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Are TNCs Destroying Public Transit?

According to our recent poll which asked our audience if they feel that rideshare companies like Lyft/Uber are reducing overall ridership of public transportation – the results are a toss-up. Just 5% more voters chose yes, which is a very small margin based on the overall number of votes received.

After doing some research, it seems that the “yes” opinion is very passionate. According to a study done by 3 engineering professors at the University of Kentucky, “Public transit ridership in major US cities has been flat or declining…”(between 2015 and 2019) – they go on to cite that based on their study, they feel that for every year thereafter Transportation Network Companies (which is a more accurate name for “rideshare” companies) enter into an area, public transit ridership is expected to decrease by anywhere from 1.3-1.7% based on type, and could very well build with each passing year.

The argument against, and not surprisingly, BY popular TNCs is that they actually help connect riders to public transportation for those last few miles, or more, in rural areas. Unfortunately the yes side has some very valid arguments against this as well. In an article written by Jarrett Walker, a popular blogger and international consultant in public transit network design and policy – there are 2 valid reasons why he does not believe that TNCs are “partners of public transit.”

  1. Uber and Lyft really do not want short trips as they are not profitable and not seen as desirable by their drivers either.
  2. The mapping software that they utilize is notoriously bad at actually finding the transit stations to which they claim to be attempting to connect riders.

 

“Companies that really want to connect with transit would have made sure that they can navigate a driver to any entrance of any rapid transit station.  But they don’t.”

-Jarrett Walker

 

Uber and Lyft have built a complicated menu of partnerships that they offer to transit agencies, cities, and towns all across the US. Anywhere from subsidized/free rides for economically disadvantaged riders to proposals encouraging cost efficiencies that could be gained by using rideshare to replace low use bus routes which connect riders with larger transit centers. According to an article by nytransit.org, these TNCs are touting the high number of trips that connect riders these transportation hubs as a measure of success.

Alternatively, in favor of the no side of the debate, Forbes published an interesting article in September, discussing 5 innovative ways that they have seen transit authorities exploiting or benefiting from TNC connection service offerings.  Additionally, and something we had not thought of, using TNC incentives as a way to address parking shortages in crowded cities. The benefit in those situations would be that the cities are able to avoid having to build new parking structures in the immediate future.

It seems as though the jury is still out and that opinions are going to differ depending on who is asked and where in the world they live and experience transit challenges. Do you have an alternative opinion based on facts or experiences, that we didn’t discuss in this article? If so feel free to email me at: katieh@hbssweb.com

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