Uber, Lyft have opportunity to complement local transit networks

Posted on May 14, 2015 by Paul Mackie - Also by this author

We hear a lot about how Uber and Lyft are impacting traditional taxis, but what of their potential impact on public transit?

Tech-enabled ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft already appear to be acting as a complement to public transit. Uber analyzed its Los Angeles trip data to in this light. Over the course of a month, Uber found that 22 percent of trips taken near Metro stations took place during rush hour (between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday). This data could be telling us that people are using Uber like they might use bikeshare, as a last-mile and first-mile connection to transit.

Transit doesn’t serve certain areas well, or even at all. In such places, ride-hailing can make a public transit trip more attractive than driving by offering an easy connection between home and the transit system. Once the initial barrier is reduced, riders may find transit to be the best option.

On the other hand, ride-hailing could actually be stealing riders from transit. If the same trip can be completed in less time with an Uber or Lyft than using the Metro, some riders will choose the speedier option. However, at the moment, it is unlikely that hordes of people will abandon transit for ride-hailing simply because transit is still less expensive.

But, with the advent of Lyft Line and UberPool, that cost difference may become less of an issue. These services start to resemble traditional buses in that they are picking up and dropping off strangers along a route. While not exactly synonymous, one could see the development of higher capacity vehicles lowering cost and converging more and more with transit buses. The popularity of these services is clear. In the first two months of its service in San Francisco, one third of all Lyfts are Lyft Lines.

John Zimmer and Logan Green, co-founders of Lyft.
John Zimmer and Logan Green, co-founders of Lyft.
Photo: JD Lasica/Flickr

Do we have to worry about the imminent demise of public transit? By no means. But it would do transit agencies well to take a hint from some of the more enterprising traditional taxi operators: look at the incursion of new transportation options as a challenge to improve service. Reduce wait times, upgrade vehicles, and make travel more convenient by using technology like GPS tracking to display next bus and train arrivals.

Transit agencies should indeed be very excited about these new complementary transportation options to their own services. If ride-hailing companies can cut total vehicle trips in congested areas, they can work side-by-side with local officials and planners to improve the quality of life in places where Uber, Lyft, and public transit coexist.

(This story by Chris Plano was originally published by Mobility Lab.)

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