Letter From the Future: Dear Apple iMobility Customer Service…
Why mobility-as-a-service will turn transportation into healthcare.
TO: Tim Cook, CEO
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
Re: Apple iMobility Customer Service
Dear Mr. Cook:
I’m writing to you about a problem with my monthly Apple iMobility “MultiPass” subscription service.
The problem is: It sucks.
Let’s start with what Apple promised in its Press Release:
“SAN FRANCISCO — September 8, 2022 — Apple today unveiled Apple iMobility, a single, intuitive app that combines the best ways to get from A to B, all in one place. Apple iMobility is a revolutionary platform aggregating all modes of transportation wherever you live—whether you ride, hail, pool, share or drive—via a convenient flat-rate subscription service, redefining Mobility-as-a-Service...”
One price to get me anywhere in NYC? Everything plus self-driving cabs? Loved the idea. I had lots of choices—DidiMo, Uber, Tesla, Toyota’s CommUt, WayMo, GoNow—but I’d been holding out for Apple. You were late to the game, which meant you were doing it right ... right? I was willing to pay a little more for upgraded cars and solo rides, so I happily lined up, in the rain, outside the Soho Apple store for Milla Jovovich to sign my Apple iMobility MultiPass.
Alas, iMobility ended up costing me a lot more than plain old mobility used to, and screwing me when I needed it the most. Why? Because mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) somehow turned into a clone of health insurance, and now there’s no escaping it.
Sadly, this story ends at a hospital, but not for the reasons you think.
How I Was Funneled Into MaaS
New Yorkers have always been highly mobile. I took the subway, and occasionally a bus. I owned a bike. Sometimes I took cabs. I even used to enjoy keeping a car in the city, when it was still possible to park on the street in lower Manhattan. (I had to, because I was priced out of my building’s garage when the resident 20 percent parking tax exemption was lifted and my spot hit $1,100/month.) Shopping around was no longer an option in 2019. Most of the garages downtown had been scrapped to build condos, many on top of automated self-driving car depots. Now, spots costs $1,600.
Alternate-side-of-the-street parking worked, until it didn’t. Thanks, Mayor McMillan. Rent wasn’t the only thing he thought was too damn expensive; thanks for expanding bike lanes to eat up the last free spots in lower Manhattan, then banning gas cars on alternate days, then human driving from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays.
Apple was right there behind McMillan, although no one knew it at the time.
I had no choice but to garage my car in New Jersey and take the PATH train on a trip outside the city ... just to take a trip outside the city. That really sucked on evenings and weekends. So much for picking up my mom at the airport.
The only thing more annoying than the Vision Zero program was Driving Zero, which you backed along with everyone else pushing MaaS. Vision Zero made sense: use harsh penalties in the noble attempt to reduce automotive fatalities to zero. But since you couldn’t monetize moving violations or human drivers who own their cars, you lobbied for human-driving exclusion zones.
That was the final solution for people like me, who live in one such zone, which was obviously your plan all along. If we didn’t get priced out of city-based ownership, we were mandated out. Combined with your success in gutting public transportation, I joined the masses funneled into MaaS.
Cost In The Good Old Days
Before iMobility, my 2022 transportation costs looked like this:
NYC MTA Unlimited Ride Metrocard, including New Jersey PATH
10 taxi rides (yellow cabs/Uber)
2 Round-trip rides to JFK or EWR
Citibike, because you never know.
We’ll exclude my car, because based on what happened I’ll never give it up.
Cost With Apple iMobility
Apple offered what seemed like the perfect plan—the iMobility Pro Multi-Pass—which included:
Unlimited subway/bus rides/shared car rides (within NYC + NJ PATH)
12 solo taxi rides a month (in-network, within NYC borders)
2 solo round-trip rides to any airport
Access to bikeshare networks
I suppose I should have read the fine print.
How It All Went Wrong: The Defective Card
It didn’t happen all at once. At first, getting on the subway was really fun. I’d pull out my Multi-Pass, and it would automatically say “Multi-Pass” in the Leeloo Dallas voice when it was swiped. By the third day that was as cool as owning the U2 edition iPod pre-loaded with that album that sucked.
But my Multi-Pass wasn’t just embarrassing, it had a critical flaw. You have to use a physical card to get on the subway, because the iMobility app is not yet compatible with the turnstiles. When a NYC Metrocard is defective, you go to a station agent and get another one. No agent? Insert your card into a machine, chat with the AI bot, and you get another card.
An Apple iMobility Multi-Pass? Subway vending machines can’t replace them. They do like to eat them, though. I had no cash, but at least my phone was charged. I bought two SingleRides from the vending machine, went to work, then to the 24-hour 5th Avenue Apple store (sans appointment) and waited for two hours to see a Genius. They couldn’t replace it until the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority sent the card back to Apple—just like when an ATM ate your card before 2009.
A replacement was promised by mail within 7-14 days. Could I pick one up at an Apple Store? No. Would it be a Leeloo Dallas Limited Edition Multi-Pass? No. That was a Limited Edition, and would be destroyed upon receipt by Apple. So much for my Leeloo Dallas LImited Edition Multi-Pass. I could have bought a 7-day Metrocard for $70, but I wouldn’t get any of the other services I enjoyed with iMobility. If I bought what I used a la carte, I was screwed, so I bought a seven day generic Apple-branded Multi-Pass for $250, and hoped for the best.
Would the $250 be credited toward my monthly mobility bill?
“Go online,” said the Genius with the tats, “and fill out the form.”
My new card arrived 6 days later. Apple never received my old card from the MTA, so I never got the credit. Could Apple have tracked my card usage to prove that I was no longer using the original? No; the Apple and MTA back-ends aren’t connected, apparently. What if I’d just said I lost my card? I’d still have to wait until the end of the month, which really sucks if you lose your Multi-Pass at the beginning of the month.
Turns out I was lucky.
$600 + $8 + $250 = $858
I was now $38 over what I spent before iMobility.
A few weeks later Apple changed their policy. Apparently, the back-ends were always connected, but the customer service policy wasn’t yet in place. Still no refund, though. That was my first month.
How It All Went Wrong: The Out-Of-Network Surcharge
After I got my new Multi-Pass, everything was fine. Until the subway outage. Over a thousand people poured out of the station at Lafayette & Prince street, every one of us asking Siri, Cortana, or Alexa to summon the fastest mobility option our subscriptions entitled us to.
When 1,000 people simultaneously summon self-driving cars in the same place, and those people are split between six competing flat-rate mobility subscription platforms with varying caps and policies, and all the self-driving cars are owned by third parties looking to maximize their revenue, five things are going to happen: 1) a historic traffic jam, since self-driving cars aren’t good with thick crowds of people who can’t tell their self-driving ride-hail cars apart; 2) stacking cancellation charges, since people who can’t identify their ride ten feet away will just order another one, maybe twenty feet away, and not be able to find that one either; 3) only solo rides will be available; 4) cars will be rerouted toward users with premium plans; and 5) going outside of your plan gets very, very expensive.
Expensive as in: $126 for a ride that is normally $34. I would happily have tackled any number of people I saw to get into a yellow cab, but they no longer exist. Nor do municipal buses—at least, not as they used to.
So I waited 40 minutes for a pooled share car to become available. It cost me $86. Two hours later, I still hadn’t completed a trip to Brooklyn that would have taken 30 minutes by train.
I got out and decided to bike.
No CitiBikes or Mobikes were available. I spotted a Mobillette stand with one bike left. Mobillete? There’s always a French startup when you need one.
Guess what? Mobillette isn’t in the Apple iMobility network, which meant a $50 out-of-network fee (like a bad health insurance plan) plus a $25 one-way drop fee, like car rentals in the old days. CitiBike used to cost me $20 per month. How could a Mobillette cost $75 for 20 minutes? Pure criminality. I’ll never do that again.
$600 + $86 + $50 + $25 = $761
I was still $59 under what I used to spend before iMobility, so theoretically ahead of the game, but something didn’t feel right. If I still had a car in the city, I could have driven. I’ve got an EV, but it’s not self-driving. It would have been nearly free—if it were legal to drive it during daytime on a weekday.
That was my second month.
How It All Went Wrong: “It Only Smells”
New Year’s Eve always sucks, but who would have thought mobility could make it suck in so many new and exciting ways? My girlfriend and I summoned a car to go to a party. All we had to do was get to midtown. We got in and instantly noticed someone had vomited in the car. A superficial cleanup had been attempted by a cleaning bot at some nearby depot, but if we stayed in that car more than sixty seconds we were both going to replicate what must have happened no more than thirty minutes prior.
Unfortunately, we were already in motion.
“Driver,” I said to the bot, “stop the car. We have to get out.”
“I cannot stop here,” it replied in a soothing female voice. “This is a no-stopping zone.”
I could see my girlfriend starting to heave.
“Turn off immediately,” I said. “Take the next side street.”
“I’m afraid it is illegal to make turns northbound between here and 23rd street. Would you like to change your destination?”
Now I was starting to heave as well. “Stop the car!”
“I’m afraid we cannot stop here safely. Do you have an emergency? We can notify the police and reroute to the nearest—”
“No!” I gagged. “Someone vomited in the car, I feel sick!”
“I assure you,” said the bot, “the car was thoroughly cleaned. It only smells—”
“Stop now!” I yelled, then threw up. Then my girlfriend threw up on my pants.
“It would appear,” said the bot, “that you may have a medical emergency. I shall reroute immediately to Mount Sinai hospital. ETA is seven minutes.”
“Take us back,” I groaned, “to the pickup point.”
“For your own safety, I shall proceed to the ER at Mount Sinai...”
Neither of us were in any condition to object. Our car was given traffic priority, and for the first time I felt an autonomous car drive itself like a human would drive. We both vomited again, she on herself and I on her. Her dress was ruined. So was the jacket I inherited from my dead father, and my favorite pants.
Tickets to the party we missed? $250 each.
Dry cleaning one dress, one vintage corduroy jacket, and some cool plaid pants? $150
Taking another self-driving cab home covered in vomit? Priceless.
$600 + $500 + $150 = $1250
That was yesterday, the end of my third month with Apple iMobility, which cost me $430 more than what would have happened in the good old days, when a human driver would have stopped and let us out. I suppose that’s not Apple’s fault, except that it is. Apple led the industry in pushing to ban human drivers where I live, so you’re at least partially responsible for my holiday disaster.
A Little Advice, and a Request
Hey, Tim, here’s a lesson for you: technology ≠ solution. Technology is the means to a solution. Technology is only as good as the decisions that go into deploying it. You’re Apple. If you don’t control it, don’t put your brand on it.
Please cancel my Multi-Pass. I’m moving to Dallas. They’ll never outlaw human driving there, and I’ll have my own driveway that no one can take from me.
If you want, you can also send me $550 dollars for the New Year’s incident. It would go a long way toward me not publishing this letter on TheDrive.com.
Actually, I will anyway. The people deserve to know.
Alex Roy is an Editor-at-Large for The Drive, author of The Driver, and set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in 31 hours & 4 minutes. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.