TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Reimagine your school library as a makerspace.

By Susan Bearden in EdSurge

2. New materials could radically change air conditioning.

By The Economist

3. Ambassadorships are too important to hand out to political donors.

By Justine Drennan in Foreign Policy

4. There’s a better way: Using data and evidence — not politics — to make policy.

By Margery Turner at the Urban Institute

5. The tax-code works for the rich. Low-income households need reforms that make deductions into credits and stimulate savings.

By Lewis Brown Jr. and Heather McCulloch in PolicyLink

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 3

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The Obamas should consider teaching in an urban public school after 2016.

By Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post

2. Tech journalism needs to grow up.

By Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week

3. Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, the surge strategy didn’t end the war in Iraq. We shouldn’t try it again against ISIS.

By Daniel L. Davis in The American Conservative

4. Adjusting outdated rules for overtime could give middle class wages a valuable boost.

By Nick Hanauer in PBS News Hour’s Making Sense

5. A new solar power device can collect energy even on cloudy days and from reflected lunar light.

By Tuan C. Nguyen in Smithsonian Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 2

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Let’s push for more college-educated cops.

By Keli Goff in the Daily Beast

2. As strongmen — often U.S. allies — attempt to lock up lifetime power, an African democracy movement takes shape.

By Mark Varga at the Foreign Policy Association

3. Being connected is more of a good thing than a bad thing.

By Mathew Ingram in GigaOm

4. Beyond diamonds: Conflict minerals are a growing blight. Enforcing a global standard can stop abuse.

By Michael Gibb in Project Syndicate

5. Changing the way we classify psilocybin — magic mushrooms — could open the door to research and new treatments for depression.

By Eugenia Bone in the New York Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 1

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Though manufacturing jobs — particularly in the auto industry — are making a comeback, the wages are low and not even keeping up with inflation.

By Catherine Ruckelshaus and Sarah Leberstein at the National Employment Law Project

2. Simple, human-centered adaptive technology can change lives for people with disabilities.

By Krithika Krishnamurthy in Economic Times

3. As the military finally integrates men and women, gender-segregated recruit training in the Marines must end.

By Lieutenant Colonel Kevin G. Collins in Marine Corps Gazette

4. A neutral review board — not the police department itself — should review officer-involved shootings.

By Michael Bell in Politico

5. After two peaceful elections, Tunisia demonstrates that fixing politics is easier than remaking a nation, and the problems that sparked the Arab Spring persist.

By Sam Kimball and Nicholas Linn in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Autos

There’s an App for the Next Time Your Car Breaks Down

Echo — Getty Images/Cultura RF

New companies are taking aim at an industry long-dominated by AAA

Last December, Corey Brundage got a call from his then-fiancée. She had left her headlights on, and her car was now sitting dead in a Los Angeles parking garage. Corey ordered an Uber and was with her in 20 minutes. Then he started searching Yelp and Google for a towing company. They all had off-putting one- and two-star rankings. Each call he ventured took him about 15 minutes, and when they quoted prices like $250 for a jump start, he didn’t know whether they were being gouged in their time of need. For a man who already started four companies, this was clearly friction that technology could help alleviate.

This November, Brundage launched Honk, a new company in a growing field of startups that want to be “Uber for roadside assistance.” Along with Washington, D.C.-based Urgently, Honk is taking on the behemoth in the field—AAA—by giving roadside-assistance an on-demand makeover.

“The younger mobile, millennial generation doesn’t have brand affinity with AAA,” says Brundage, pointing out that the average AAA member age is 57 years old. “I kept thinking, I can push a button and get a taxi in just two minutes. But when I really need help, on the side of the road, where is the button?”

For some people, that button is now in their MapQuest app. Earlier in November, Urgently—a company reared in an AOL incubator—announced a big-time partnership with MapQuest, which is owned by AOL. MapQuest users can now request roadside assistance from inside their app. One button takes them to Urgently. Users select the service they need (towing, lock out, jumpstart, fuel), enter basic information about their car and themselves and are told a price. A jumpstart dispatched to downtown San Francisco, for instance, would cost $50.

With another tap, the nearest service provider is dispatched. Help-seekers can watch the progress of their savior on a map, knowing where the provider is and when they’ll arrive, like Uber users can watch their drivers. “We saw an opportunity, a white space in the roadside assistance market,” says Urgently CEO Chris Spanos. “The consumer should have complete and utter visibility.”

With Honk, users enter information through the app and, within about two minutes, they’re given an ETA and told that a driver will be calling them soon. In January, Honk plans to roll out maps where users can track a truck’s progress. Both companies operate nationwide and are middlemen like Uber, connecting a network of users with a network of independent-contractor trucks, taking a slice off fees paid by users. When truck-owners sign up as partners, they agree to a fee schedule of fixed prices for each service, so there’s no bidding war and no surprises.

Both Urgently and Honk contrast their users’ experience with what can be a more drawn-out process with AAA, which has its own app but still operates on a call-center model. The startups also tout themselves as “non-membership” companies. For what might be $50 or $100 per year, AAA offers what is essentially an insurance policy: pay up front and if you break down, you’re covered for multiple tows and other services. There are roughly 54 million AAA members, which is about a quarter of all licensed drivers in the country, and those members call upon AAA for about 30 million “roadside events” each year. That means about half of them are paying for a service they’re probably not using. AAA, in turn, points out that pay-per-use services often cost more than a year’s membership. Brundage says with Honk, a tow would cost the base price of $49 and then perhaps $5 per mile, depending on where the breakdown happens.

The new companies sell their service as better for both consumers and drivers. “AAA has been squeezing every penny out of them,” Brundage says of the trucks who work with AAA. That company tells TIME they do not release specific figures on how much trucks make off calls provided by AAA. But the new players will. Spanos gives the example of a 15-mile tow costing $99 through the app. In that case, the truck would make about $75 and Urgently would get the rest. Brundage says that his partners who have worked with AAA are making more in the neighborhood of $25 per tow.

Upping the margin has the potential to help the tow companies’ ratings, because if they’re making more on services people ask for, they’re less likely to go looking for cars to tow so they can make a living, the kind of behavior that earns them avid one-star ratings. “There’s a world in which they could have more than one star,” Brundage says. Regardless of margins, they stand to get more business by adding another avenue for requests to come in.

Still, AAA memberships include many perks beyond roadside assistance, and company spokesperson Heather Hunter implies it has more experience than these upstarts, touting “long-standing relationships” with towers. “The use of new technology is just one small aspect of providing roadside service,” she says. AAA-affiliated drivers get training and access discounts on equipment, she says, and they undergo background checks, too.

AAA is not the only competitor for these new companies, who are also going up against insurance provided by auto manufacturers, but they are the Goliath to their David. “They’re clearly an 800-lb. gorilla,” says Spanos. “But we’re not afraid of them.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A Baltimore all-girls high school robotics team is bucking the trend for women in STEM education.

By Andrew Zaleski in the Baltimore Sun

2. The first Thanksgiving wasn’t a celebration of bounty, but “a refusal to be defeated by what so gravely threatened.” Today, we need the same.

By James Carroll in the Boston Globe

3. Congress — yes, that Congress — is about to pass a vital update to the Freedom of Information Act.

By Jason Leopold at Vice News

4. Discrimination against LGBT people isn’t just a civil rights violation, it’s bad economic policy.

By M. V. Lee Badgett at the New America Foundation

5. The truth is out about Russia. The EU must focus on the Balkans and think about the future.

By Judy Dempsey in RealClearWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. “White people who are sick and tired of racism should work hard to become white allies.” Here’s how.

By Janee Woods in Quartz

2. We can’t afford to ignore the innovative history of developing countries as we face the impact of climate change.

By Calestous Juma at CNN

3. Aeroponics – growing plants in mist without any soil – may be the future of food.

By Bloomberg Businessweek

4. The Obama White House is still struggling to separate policy from politics, and Defense Secretary Hagel is the latest victim.

By David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy

5. Fewer, better standardized tests can boost student achievement.

By Marc Tucker, Linda Darling-Hammond and John Jackson in Education Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A bipartisan plan in North Carolina shrunk prison population and cut costs while the crime rate continued to fall. Can it serve as a model for other states?

By the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments

2. In international development, the massively scaleable transformative idea is usually too good to be true.

By Michael Hobbes in the New Republic

3. Net Neutrality could have a big impact on the future of healthcare, from telemedicine to electronic medical records.

By Darius Tahir in Modern Healthcare

4. Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us from climate change. We need new ideas.

By Ross Koningstein & David Fork in IEEE Spectrum

5. We must understand and counter the major trends fueling the ranks of Islamic radicals.

By Maha Yahya in the National Interest

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Transportation

Taxi App CEO: Uber Is an ‘A–Hole’

136011080
Thomas Bonfert—Getty Images/Flickr RF View of taxi board

Rakesh Mathur wants to help cab drivers disrupt the disruptors

As Uber weathered a storm of bad publicity this week, a relatively small competitor put a new CEO at the helm. Rakesh Mathur is a serial company-founder who worked at Amazon after it bought his e-commerce startup Junglee. He’s now running Flywheel, an e-hailing app that everyday taxi drivers can use to pick up smartphone users and fight back against the disruptors.

Flywheel is in a mere three cities, compared to Uber’s 220 worldwide. And while the company just announced $12 million in funding, Uber is raising rounds by the billion. TIME spoke to Mathur about privacy, the pros and cons of Uber’s creative destruction and how the company plans to take over America despite the competition.

TIME: In a recent email, one of your company representatives described Flywheel as the “non-a–hole” alternative to Uber. Can you comment on that positioning?

Mathur: I think the last couple of days have been pretty shocking, right? Where you’re not just being told, “Hey, I know how to violate your privacy. I do that all the time. But I’m even worse than the [National Security Agency]. I’m going to take that information and do bad things to you.” I think a–hole is probably a mild word. And the fact that across the organization they feel so open using things like their God View, where you can see anybody who rides in an Uber car. Every driver that drives for Uber is tainted.

These transportation startups generally have the ability to know where their drivers are and where customers are needing to be picked up. What is your policy at Flywheel about who has access to that information and when?

It exists for some complaint or something that we’re solving, like disputing a fare. Certainly we can collect all the data on trends, so we know where demands are peaking and so forth . . . No one should have access to this information. It shouldn’t be called out. It should be available to solve consumer-initiated complaints. I don’t think monitoring individual information about people’s individual rides is something that is anybody’s right to know.

How do you see Lyft as a competitor that is different from Uber?

Their corporate philosophy projects as a lot kinder, gentler. Lyft is every bit as fierce a competitor.

Do you see Uber as a more direct competitor, more similar to a taxi service than Lyft, where riders are invited to sit in the front seat and chat?

We don’t need to obsess about Uber and Lyft beyond a certain point. Our primary job right now is to get into this huge supply that is available to us. And that’s going to keep us busy for a few years, making sure we are in all the cabs in America. I would liken worrying too much about Uber and Lyft to driving by looking in the rearview mirror.

What are your plans for expansion?

There’s so much inbound interest right now from markets all over the country. We’re going through them and figuring out which of the fleets in which markets give us critical mass. There’s also a lot of interest from software service providers within the taxi industry. So we’ve got our plate full.

Where do you think you’ll go next?

We’re in San Francisco. We have toeholds in Seattle and Los Angeles. And in the next three-to-six months, we should be in many of the bigger cities in the United States.

Are we talking another three cities? Another dozen?

More like another dozen than another three.

I know you said you try to keep Uber in the rearview mirror, but how do you compete with a service that is raising funds a billion dollars at a time?

In terms of capital, I’ve built multiple companies. In the past 20 years, I’ve sold six companies. I’ve got pretty deep connections in the venture, finance and angel world. With any luck, we’re going to raise all the capital we need. The other part is that if I had $100 million right now and I felt compelled to spend it, I could make some terrible mistakes that I haven’t thought through. And it’s very hard to scale back.

You have a lot of advantages in leveraging the already-existing taxi industry. No surge pricing. Allies in some transportation authorities. You may have an easier time getting legal access to airports. What do you see as your key advantage?

Taxi companies offer a more safe and knowledgeable environment. Safe, as in taxi drivers, for all the insults that are hurled at them, have to go through fingerprinting and checks against national databases, including the FBI’s. The standard Uber or Lyft driver is, maybe, slightly more checked out than the general population. I’m fiercely concerned about how unsafe the unregulated part of the industry is. And in many to most instances, you’re dealing with people who know their city very well if you’re dealing with a taxi. . . . It’s a regulated industry with a huge supply. We don’t have to recruit supply. It’s a more stable model.

What do you see as your disadvantage in the market?

At an overall level, the regulatory system is a dual-edged sword . . . We’re on the right side of the law everywhere. That said, we don’t feel that it would make any sense to come up with rules to govern how we price, how we behave, et cetera. To the extent that regulators want to try to regulate us, that would be a bad thing.

How do you plan, as a new CEO, to do things differently at the company?

My main charter is scaling, to make sure that the technology that worked in San Francisco is applicable and scales, all while eliminating things like ridestacking [when drivers accept a ride through the app and then pick up a street hail], more integration with other systems inside the cab, making it much more bullet-proof and delightful for the consumer. The other part of it is dealing with the ecosystem in a very aggressive way and making sure our deployment into all the cabs in America goes as fast as possible.

Before they had this new competition, were taxi companies too lax in customer service?

Absolutely. Uber has been a godsend for the taxi industry. They’re starting to realize who they serve, the person who gets into the taxi. The service levels have gone up. The importance of hailing from a smartphone has been recognized. I think they’ve also unified the taxi industry. It’s been good for the taxi industry. Uber and Lyft have delivered very valuable service to everybody, despite the fact that one of them seems to be a company that only has sharp elbows.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hacking out of prison: San Quentin inmates are learning to code.

By Charley Locke in EdSurge

2. Your breath could reveal a fake: How a beetle’s camouflage trick might make money harder to counterfeit.

By James Urquhart in Chemistry World

3. Russia has learned there’s a great deal it can get away with in Ukraine.

By Amy Knight in the New York Review of Books

4. Protected areas like wetlands and coral reefs are at highest risk from climate change but can also be part of the solution.

By Adam Markham at the Union of Concerned Scientists

5. A U.S. deal with Iran could reset the Mideast balance of power.

By Patrick Smith in the Fiscal Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser