Smart city

Ride-hailing services set to replace US public transport?

  • 03 Jul
  • 2 min

As Uber, Lyft and similar ride providers continue to gain ground in the United States, researchers at DePaul University have been looking into the question of whether these mobility services are likely to take over from public transport systems.

How many US residents nowadays make use of ride-hailing platforms? In 2015, Pew Research Center estimated that 15% of the population were users of smartphone ride-hailing apps. A couple of years on, this figure has certainly increased, as on-demand mobility services continue to expand. While Uber is still out in front, Lyft, Via, Fasten and RideAustin, plus also Juno and Gett, have also set out to carve themselves a share of the American (or even international) transit passenger pie. Research carried out by the Recode website indicates that between 24% and 43% of all US residents have already ordered a ride via Uber or one of its rivals this year.

So what makes US Americans opt for these services instead of taking public transport? A research team at DePaul University in Chicago carried out a survey on the matter in the WindyCity. Some respondents stressed that 'time is money', explaining that the value they place on their time leads them to conclude that it is preferable to summon a chauffeured vehicle, even if that means sharing a vehicle, rather than take the bus, tram or subway, or combinations thereof, and risk spending longer on the journey. However, the conclusions reached by Joseph Schwieterman and Mallory Livingston, from the Chaddick Institute at De Paul University suggest that a shared journey arranged through one of what they call Transport Network Companies (TNCs) is not necessarily quicker than taking public transit facilities to the same destination. There searchers found that for all trips involving the Downtown zone it was quicker in only 41% of cases to ride with UberPool and in 60% of cases with LyftLine, although the digital platforms do offer much greater time-savings versus the local Transit Authority services in the Neighbourhood (more peripheral) areas of greater Chicago. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Transportation has calculated that the time saved by a city commuter is worth on average $14.95 per hour, far less than the cost of a ride with a TNC. The time-saving aspect cannot therefore be the only reason why people use Uber and rival services. Certainly comfort and convenience figure among the criteria as well. The more enjoyable, relaxing and reliable the available public transport options are, the less people are inclined to spend money on a private mobility service. To the extent that the public infrastructure starts to creak, that buses and carriages are packed tight with commuters or people feel insecure, they are more likely to think that it's worth paying the extra cost of a TNC ride, provided of course that they can actually afford it. For those who cannot, Uber and Lyft are now looking to provide two-wheeled solutions – Uber having taken over the Jump electric bike platform a couple of months ago and Lyft having just this week announced plans to acquire the Motivate bike-sharing business. When all is said and done however, probably the best way to get around town would be to adopt a multimodal approach combining two or more modes of transportation. City authorities might well encourage this approach, as is already to some extent the case with Los Angeles.

By Sophia Qadiri