The Guardian‘s Greg Lindsay discusses what many transportation planners have been worrying about-we all assume that Uber will displace and disrupt taxi and private automobiles-but what if we are wrong? What if Uber disrupts basic transit service?
“Traditional thinking would suggest that UberPool, which allows users to split the cost of trips with other Uber riders heading in the same direction, will always be inferior to public transport. Sitting in the backseat of a Prius may be more comfortable than standing on a crowded bus or train, continues this reasoning, but carpooling can’t substitute for mass transit at rush hours without massively increasing congestion.”
But oops! “Uber began offering “ride shares” for as little as $1 , introduced optimised pickup points that algorithmically recreate bus stops, and started testing semi-autonomous vehicles it hopes will solve its increasingly contentious labour issues.”
It is estimated that Uber passengers only pay about 40 per cent of the cost of each ride, and it has bee assumed that this might be predatory pricing with an aim to monopolise and control the market. When a system wide shutdown of the metro system happened in Washington DC , Uber, Lyft and other services offered shared rides way below the cost of a metro transit ticket. London’s tube strike last week saw Uber fare surcharges rocketing up 450 per cent in some cases. “As a spokesperson explained, “without this pricing, there would simply be no cars available”. Meanwhile, the number of licensed private-hire vehicles in London has nearly doubled from 59,000 in 2010 to more than 110,000 by the middle of 2016.”
What to do? Cities are partnering with Uber to fix weak transportation links and “then using its looming inevitability as an excuse to not improve their own service. Diverting funds to pay for blanket subsidies will only hasten the public system’s implosion.” Lindsay argues that the way to incentivize transit use and retention is to leverage “every tool at cities’ disposal, including lane access, parking regulations and incentives to shift the peak of rush hours commutes, to create communities that are at their best when served by mass transit – and could never be built around a million Ubers.”
It’s a compelling thought to create transit friendly cities and densities by putting public transportation policies and priorities first.