How the Uber effect will reinvent public transit

Source: Rahul Kumar, American City & County, February 15, 2017

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) came to the headline-grabbing conclusion that up to 95 percent of New York City taxi rides could be met through only 2,000 on-demand 10-person shuttles. The study demonstrates what companies like Uber and Lyft are striving toward, but also what many public transit agencies are struggling to address: that future transportation systems will seamlessly and dynamically match riders with the best transit modes and routes. … Existing fixed route-based transit systems are just that: fixed. There are plenty of advantages to these systems, not the least of which is operational simplicity. But our nation’s backbone of transit agencies – often overburdened and underfunded – should be asking themselves “what service options do riders want?” as opposed to “what service options are the easiest for us to deliver?” The answer is personal public transit. This concept of on-demand mobility isn’t all that new, however. … Another issue is the cost and operation of paratransit. … Transit agencies from Boston to Washington have recently started to look to partners like Uber and Lyft to help provide a ride-hailing option to relieve fiscal and infrastructure pressures. A 2016 Brookings report estimates transit agencies could save $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion per year using ride-hailing companies for paratransit, based on an average $13 to $18 per ride. However, the secret here is that versus transit these savings do not scale up very well; ride-hailing services are really not designed to handle simultaneous, multiple trips efficiently, therefore even a bus with six passengers on it has less of a cost impact than six separately ordered Uber vehicles. … Forward-thinking city planners in Gainesville, Fla., and Helsinki are reevaluating the traditional transit equation and instead choosing to co-opt ridesharing and even autonomous vehicle technology to fill current service gaps in less densely populated areas. … Solving the inefficiency riddle will ultimately require transit agencies, technology companies and other innovators to seamlessly work together to maximize social benefits because public transit benefits every American—even if you don’t ride.


Cities release invoices showing Uber bills
Source: Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel, January 25, 2017

Five Central Florida cities that cut deals with Uber hoping to boost SunRail ridership have released records revealing how much money they will pay the ride-sharing service, which the company had hoped to keep a “trade secret.” Cities began receiving invoices this week that tabulated costs through Jan. 17, which just surpasses the halfway point of the yearlong program. To that date, the highest total came from Altamonte Springs, which has paid for $14,863.59 in Uber rides. Sanford received a bill showing it owed $7,869.99. Additionally, Lake Mary owes $723.38 and Longwood owes $681.17, and Maitland owes $324.65 records show. In July, the cities began the one-year pilot with Uber to cover 25 percent of Uber fares on rides that start or finish at a SunRail station, and also start or finish within a city’s limits. Cities also cover 20 percent of rides on trips that start and finish within the borders of participating cities. …

Can public transit and ride-share companies get along?
Source: Kyle Shelton, The Conversation, September 22, 2016

In Centennial, Colorado and Altamonte Springs, Florida, residents and visitors can now get a free ride to the nearest train station. The ride is paid for by the local public transit agency, but it’s not a public bus that makes the trip. Rather, it’s a car driven by someone working for ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber. There are potential public benefits – the hope of increased ridership, better service for hard-to-serve areas and cost and equipment efficiencies. Competition could push sometimes slow-moving transit agencies to innovate and improve. There are also risks. Ride-sharing companies have devastated the private taxi market, effectively undercutting the entire industry in some cities. Mobility rights advocates and transit employees fear the same thing could happen to public transit, remaking, under private ownership, the way millions of Americans get around every day. … A likely outcome of ride-share and authority interaction is more of what is already taking shape in Colorado, Florida and many other locales – small-scale, replicable cooperation. Centennial and Altamonte Springs are attempting to address what is know in the transportation sector as the “first mile/last mile” problem. The idea is that many potential transit riders don’t use the service because it’s too far from either the beginning or end of a given trip. Offering ride-sharing as a way to connect from the doorway to the transit stop may help overcome this issue. … The biggest question about these new relationships is how well they meet riders’ needs over time. Disability rights advocates have already warned that substituting ride-share services for existing agency-run paratransit programs – on-demand rides for users with disabilities – may be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Public agencies and most private transportation companies are bound to provide these services to all users, but it’s not yet clear whether newer ride-sharing companies must also – or how contracting with a government agency might require it. …

Uber finds a partner with some public transit systems
Source: Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 19, 2016

Public transit agencies across the country are entering into partnerships with ride-sharing service Uber to supplement their service. The partnerships range from direct subsidies for Uber riders heading to transit stops in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area to joint marketing in Philadelphia and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. The programs make sense for both groups because they both get increased ridership, officials say. Uber couldn’t be reached for comment on the programs, but transit agencies said the partnerships have helped to increase ridership on their systems. In Florida, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority ran a six-month trial that began in March during which the authority supplemented half the cost of an Uber rider’s trip up to $3 to or from a transit stop in a small, underserved part of its system. Media liaison Ashlie Handy said the deal with Uber wouldn’t allow her to release exact numbers, but the program was so successful that beginning Oct. 1 it will be expanded throughout the authority’s service area. … The program actually saved the authority money because it eliminated two little-used routes in the area that cost about $140,000 a year. The Uber subsidy cost $40,000. Pinellas Suncoast also operates another program in conjunction with Uber. Bus service ends by 11 p.m., which means public transit isn’t available for workers on second or third shifts. The agency received a $300,000 federal grant to 23 free rides a month between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. with Uber or United Taxi. … In Philadelphia, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority had a cross-promotion with Uber to encourage transit riders to use the service to get to 11 specific train stations along its commuter rail system. Uber offered riders a 40 percent discount if they were going to or coming from a train station. …

Arlington studying a plan that would pay for your Uber to Metro
Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post, August 16, 2016

Arlington County is looking to partner with transportation providers such as Uber and Lyft to offer residents rides from more remote residential areas of the county where bus service to Metro stations is limited. The on-demand option would replace some fixed bus service in north Arlington. … It could take a couple of years before such a program launches, but county transportation officials say they want to do so as soon as possible. Arlington joins a growing number of U.S. transit agencies that are exploring partnerships with the popular app-based companies to leverage their success and improve service to residents. … That report concluded there’s robust public support for marrying transit with ridershare and urges transit agencies to embrace ridershare as a way to make transportation more widely available to people of all backgrounds. It said that “shared-use modes expand options for lower income households.”

Arlington eyes subsidized Uber or Lyft rides to Metro stations
Source: Drew Hansen, Washington Business Journal, August 16, 2016

Arlington County is eyeing partnerships with on-demand ride-sharing providers to offer subsidized trips for residents in areas where bus service isn’t very robust. According to The Washington Post, the potential partnerships with the likes of Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. would replace some bus lines in the north end of the county. … Arlington officials say the project is in early stages, but that they have discussed it with Uber and Lyft, according to the report. A partnering company would be selected after more study from Arlington officials. Both Uber and Lyft have sought similar partnerships in other U.S. jurisdictions. Three areas in the northern part of the county— where the little-used Arlington Transit route 53 runs — are under consideration for the service. Providing on-demand rides would be more cost-effective than operating full-service bus lines with low ridership, Reinfeld told the Post. …

Uber and Lyft want to replace public buses
Source: Joshua Brustein, Chicago Tribune, August 15, 2016

In Uber’s early days, it said it wanted to be “everyone’s private driver.” Now the company and its main U.S. competitor, Lyft, are playing around with the idea of becoming the bus driver, too. Uber has partnered with a handful of local public transportation agencies to strike deals like the one in Pinellas Park, which it expanded earlier this month. Later this month Lyft plans to launch a partnership with Centennial, Col., its first deal where a local government will subsidize its rides. The company also said it has helped a dozen transit agencies apply for federal grants that would pay for a portion of Lyft fares in situations where its drivers would effectively become part of the public transportation system. … Over the past several years, ride-hailing companies and local government officials have often had an uneasy, sometimes outright hostile relationship over regulation. The public transportation deals have been an oasis of rapprochement between them. In part, the ride-hailing deals are too small to seem threatening, according to Kyle Shelton, a program manager at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. “It may affect some routes; it may affect service overall; but it’s not going to replace the main lines that carry thousands of riders per day,” he said. …

… Issues of control are going to test these friendships, said Shelton and Tomer. Local governments are eager for data about ridership that they can use to reconfigure services, and Uber and Lyft tend to see information about demand as trade secrets. If ride hailing does drive down car ownership, as both Uber and Lyft expect it will, that could increase demand for subsidized rides, leaving governments holding the tab for new forms of semi-public transit. …

How Lyft and Uber can improve transit agency budgets
Source: Joseph Kane, Adie Tomer and Robert Puentes, Brookings Institute, March 8, 2016

The emergence of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft seems to pose a direct challenge to the nation’s overburdened and underfunded transit agencies, potentially siphoning off patrons most able to pay full fare. Yet, amid competition, there exists a real opportunity for collaboration in providing mobility to the agencies’ neediest customers. … One avenue for collaboration between these start-up firms and traditional transit agencies may be around so-called demand response services. Primarily geared toward disadvantaged individuals, these taxi-like services provide a lifeline to needy residents in urban and rural areas. But they also carry a heavy cost, and transit agencies from Boston to Washington are starting to look toward TNCs as a potential partner. The long-term implications of arrangements like these involve a number of structural issues that transportation leaders need to confront.