Research Finds that Uber Complements Public Transit

New research points to something that some city-dwellers already know: that ridesharing apps, such as Lyft and Uber complement existing public transit. That is, they serve a different purpose and work together to enhance urban mobility and reduce the need for private autos.

Released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and conducted by the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC), Shared Mobility and the Transformation of Public Transit is described the first independent, multi-city evaluation to support claims that public transit and ridesourcing offer reciprocal benefits. SUMC confirmed by e-mail that the study was done without participation by Uber or Lyft and that private companies do not inform their research.

The findings are based on interviews with more than 70 officials, a survey of 4,500 shared mobility users, and analysis of Uber and transit data completed in part by querying Uber’s API in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. The research suggests that those who used the widest variety of modes of transit realize the greatest benefits.

“Together, shared mobility and transit create a robust network of choices that can help reduce household transportation costs, lessen congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and make it possible to live well without owning a car,” says Sharon Feigon, the study’s principal investigator and executive director of SUMC. “These findings further underscore the need for cities and private providers to work together to address transportation gaps and expand access to jobs, opportunity and a better quality of life for all residents.”

Here are the key findings from the report:

1. The more people use shared modes, the more likely they are to use public transit, own fewer cars, and spend less on transportation overall. “Supersharers”—people who routinely use several shared modes, such as bikesharing, carsharing (e.g. car2go or Zipcar), and ridesourcing (e.g. Lyft or Uber)—save the most money and own half as many household cars as people who use public transit alone.

2. Shared modes complement public transit, enhancing urban mobility. Ridesourcing services are most frequently used for social trips between 10pm and 4am, times when public transit runs infrequently or is not available. Shared modes substitute more for automobile trips than public transit trips.

3. Shared modes will continue to grow in significance, and public entities should identify opportunities to engage with them to ensure that benefits are widely and equitably shared. Public transit agencies should seize opportunities to improve urban mobility for all users through collaboration and public-private partnerships, including greater integration of service, information and payment methods.

4. The public sector and private operators are eager to collaborate to improve paratransit service using emerging approaches and technology. While a number of regulatory and institutional hurdles complicate partnerships in this area, technology and business models from the shared mobility industry can help drive down costs, increase service availability and improve rider experience.

Other notable findings from the research include the following

  • Ridesourcing services are used most frequently for social trips between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
  • The more people use shared modes, the more likely they are to use public transit, own fewer cars, and spend less on transportation overall
  • As shared mobility continues to grow in significance, public entities should engage with the private sector to ensure that benefits are widely and equitably shared. Lower-income households have much to gain from wider availability of shared mobility.
  • Both the public and private sectors are eager to collaborate to improve paratransit service using emerging approaches and technology

The report also includes recommended actions for public entities to expand the benefits of shared mobility, including:

  • Mapping local mobility assets and needs to direct investment
  • Supporting the development and adoption of shared mobility information standards
  • Ensuring data reciprocity from the private sector
  • Coordinating multiple agencies and modes toward common mobility goals

Now all that's needed is ridesourcing solutions that are democratically owned and operated. If the new driver-owned ridesourcing company Juno and the rise of taxi cooperatives are any indication, this is coming.

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