policy, additional insurance terms, limitations, and exclusions apply. We do not procure insurance for, nor are we responsible for, personal belongings left in the car by Driver(s) or Rider(s).


What is the Lyft Excess Liability Insurance Policy?

The Lyft Excess Liability Insurance policy is designed to act as primary insurance in the event that the driver's personal insurance will cover only a portion of or none of the driver's liability associated with an incident. It goes into effect once you are matched with a passenger for the time that you are on your way to pick up that passenger or have the passenger in your car. It is designed to cover driver liability for property damage and bodily injury of passengers and/or third parties up to a limit of $1M per incident.

Julia said...

Even so, given the amount of training it takes to become a private pilot, I'd actually be far more eager to jump into a plane with a guy who can show me any type of pilot license, than to jump into a car with some guy who has a drivers license, which doesn't tell me much more than that he successfully drove around the block and parked a car with a DMV official in the car.

Even so, I have had such terrible (including some positively unsafe) experiences with Yellow Cab that I'm afraid to use them again. I'm less afraid of Lyft because of their rating system, the ability to never get the same driver again if I have a bad experience with them, and the ability to know if I'm going to be able to get a ride at all.

And on the insurance issue, that's an issue that is making progress gradually, recent changes in Lyft's insurance are promising, and the new P2P Rideshare Insurance Coalition is a encouraging sign that insurance companies are starting to come on board with the concept, too.

I see your concerns, but I want to see Pittsburgh become a more accessible city, and I think that this could benefit the citizens of Pittsburgh, drive our Taxi companies to improve their service, and fill a niche that is not filled by our "begrudgingly tolerated" jitneys or our current Taxi services.

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