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« Subway Thumbing | Main | Skin and Incentives »

The NYC Marathon: Feasible, Beneficial, but not Advisable 

I read a post today about Uber, the app driven black car service that really resonated:

"Uber's an algorithm-driven company which responds to emotion with facts. However, especially in times of distress, people want to hear empathy, not data...

...In the wake of Sandy, Uber NYC implemented a set of decisions meant to increase supply (drivers) to meet demand (passengers). Uber probably didn't have a "what to do in a human tragedy" playbook and instead ran their normal operating procedures. This included putting 2x surge pricing into effect. In response to public outcry over gauging, they continued to pay drivers the 2x but charge passengers 1x, costing the company $100k/day (effectively they were subsidizing the marketplace). Then they put the surge back in place, but said they wouldn't take their share of profits -- all money would go to the drivers.

In response to the criticism Uber published lengthy posts explaining the dynamics of marketplaces. They were right, but oh so wrong. While the logic was true, the humanity was missing. The average person just heard that Uber was charging New Yorkers more post-hurricane... [greeting] emotion with facts. In the face of emotion, data can be a foreign language. It doesn't matter how loudly and slowly you say it, I don't understand. In fact, all you're doing is pissing me off.

This is how I feel about the NYC Marathon, which I will run this Sunday if they have it.  I understand that there are a lot of people who are going through some very difficult situations right now.  There isn't any part of me, however, that thinks that not holding the marathon will make food, shelter, water or power get any faster to anyone.  That feels like the people who say "Well, they can keep Times Square lit, so why can't they figure out a way to get power downtown?"  It just doesn't work that way.  It's a manpower and gallons pumped per minute issue.  You can't clean out electrical boxes faster than the pumps can take the water out of it and skilled engineers can splice new wires together. 

But people don't want to hear that.  Instead, if you check Facebook and Twitter posts, you hear people saying "People are dying, I don't care about your sub 4 hour time."

That's emotion talking--and there's something to be said for government not completely alienating the people it represents just because the data says it's ok to move forward with something.  That has serious long term effects.   People give up on government.  They fail to vote.  The smartest people don't want to participate in it.  They start blindly voting for "change" regardless of whether or not those who promise it are equipped to be leaders or can do things like simple arithmatic to balance a budget.

I think if they did run the marathon, it would bring in a ton of tax revenue and charitable donations, and not put anyone at further risk after the storm.  I think power will be back up for most people by the end of today--because I think the government is savvy enough to underpromise and overdeliver. 

But I still don't think it's a good idea to run it this Sunday, because it's not really what people need right now.  They need to feel like they have a government that is responsive and cares about them.  I think we have one, but it sure doesn't look like that when you look at images of homeless evacuees and hear stories of marathon runners potentially booting out Staten Islanders staying at hotels because they can't go back to their homes.  It kind of makes anyone who is fullly behind the marathon seem like they're on the wrong side of history.

Give it a week.  There's no way you can tell me that we can't push everything back.  It's such a monumental effort to make it happen at all, I can't imagine it's that big of an issue to give it more time.  I think after a week with power, regular commutting, most people will feel ok about it.  Lives of Rockaway, Staten Island, and NJ residents won't be the same by then--but that's going to take months if not years to fix.  The rest of us who were lucky enough to avoid their fate and just lose power for a week have to return to normalcy at some point, and I don't think a week delay is too much to ask.

If it happens, I'm going to run it.  I won't feel like it is diverting resources, but I will feel like there's a certain insensitivity to the whole thing--and if there's one thing I've learned from working with startups all these years is that sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is just listen and care, and stop looking at the numbers.


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