Transit Dispatches

Contributing bloggers discuss a variety of topics geared toward the transit and motorcoach sectors.

Back to the list

November 15, 2013

Why Transit Should Pay Attention to Uber

by Brian Antolin - Also by this author

One of the biggest local transport innovations in recent years has been Uber, the technology company that created a platform for independent private sedans to connect with riders who want to travel. You can “hail” a car, track it in real time and pay for your ride using an app on your smart phone. Their rapid expansion from their inception in 2009, both domestically and internationally, has garnered loyal fans, competition from other transport companies and controversy over their operating practices.  

So why should transit operators care?

Although Uber doesn’t consider itself a transportation provider, they inadvertently implemented a 21st century solution to transit’s biggest problem today: adapting to new travel patterns and behaviors. The idea here is not to replicate Uber’s business model, but to apply its operating principles in meeting the public’s travel needs. In other words, transit organizations can utilize app-based logistics systems to create on-demand bus services.  

The goal is to create more opportunities to achieve profitable revenue service hours for transit vehicles. In major cities, transit organizations have to operate an unbalanced service plan to meet peak demand. They have high supply during the morning and evening, but have to scale back during off-peak hours.

To meet demand, organizations have to include non-revenue operating hours, off-duty employee hours and idle equipment hours. In less densely populated areas, transit organizations are only able to operate limited schedules because of their resources, thus reducing the likelihood of public patronage. These underutilized resources contribute to a higher cost per operating hour, thus driving up the level of subsidy needed to fund the service. By creating and implementing a better way to scale and meet demand at all hours, organizations will be able to induce more riders to travel, increase bottom line revenue and decrease reliance on subsidies.

Technology alone is not the answer, as the equipment used is equally important. Not all services or areas require a fixed route or high capacity buses. In many cases, an on-demand service using smaller buses or vans can drive more people to transit because they can access a wider array of city, suburban, and rural streets. With this model, service managers can reallocate drivers and vehicles to where people are in real time, thereby creating more passenger trips. Furthermore, they can reduce potential dead-mile costs in positioning by optimally routing vehicles to transport passengers in moving in the direction of the “hot spot.”

The on-demand service model is not new or far-fetched. Many paratransit operations manage reservation-based door-to-door services, including Access-A-Ride in New York City, CCT Connect in Philadelphia and SF Paratransit in San Francisco. These services generally use a mix of mini buses, vans and cars to transport these riders, a model which could also fit an on-demand general public operation.

Other organizations, such as the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD), already operate flex-route services. Denver’s Call-n-Ride service uses mini buses or vans operating on a fixed route that will divert to areas within a certain radius away from the route by advanced reservation.  

Should transit organizations give up on high-capacity buses and fixed-route service? Of course not, as each has its own use and need. The best solution is a mix of both fixed-route and on-demand service, similar to what RTD Denver currently has. On-demand transit services managed through a mix of app, text, phone and/or Web-based interfaces makes transit more accessible. Even more important, this service model allows transit operators to better react to real-time changes in passenger demand.

By synergizing available resources to where and when they are needed, transit organizations have an opportunity to increase revenue and decrease costs. Meeting ridership demand today means being creative in how service is offered and delivered. This is a good first step toward that.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "'Leadership Circle' Brings Together Transportation, Tech Visionaires."

Brian Antolin

Consultant, Transportation and Travel Industry


Write a letter to the editor
deli.cio.us digg it stumble upon newsvine


  • Dharm Guruswamy[ November 15th, 2013 @ 12:01pm ]

    The thing is that other than fixed demand service be it door to door, or routes that deviate are extremely expensive to operate. If a transit agency has the resources to provide this service, for the most part they are. However, most agencies are struggling to maintain fixed route services and don't have the luxury of running other types of services.

  • Eric Marx [ November 18th, 2013 @ 7:24pm ]

    Fixed route operations require complementary ADA Paratransit and must meet all trip requests for qualified riders. Operating a flex route service meets both needs, allowing scarce fiscal resources to go farther.

  • Lauren Wave[ November 21th, 2013 @ 11:17am ]

    We are running an incredibly unique service in Houston of jitneys. We are private and funded by just me. If I had the funds to develop an app, I would. I think Uber has the ability at this point to do what is right & share the resource with those putting the real money in the business and the real risk in the business with vehicles and drivers and passengers.

E-NEWSLETTER

Receive the latest Metro E-Newsletters in your inbox!

Join the Metro E-Newsletters and receive the latest news in your e-mail inbox once a week. SIGN UP NOW!

View the latest eNews
Express Tuesday | Express Thursday | University Transit

Author Bio

Heather Redfern

Press Relations Officer, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority


Scott Belcher

President and CEO, Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America)


Joel Volinski

Director, National Center for Transit Research at CUTR/USF


Brian Antolin

Consultant, Transportation and Travel Industry


Joe Zavisca

Joe Zavisca is an independent consultant specializing in paratransit service.


Paul Mackie

Communications Director, Mobility Lab

Paul Mackie is communications director at Mobility Lab, a leading U.S. voice of “transportation demand management.”


Rob Taylo

Founder/CEO SinglePoint Communications

Rob Taylo is founder/CEO of SinglePoint Communications, an exclusive U.S. distributor of WiFi in Motion.


Zack Shubkagel

Partner/Creative Director of Willoughby Design

Zack Shubkagel is partner and creative director for the San Francisco office of Willoughby Design, a strategic branding and design firm.


Amy Snyder

Communications Specialist, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District


White Papers

Mass Transit Capital Planning An overview of the world-class best practices for assessing, prioritizing, and funding capital projects to optimize resources and align with the organization’s most critical immediate and long-term goals.

The Benefits of Door-to-Door Service in ADA Complementary Paratransit Many U.S. transit agencies continue to struggle with the quality of ADA service, the costs, and the difficulties encountered in contracting the service, which is the method of choice for a significant majority of agencies. One of the most basic policy decisions an agency must make involves whether to provide door-to-door, or only curb-to-curb service.

Mass transit mobile Wi-Fi & the public sector case study How Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority successfully implemented Wi-Fi on its light rail and bus lines

More white papers


STORE
METRO Magazine Fact Book - 2014

There are the Highlights:
  • Industry Analysis: Economic Impact of Public Transportation
  • Industry Data
    And Much More…..
  •  
    DIGITAL EDITION

    The full contents of Metro Magazine on your computer! The digital edition is an exact replica of the print magazine with enhanced search, multimedia and hyperlink features. View the current issue