It's no surprise that services like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are popular among L.A.'s younger crowd. They're especially comfortable both with the smartphone apps that connect passengers and drivers and with alternative transportation - in this case an unregulated driver who does not work off a meter and, in some cases, will accept as much or as little as you want to pay (now that's a business model for you!). The services say that their drivers - and their vehicles - are properly vetted, but cab companies are going ballistic over the upstart competitors, and city officials recently issued a cease-and-desist order. So far, no luck. This is a business battle, of course, but it's also a reflection of how a younger generation is looking at L.A. in much different ways than their parents. From this week's Business Update on KPCC (Mark Austin Thomas fills in for Steve Julian):
Thomas: The cab drivers say they these services are basically just bandit cabs.
Lacter: In some ways they are, but they're also part of a generational divide that has younger Angelenos are looking at L.A. in different ways than their parents. They're more likely to be living in Hollywood or downtown, they're not able or even interested in owning their own home - which might explain why they're not moving to the suburbs - and they're also more likely to be using mass transit, or riding their bikes to get around. You know, ridership counts for public transit have been going up, especially for the Expo Line since it was extended to Culver City - and there will be a further extension to downtown Santa Monica in the next couple of years (that could be a real game changer for how folks on the Westside look at mass transit).
Thomas: So, this is the broader context for these ride-sharing services...
Lacter: ...which, by the way, are a lot cheaper than taking a cab (there's no meter and passengers can pay as much or as little as they like). That's not exactly the greatest way to make money, and - of course - we are just talking about a tiny fraction of L.A. residents. All that said, this is an interesting idea for Los Angeles (any new idea for dealing with traffic is interesting), and it would be a mistake not to take it seriously - it could even represent an attitude change for the overall economy.
Thomas: Speaking of change, several notable restaurants have closed up. Is there a changing of the guard here, too?
Lacter: Well, possibly - the Empress Pavilion, one of the bigger names in Chinatown over the past 20 or so years, is gone. Also, Tom Bergin's, the Mid-City watering hole where I personally spent any number of Happy Hours over the years has closed. And on the Westside, you have Jerry's Deli which has closed its locations in Westwood and near the Beverly Center. Now, restaurant closings happen all the time - it's a tough way to make a living, and even a successful place can be done in with a big rent increase or higher food costs or just the general economy. But, it's interesting that new restaurants in L.A. keep popping up.
Thomas: What do these openings and closings mean for the local economy?
Lacter: Well, local employment has skyrocketed - as of May, L.A. County had almost 320,000 jobs in the restaurant business, which is an increase of 37 percent from 2000. Now, these are not great-paying jobs. Many of them are barely over minimum wage, and health care coverage is rare (that's been a sticking point with the new Obama health care regulations). But, compared with other major cities, it's fairly easy to get into the restaurant business in L.A. Rents are cheaper, there's easy access to quality ingredients, and because of the region's ethnic diversity, you're able to specialize within basic cuisines.