There Was an Uber in 1914 — but the Trolley Monopoly Shut it Down

By Siddharth Singh, 17th February, 2016

Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber brought to light an interesting fact. Back in 1914, someone started a ridesharing service that closely resembles Uber today — and it got so popular that it had as many daily rides as Uber does in Las Angeles today, in 2016! He said,

In 1914, an enterprising LA man grew tired of long trolley lines and simply put a sign on his car advertising five cent rides. It exploded. As difficult as it is to believe, Uber does as many rides in LA per day in 2016 as the jitney did in 1915, Kalanick said.
Clearly it was something people really wanted, but the jitney wouldn’t last. The urban transportation monopoly at the time was the trolley industry. Trolley owners and operators hated jitneys, and they lobbied across the country to slow down the spread of the service. Although LA’s nascent jitney service climbed to 50,000 rides in a single day, trolley operators were eventually successful in shutting it out. The ride-sharing pioneer died out entirely in just five years.

Uber has faced regulatory hurdles globally with the incumbent Taxi monopolies and unions wanting to shut it down. The situation, of course, is more complicated that it seems because excess supply of rides will lead to inadequate revenues and financial distress among drivers whose livelihood depends on the industry — a ‘tragedy of commons’, if you may. However, there is no denying that there is incredible demand for such a service and curbing the growth of ride-sharing and taxi-aggregator services is inherently anti-consumer in nature.

Siddharth is on Twitter @siddharth3