Ride-Hailing and Public Transit
The last decade has seen a tremendous rise of shared mobility modes, including carsharing, bikesharing, ridesourcing (services like Uber and Lyft), and private shuttles (like Bay-Area tech shuttles). Transit agencies often struggle with these new transportation options, unsure of how to coexist with them and afraid of competition. A new Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) report outlines the results of a survey of shared mobility users, interviews with transportation officials, and an analysis of the current state of the industry. The report offers five key findings, which are optimistic about the potential for transit agencies to work with private shared mobility companies to better serve riders:
- There is evidence that frequent users of shared mobility services use more transit, own fewer cars, and spend less on transportation than the general population.
- Shared modes complement, rather than compete with, transit in most situations.
- Public agencies should work with shared mobility companies to ensure they grow with an eye to equity.
- Players in both the private and public sectors see potential for collaborating on improved paratransit services
- Public-private partnerships present new opportunities for service provision.
Transportation and Lifestyle Choices
Among the survey respondents, people who use shared modes more use transit more, own fewer cars, and spend less on transportation. This is especially true of “supersharers,” people who regularly use several different kinds of shared modes.
One of the key findings of the TCRP survey is that transit and shared modes tend to serve different, complementary purposes. Transit is largely used for commuting, while personal vehicles (followed by shared modes) are more common for running errands. Ridesourcing competes more with traditional taxis than with transit, and is most popular overnight when transit service is limited.
Like transit, bikeshare is popular at peak hours. However, it’s unclear exactly what the relationship between the two modes is. In areas with more limited transit options, there is evidence that bikeshare increases transit ridership by providing first-mile, last-mile connections. But in other cities, bikeshare may compete with transit for short trips.
As shared modes grow, the public sector has a responsibility to ensure their benefits are equitably distributed. Concerns include internet access, the ability of unbanked customers to pay for services, and the applicability of federal transit benefit programs. Local agencies can deal with these issues by directly partnering with shared mobility companies or by using their institutional power to regulate them.
One interesting finding of the survey was that respondents who use only transit were much more likely than users of multiple shared modes to get service information from transit-provided tools. While third-party transit apps are increasingly popular among certain populations, transit agencies still need to provide their own tools to best serve riders.
Paratransit is incredibly important, but also increasingly difficult and expensive to provide. The rise of shared mobility offers new possibilities for providing ADA service. In the short-term, transit agencies should consider integrating technology typical of shared modes, such as dynamic reservation systems and dynamic dispatching, into their existing service. Looking forward, there is potential for public-private partnerships in which private ridesourcing and microtransit operators directly provide paratransit services. For this to happen, agencies will need to work with regulatory bodies to ensure that private operators can meet compliance standards.
Emerging Business Models and Partnerships
Transit agencies are already starting to partner with the private sector to improve service. The TCRP report outlines four main categories of public-private partnership agencies should consider:
- Cross-modal integration - Agencies are working to partner with the private sector on fare collection and trip planning. In Los Angeles, the city partnered with Xerox to develop a wayfinding app called Go LA that gives directions using a wide variety of modes, including transit, carsharing, bikesharing, and ridesourcing. In Portland, TriMet worked with moovel North America to develop a app that allows users to request and pay for Lyft rides.
- Dynamic demand-response - Traditional public transportation struggles in areas with dispersed demand. New microtransit technologies have the potential to more efficiently serve these areas. Denver’s Regional Transportation District has a program called Call-n-Ride, which uses web-based reservations and dynamic dispatching to serve riders in low-density areas for the same fare price as in the rest of the system. The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) is partnering with Bridj, with the private app being used to request rides in KCATA vehicles.
- Private access to public right-of-way - The public right-of-way is a valuable resource that cities can use as leverage to shape the behavior of private shared mobility companies. The District of Columbia has a program that allows one-way carshare users to park in residential permit zones. In exchange, the operator must ensure that vehicles are available in all parts of the city, including specific low-income neighborhoods.
- Service links - One of the most-discussed partnerships involves the use of ridesourcing for first-mile, last-mile connections. Dallas and Atlanta have systems whereby first-time Uber users can sign up for a free trip. More directly, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in Florida is piloting a program to provide subsidized Uber or taxi trips to connect riders with bus service.
While shared modes pose challenges to transit agencies in terms of potential competition and regulatory difficulties, they also present great opportunities. The report outlines six big-picture steps agencies to take to simultaneously encourage private innovation and protect the public interest:
- Change performance metrics - Current mobility metrics like route ridership and passenger revenue-miles are insufficient for maximizing the efficiency of transit. To get a broader view of mobility, agencies should also look at metrics like increases in linked multimodal trips and reductions in vehicle miles traveled and solo car trips.
- Extend fare integration and mobile payment - Integrating fare systems makes it easy to subsidize linked rides and encourage multimodal transportation. In-depth Title VI analysis will be needed to ensure that this integration does not adversely impact disadvantaged groups.
- Make information widely available - Transit agencies should work to develop standards for payment and privacy, and build all digital tools with accessibility in mind. Private companies currently benefit from a great deal of open data provided by agencies. Agencies must demand data reciprocity to better understand the effects of private shared mobility companies.
- Cultivate public-private partnerships - Successful partnerships are based on information. It’s important to establish local assets and needs that can be linked to specific goals. Information-sharing sessions can help coordinate regional stakeholders and industry representatives.
- Prioritize accessibility and equity - The deployment of new technologies must be done with an eye to riders with low-incomes, physical or mental disabilities, and varying levels of technological literacy. Provisions should also be made for unbanked riders and outlying communities that are traditionally underserved by transit.
- Emphasize mobility - One main takeaway from this report should be that mobility is bigger than any single agency. Consider creating cross-agency working groups to coordinate transportation operations. People increasingly get around using multiple public and private modes, and best serving them means supporting a whole range of mobility options.
Committee for Review of Innovative Urban Mobility Services. (2015) Between public and private mobility: examining the rise of technology-enabled transportation services. Transit Cooperative Research Program Special Report 319.
- This TCRP report provides more background on the rise of shared mobility. It details regulatory issues such as labor, safety, insurance, and equity.
- This paper looks at the relationship between bikesharing and transit ridership. It finds that bikesharing increases bicycle ridership and reduces personal automobile use. Bikesharing can increase transit use in areas with less-intensive public transit networks and reduce transit use in areas with more-intensive ones.
Rayle, L., Shaheen, S., Chan, N., Dai, D., & Cervero, R. (2014). App-based, on-demand ride services: comparing taxi and ridesourcing trips and user characteristics in San Francisco. University of California Transportation Center.
- This white paper presents the results of a survey of ridesourcing users in San Francisco. The survey indicates that while ridesourcing can substitute for long public transit trips, it generally complements transit.