As the Nation Reopens, Americans Are on the Road Again
Jun 18, 2021 11 mins, 29 secs
The July one was the one that I think I was just going to tag along, right.

MC: That's right, yes.

And for vaccinated people, that may mean maskless grocery store shopping, going to bars again, and yes, travel?

So, today in the second half of the show, we're going to take a look at how transit agencies are trying to lure people back onto public transit.

Another problem that's come up now is that there's this semiconductor shortage, which has really affected a ton of industries we called at WIRED, but specifically the automotive industry.

And I was looking specifically at one of the Hawaiian islands, just for curiosity sake, plugged in some dates in July, hit rental car and it was the first time I think I've ever used Kayak in my life that literally nothing came up.

AM: That's a great question, and I don't totally know the answer to it, but what I do know is that rental car companies are actually a huge source of the used car market in this country.

So, weirdly, as this kind of works down the supply chain, there's also, if you've tried to buy a car recently, you might notice that it's hard to find a used car and rental car companies are actually contributing to that because they aren't getting rid of the vehicles in the ways they used to because they just don't have vehicles to get rid of?

AM: My understanding of the way it's working right now is that a lot of airlines are setting their own policies.

And it's created this weird, and just based, I haven't been on a plane for awhile, but based on some reporting I've read, it's created this weird situation, particularly for people who staff airplanes, who are feeling kind of uncomfortable in this weird gray area we found ourselves where some people say, "I don't need to wear a mask anymore." Some people are really into wearing masks, and I think now, there's more people on planes, it's hard to really enforce the rules?

Like after September 11th, for example, we saw airlines create all these new fees, they started bringing on more baggage fees, and I don't think we'll see that following this huge dip in business.

And I think that's partially because they're seeing that, as you observed on your flight, that people are coming back to flying super quickly.

So, I don't think there are any specific plans in the works to make anything permanent.

One change that is happening that's sort of not related to the pandemic, but that I've been keeping my eye on is that there are new rules out of the FAA that airlines don't have to accommodate emotional support animals, which is like a little loophole that a lot of people used to use to get their dogs onto planes.

I'm actually, I'm going to LA soon and we are bringing our 11-pound dog on the flight and we've always paid for him, but now, we're still definitely paying for him and I think his ticket is as much as ours right now.

LG: I also think it's fair to say that during the pandemic, particularly for those who have been working from home nonstop, that our pets did become emotional support animals, whether it's official or not.

I've never personally been on a cruise and I don't really, and all power to cruisers and people who keep that great industry afloat.

And like airlines and other travel services, public transit agencies took a big financial hit.

But as people start to get moving again, cities and transit agencies are trying to lure people back onto public transit.

Aarian, you've been reporting this out for WIRED and you've been looking into how transit agencies are, they're kind of trying some out of the box tactics to get riders back.

This is, I've talked to a bunch of people that run transit agencies and then also the people that take transit, and I think the entire industry really recognizes that this is a really important moment because they do want to get riders back on transit both because they want more customers, but also because transit is so important to cities like public health goals, their climate goals, you always want to get more people out of cars onto the bus, onto the trains.

This is a really important moment where agencies know that as people slowly start to go back to work, they are forming new habits?

They're doing a similar thing in New Orleans, and then some transit agencies and transit advocates have really sort of taken advantage of the pandemic by pushing a longstanding hoped for agenda item which is free fares, and particularly free fares for students, free fares for people who have lower incomes, for whom it's relatively more expensive to take transit.

They're not quite sure when it's going to start, but soon they're going to start a pilot where anyone from K to 12 and then also people in community college will have access to free fares on Metro.

So, this is a big movement that's gained steam and is really sort of interesting, and the finances are interesting and agencies are trying to work out how to pay for it, but could be a big change when things open up again?

AM: Yes, that's definitely something that's true and something that agencies are doing much like other parts of government and all sorts of businesses are trying to look into the future and figure out, are people going to be going back to work full-time or are they going to be telecommuting a few days a week.

Actually, something interesting that has also been going on during the pandemic is, agencies really using this time to rethink how their schedules work.

So, if those nine-to-fivers aren't going back to the downtown office in the way they were before, does it make sense for agencies to actually run trains or buses more frequently throughout the day so that they can serve more of those shift workers, more of those childcare workers, more of those people who have these schedules that we kind of think is a traditional but are actually becoming much more common over the past 30 years or so?

And this is really part of some bigger conversations that have, I think really come out of the murder of George Floyd and things that happened last summer, a reel that sort of pushes for social justice in all parts of American life?

People in the transit industry are asking, "How can we make sure that our services are really serving the communities that live where we are, whether they are people of color, whether they're women, whether they're lower income?"?

LG: Aarian, there was a period of time last year, I think primarily when cities were focused on sanitizing public transit, and in some ways, we've now started to identify this as pandemic theater, but for example, in May of 2020, the MTA in New York City said it had purchased 150 UV light machines.

I think much like even during the pandemic, when we were still learning about things, there's this interesting gap between what the science says that we have to do and what agencies need to do to make people comfortable even if it's not totally scientifically valid.

I think a lot of agencies, internal surveys, have shown that people really like when the subway or the bus is cleaner.

It costs the agencies a lot of money so it's something they have to balance, but I think they're also realizing that if they do want to get people back on the bus, they're going to have to keep cleaning in the way that they learned over the pandemic even if science shows that it's not something you're necessarily going to pick up from touching the wrong surface.

We now know that it's mostly respiratory, but people like stuff to be cleaner and clean is good.

MC: It's not running right now.

MC: I have no idea when it's going to come back.

There was a Ford executive who I think spent like $200 going from Manhattan to JFK a few weeks ago, which is much more expensive than it used to be.

I think much like flight attendants, Uber and Lyft drivers are dealing with some of the same issues where some people don't want to wear masks, they're over it, even if they're not vaccinated, they don't believe in vaccines for whatever reasons and they have to deal with those interpersonal issues without ...

The flight attendants have a union, but Uber, Lyft drivers are independent contractors, technically, so they don't have a lot of help or backup in dealing with unruly passengers, people that are drunk because it's hot vax summer, and that's what people are doing now.

AM: It's not necessarily a fun job right now.

I mean, Uber and Lyft drivers were dealing with a lot before the pandemic, and in some cases, working really long days and long hours just trying to eke out a living and, of course, sharing their profits with Uber and Lyft to the platform owners.

I could see how you'd be resistant to going back to driving or driving full-time, and the takeaway from that people is, don't be an asshole to your Uber or Lyft driver or your flight attendant for that matter.

AM: Yeah, I think it's actually a really, an open question whether those services will come back at all.

They've worked a lot on the algorithms that have matched people and it's gotten a lot better, but I don't, that was not like a winning part of their service.

I have recently beefed up my car camping gear because that feels like that's going to be my hot vax summer as I'm going to go sleep in the woods a lot.

I just bought a collapsible tea kettle to use on a camping stove but it can be used on any stove, and I just like it because it's so easy to store, and when you travel again after being inside forever, it's nice to have your little caffeine device with you at all times and it just slides into a suitcase or a backpack and I'm just very pleased by it.

It's like this little silicon collapsy thing.

LG: This sounds really cool and I would be very tempted to buy it, mostly because I just think foldable and collapsible things sound cool and because they're aspirational.

MC: Aarian, every time you come on the show, end up with a recommendation that is thematically appropriate, and this time is no different because I'm going to recommend a book, it's by David Byrne, a front man of Talking Heads and songwriter and performer of his own right.

David Byrne kept a blog, I think he still does keep a blog, he's just always producing stuff on the internet.

It's really delightful, and it's like one of the best travel books.

David Byrne is also a very singular writer, he has a really efficient and economical writing style and a real dry-wit and it's just delightful and fun and breezy.

So, if you like David Byrne and if you like bikes, and if you like travel writing, it's like right at the middle of that Venn diagram.

It's also like a lot of things that a bunch of people are into, which is why I like recommending things like that.

Also, we didn't really talk too much about bikes this episode, and I know that that's a big part of the cities and the way that people experience cities and it has grown exponentially over the pandemic.

It's not like I got really, really good at it or took it really seriously.

It's, I don't know, it's not expensive, it's $11 for 14 ounces, and it's just, it's great for barbecuing, you don't necessarily have to just put it on beef or poultry or seafood, you can put it on vegetables as well.

It's this nice combination of different herbs and spices and I really like it.

It's got salt, garlic, onion, black pepper, oregano, paprika, parsley, celery, rosemary, and then just for good measure, silicon dioxide.

Let's hope there's not a global shortage of porterhouse seasoning because it has a silicon dioxide in it, but that's just, that's an anti-caking agent.

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