Is Google trying to destroy America's public transportation system? It's possible, reports the Guardian, which obtained documents from Sidewalk Labs, a Google spinoff and "secretive subsidiary" of Alphabet. Columbus, Ohio, beat out more than 70 other cities for a chance to work with Sidewalk Labs and its Flow software, according to Columbus Business First. Sidewalk Labs and Flow would drastically change how people get around and park in the city. One of the most eye-catching parts of its plans, as laid out in the documents obtained by the Guardian, is redirecting public money that usually goes to subsidies for low-income residents to ride the bus to subsidies for them to ride Uber and other ride-sharing services.
The Verge calls this “essentially privatizing public travel under the aegis of Alphabet.” And Engadget points out Alphabet has an interest in steering people away from the bus and toward ride-sharing, as it owns part of Uber and is developing a self-driving car for taxi-like services. Other parts of Sidewalk Labs' plans include mapping public parking spaces and directing drivers to empty spots, requiring cities to take parking payments through its own software, and charging more for parking during in-demand times (something Engadget compares to Uber surge pricing). It also has plans for an Airbnb-like system for renting private parking spots to drivers. Experts warn all of this would make cities beholden to Alphabet for basic services and require large investments of public money. Sidewalk Labs says it just wants to help.