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Some Commuters Wary About Subway After Shooting

SHANTEL DESTRA, HOST: This is Uptown Radio. I'm Shantel Destra.

DAVID NEWTOWN, HOST: And I'm David Newtown. Last week, when a gunman opened fire on a crowded N train, the subway system was impacted throughout the city, with long delays and two lines shut down.

DESTRA: Some commuters wondered if it was safe to ride the trains, or whether it was time to look for other ways to get to work. And costs of rideshares like Uber and Lyft suddenly became even more expensive. Sarah Yokubaitis has more.

SARAH YOKUBAITIS, BYLINE: Subway ridership in New York City plummeted during the pandemic. In recent weeks, New Yorkers have increasingly returned to the trains for their daily commutes.

But then last week…


"We are following breaking news in Brooklyn, very distressing..."

"Chaos and bloodshed during the morning commute..."

"Mass shooting in the subway..."

YOKUBAITIS: Last Tuesday, Devin Asperger was on an R train for his regular commute from Sunset Park to the Bronx. When the train pulled into the 36th Street Station, he got a clear view of the aftermath of the shooting right across the platform.

DEVIN ASPERGER: Everyone panicking, and being like, oh, there was a shooting, there might be a shooter on this train right now. And actually, it turned out, he was! He was there. And everyone flooding out and pushing each other in the tiny little, you know, train platform. That was scary.”

YOKUBAITIS: That night, Asperger went to visit a friend. He felt skittish about getting on the subway, so he ordered a car from Lyft.

ASPERGER: You know what, for one time going back — they still hadn't caught the dude, too, so I was like, "You know what, I'm, I'm gonna take a Lyft for now, for just, just for tonight."

YOKUBAITIS: But the next day, Asperger still had to get to work. And he says the subway was the only affordable option.

ASPERGER: I teach up in the Bronx a lot. And I'm coming from Brooklyn. And the feasibility of me taking a car to the Bronx is one, way more expensive and two, not as fast.

YOKUBAITIS: Catherine O’Conner lives on the Upper East Side, and usually takes the Subway to her marketing job in midtown. The day of the shooting, she took the bus home, and hasn’t gone back underground since.

CATHERINE O’CONNER: I've like avoided doing certain things just so I don't have to take the subway since it's happened.

YOKUBAITIS: To get home that day, she also considered a rideshare, but discovered the prices were dramatically higher than usual. Uber and Lyft operate using an algorithm that adjusts prices in response to demand, as well as other factors like location and driver availability. It’s called surge pricing, and O’Connor says she doesn’t think the rideshare companies should profit from an emergency.

O’CONNER: I was at the office and I put in my apartment address and the fare was like forty four dollars. And it was like, 2:00, 3:00 P.M. when I looked it up, and the fare should have been closer to like fifteen or twenty.”

DON HEIDER: They're obviously not set up to deal with emergencies. They could probably do a better job of that.

YOKUBAITIS: Don Heider is the executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. He says that rideshare companies could do a better job of responding to emergency situations using available tools like artificial intelligence, or AI.

HEIDER: Of course, all the surge is based on is demand, and of course when there’s an emergency of some kind, demand is gonna skyrocket. What they could do is have an AI-triggered warning system that let them know. In this particular case, I don't think they did anything particularly unethical. But I do think they probably could have responded quicker.

YOKUBAITIS: Last week, Uber and Lyft both announced that they would refund users for the additional costs of surge pricing on the day of the shooting.

Sarah Yokubaitis, Columbia Radio News.


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