Uber and Lyft Will Collaborate With Public Transportation So You Don't Have to Own a Car

Uber and Lyft Will Collaborate With Public Transportation So You Don't Have to Own a Car
Image credit: cta web | Flickr

“When I was 15 or 16, your whole life revolved around saving up money to drive a car,” says David Plouffe, the chief advisor for and a board member at Uber. “Your entire social life revolved around the car. That is changing.”

Indeed: Ridesourcing technology companies such as Uber and Lyft are trying to build a future in which the idea of owning a car is a bit nostalgic. For consumers, not owning a car can be a big cost-saver. And for cities, getting more consumers to use shared modes of transportation is a way to decrease congestion.

To encourage Americans to detach with their generations-long obsession with car ownership, Uber and Lyft will be working ever more closely to integrate with public transportation systems. The San Francisco-based ridesourcing technology rivals say that means they will have to become the last-mile solution in areas where public transportation is just out of reach.

If Uber and Lyft can become an intuitive last-mile solution for consumers, the idea of not owning a car will become a reasonable option. “When you reach that tipping point of three or more shared modes [of transportation] that someone uses, that’s when they get rid of the vehicle, and that is the sort of robust ecosystem that is starting to develop now in major cities and increasingly metropolitan areas and suburban areas,” says Emily Castor, director of transportation policy for Lyft.

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Dallas is a front-runner in the integration of ridesourcing technology with local public transportation in the U.S. Within the Dallas-metro area, it's seamless for a customer to book a ride for the first or last mile of a trip on the public transit system. While Portland doesn’t have the same system integration as Dallas, one out of every four Uber trips begins or ends at a local rail station, says Plouffe. In Washington, D.C., 60 percent of Uber trips are within a quarter mile of a metro station, he adds.  

Uber and Lyft say that they do not compete with public transportation networks. Instead, the companies need to work with regional mass transit. “This is a huge opportunity for public-private collaboration,” says Castor.

Overwhelmingly, people use ridesourcing technology platforms such as Uber and Lyft when public transportation is not otherwise available. “There was a clear peak in ridesourcing demand between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. on weekends,” says Michael Melaniphy, the president and CEO of American Public Transportation Association, the national public transit advocacy group. The trend held across all seven cities that were surveyed for the report: Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles,San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. “This is the time of greatest demand overall and public transit is often unavailable in those hours.”

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Public transportation is still cheaper than ordering an Uber or Lyft in many instances. “Five bucks gets you all of our system all day. That’s a pretty good deal. Even our ridesharing colleagues can’t match that,” says Morgan Lyons, assistant vice president for community engagement for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, chuckling to the Uber and Lyft representatives. “And so folks like to use that.”

As more and more regional transportation systems bring their public transportation ticketing systems online, that will facilitate the integration of public transportation systems with Uber and Lyft. To goal is for a consumer to be able to book a ride that involves a combination of public transportation and ridesourcing through a single app.   

Castor, Plouffe, Lyons and Melaniphy were speaking on a conference call with reporters timed to the release of a report on that very topic, titled “Shared Mobility and the Transformation of Public Transit.” This new research paper is by the public-interest advocacy group, Shared-Use Mobility Center, released this week on behalf of American Public Transportation Association, and paid for with money from the Federal Transit Administration.

“Instead of needing to use a physical fare card, already in many cities, like Dallas, you can pay for your transit ticket on an app, and that really is important for our ability to create partnerships with transit because that brings them into our world,” says Castor. “It brings them into the world of technology-based transportation services where we can become increasingly interoperable.”

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Transforming the transportation networks in the U.S. will take more than just interoperable technology, though. It also depends on a shift in user behavior.

“Where we would like to see this go is that you have just got neighbors driving neighbors,” says Plouffe. The average Uber driver clocks fewer than 10 hours per month and that average is going to continue to decline. “Our view is that over the next few years, you are not even going to think about becoming an Uber driver. You are just going to say, ‘I am going to turn on my car, turn on my phone and if I can pick up someone along the way, that’s what I am going to do.’”

To be sure, that’s a reality that Uber would benefit from. But while improving technology and making networks integrated is a virtual given, changing consumer behavior is a far slower, more unpredictable art.

Edition: October 2016

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