Uber v. Taxis, The Battle Arrives In Bogota

Taxis in Bogota
Taxis in Bogota


BOGOTA — Some residents of the Colombian capital are indignant at recent police checks on white cars thought to be carrying passengers through Uber, an Internet application that links users with private drivers.

Passengers using Uber can pay by credit or debit card beforehand and can be picked up anywhere. Cars are clean and the drivers cautious, no small feat in a city where a taxi driver might mug you or worse.

Whether the service is illegal is open to interpretation. A 2001 decree allows such transportation by companies legally constituted to carry specified types of passengers. Literally read in the current debate, it would allow Uber cars to carry not just anyone, but “specific” groups such as guests of a particular hotel chain or children who attend a particular school. At least that’s how the city Transport Secretariat, which ordered the checks, sees it.

It is a rigorous attitude that is unfortunately not applied to other, truly bothersome situations: taxis spurning passengers during rush hour, drivers of illegal taxis mugging passengers, or the informal taxis prowling around university premises in central and northern Bogotá that crowd five passengers into a small car for a flat fare.

A spokesman for taxi company Taxis Libres says the problem is that Uber drivers fix fares as they please, and are neither qualified professionally or regulated by authorities. Frankly, he could be talking about one of his own drivers.

The debate on the legalities and effects of the application is far from over. For now, the Transport Ministry has the last word.

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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