That’s part of the story in Chicago. There, rail-transit performance and ridership are strong, but buses are another story. Joseph Schwieterman, the director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, told an audience at the TRB conference that in some cases, TNCs may be “filling a void” where bus service has fallen short of neighborhood needs. Without much TNC data to draw on, Schwieterman and his research colleagues studied the trade-offs between time and cost that riders make when choosing between transit and UberPool in the Chicago area—by actually making 50 real-life trips themselves.
The results are about what you’d expect: UberPool tends to win on time, while the Chicago Transit Authority tends to win on cost. The most time-saving UberPool trips were between residential neighborhoods where rail stations don’t generally extend, and where bus-service gaps are the widest.
It’s a good thing that TNCs are mobilizing passengers in transit-scarce neighborhoods. And Chicago isn’t the only place that’s happening—similar patterns have emerged in New York and San Francisco, where Uber and Lyft rides are also serving lower-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color more than yellow cabs used to. On-demand mobility is also proving to be transformative for many underserved population groups, including the elderly, the disabled, and people in need of medical care.
Ride-hailing doesn’t have to end up leaving cities worse off. Asked for comment, Chelsea Harrison, a Lyft spokesperson, emphasized the potential benefits of its Lyft Line carpool service. “[A]s more people choose to share the ride we’ll be able to even further reduce congestion and carbon emissions while making transportation more affordable for everyone,” she said. (Uber did not respond to a request for comment.)
But public officials are responsible for ensuring that future. After initially battling (with mixed success) to regulate Uber and Lyft like taxi companies, many cities have since embraced ride-hailing services as an antidote to car dependence. Now a growing body of research is proving that, overall, this isn’t the case. “It’s the job of city and transit officials to chart the path to incorporate TNCs into city transport networks in ways that work for everyone, including other motorists, delivery companies and bus riders,” Schaller said via email.
What might that path look like? Based on these studies and others, it seems the best defense is a good offense: High-quality public transit may be the only way to keep more-affluent riders onboard. Second, putting a tax on TNC trips, as Chicago has done, may also discourage unnecessary solo trips and raise funds to keep transit top-notch. Policies like congestion pricing—for which Uber has expressed vocal support—may do the same. And third, as creative as they are, studies like these make a clear case for the need for more data from on-demand companies themselves.
This post appears courtesy of CityLab.
*This article originally stated that the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency was involved in collecting trip data, and omitted the involvement of researchers at Northeastern University. We regret the error.