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How Cities are Integrating Rideshare and Public Transportation

Transit agencies and rideshare providers often share the smartphone as a user interface, making app integration an obvious, low-cost choice for partnership.

This article was originally published on Data-Smart City Solutions.

Responding to the proliferation of commuting options brought on by the sharing economy (carshare, rideshare, and bikeshare, among others), transit agencies around the country are reevaluating how they can best support mobility in their cities and suburbs. A number of agencies have partnered with commercial rideshare providers in efforts to address late-night service interruptions and commuter parking shortages, as well as a host of other issues. Below is a selection of major recent trends in transit-rideshare collaborations, with examples from some of the cities exploring them.

Integrating Transit and Rideshare Apps

Transit agencies and rideshare providers often share the smartphone as a user interface, making app integration an obvious, low-cost choice for partnership. Atlanta, GA links its transit app, MARTA on the Go, to the Uber app, so commuters can easily hail a ride when they reach their final public transit destinations. The integration helps bridge the “last mile,” when one’s final destination is too far from a public transit node to comfortably walk. Moreover, rideshare-transit app integration facilitates late-night travel when service is reduced or interrupted. According to Uber, hundreds of thousands of rideshare trips start or end their journeys at MARTA stations each year, meaning app integration (coupled with a promotional discount) simply eases the way users are already employing rideshare services to complement transit. Dallas, TX has embarked on a similar collaboration with Lyft.

Subsidizing Rides

Summit, NJ has taken transit-rideshare integration a step further by undertaking a six-month, 100-person pilot program in which the city is subsidizing Uber rides to and from its transit station in order to reduce parking demand. By the city’s logic, the cost of subsidizing Uber rides will be competitive with the price of building new parking spaces to accommodate the vehicles left by commuters near the station each day.

At the moment, the pilot program seems to make financial sense. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, constructing a multi-story garage to accommodate Summit’s current parking deficit would cost approximately $10 million, plus the opportunity cost of other resources that could be located on that land. Uber subsidies, on the other hand, are projected by the city to cost $167,000 a year for the 100 commuters in the pilot program. Pending the results of the six-month trial, the city will decide whether to scale up or down the number of rides they subsidize.

Altamonte Springs, FL, has taken a more general approach to subsidizing rideshare, promising to contribute twenty percent of the cost of every Uber trip taken within the city, with even greater subsidies for trips starting or ending at the city’s SunRail station. Unlike the pilot program in Summit, which is tasked with reducing parking congestion, Altamonte Springs $500,000 dollar, year-long program aims to assess how ridesharing can impact the city’s overall mobility needs.

Integrating Paratransit and Rideshare

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the average cost of a paratransit trip in 2010 was $29.30, three times the cost of providing bus and subway rides. In September 2016, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's paratransit service, The Ride, announced that it would subsidize up to $13 off paratransit trips provided by Lyft and Uber. Each ride would reportedly be 70% cheaper for the city than existing services. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has plans for a similar integration of rideshare into its paratransit program, anticipating savings of $6 million annually. Beyond the major benefit of significantly reducing cost, rideshare also offers the possibility of faster service. Rather than scheduling their trips days in advance, paratransit riders could instead meet their mobility needs as they arise. A main concern with this plan, however, is that many if not most rideshare contractors lack the credentials to transport disabled individuals, as well as the training to assist people with certain disabilities. Moreover, many cars employed for rideshare aren’t wheelchair accessible.

In addition to these major trends, a number of other collaboration are being piloted: WageWorks now allows users to pay for UberPool rides using pretax dollars in New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, and New Jersey; and cities are using rideshare services to accommodate increased transit demand during major events like St. Patrick’s Day in Dallas, TX, as well as Comic-Con and the MLB All-Star Game in San Diego, CA. In the private sector, landlords are extending rideshare credits to tenants who are willing to forego parking spaces in their buildings. And of course, there’s also the proliferation of cities allowing rideshare companies to use their streets as testing grounds for new autonomous vehicle programs.

Since many of these programs are still in their infancy, it’s difficult to know how effective they will be at reducing transit costs and improving service for commuters in the long run. However, the overall trend is unmistakable: transit agencies are increasingly becoming mobility agencies, agnostic in their approach to ensuring commuters can effectively transfer between a number of modes of transportation. A major driving force behind this evolution is the data-sharing enabled through the kinds of partnerships outlined above, which are empowering policymakers to holistically assess commuting patterns, diagnose shortcomings in the current menu of travel options, and measure the effectiveness of various solutions.