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If your Uber to the bus stop was covered

Posted November 09, 2017 in Articles

Author: Marc Lefkowitz

The promise of whiz bang technology—mobile apps, Uber like ride hailing and driverless vehicles—as a boost to public transit systems is the subject of a new study.

As mobile, real-time information scales up, how much technology can deliver on environmental goals like reducing single occupant driving rates and improve the capacity rates of public transit is the subject of a report from The New Climate Economy.

Cities have new mobility options. Done right, they should support stalwarts like public transit.

First, they modeled how a “dynamic trip-planning and ticketing service” app would be useful in Mexico City. They wanted to see if an app that offers shared payment and scheduling between private and public transit options would produce more multi-modal trips.

Modeled on apps like Whim in Helsinki and Go LA in Los Angeles — which serve up multi-modal trip options based on real-time traffic reports. The report found that larger transit systems benefit the most.

But, smaller systems like Greater Cleveland RTA, which lack modern fare box options like rechargeable “tap” cards or an app that integrates mobile pay and trip planning options, also stand to benefit. (Paper tickets cost transit systems 5% of an operating budget, while mobile payment options could reduce that cost by half).

"The less sophisticated a transit agency’s ticketing system is, the more the agency can lower its operating costs by deploying a dynamic planning and ticketing system.”

Accepting digital payments does, however, require transit agencies and private mobility services to develop a common fare structure and a way to share the savings from payment processing.

They see the most benefit for a public-private transit app in cities like Mexico City where existing mode share for public transit is high (71% of all trips). High too is private jitney cab use (as is the case throughout the Global South). Even with cell phone “penetration rates” low (55%), a full-service app that integrates public and private transit planning and payment options could shift another 6% of car trips to transit, they predict.

London is the model for the second pilot — a mobile app that hails an electric minibus. The model is based on a low bus ridership (20% capacity) route, with the idea of replacing ‘fixed route’ transit. In the London example, it costs $540 per mile to operate a bus on that route. It promises significant reductions in air pollution — 60 to 90% GHGs — by reducing vehicle miles traveled and if the electric power is sourced from renewables like solar PV or wind.

Chariot, a similar ride hailing service operating in San Francisco and Austin, has shown that minibus deployment has the best ROI when it replaces fixed route buses in low population density or low ridership (below 40% capacity) areas like the suburbs. Chariot was acquired by Ford Motor Company in 2016 and has plans to expand to six cities. Also, TransLoc, the mobile app used by University Circle’s CircleLink, was cited in the study for “helping transit agencies run their own on-demand mini bus fleets.”

The third pilot was modeled for San Franciscans to ride on private transportation options like minibus, ride hailing services like Uber, or bike share in order to scale the barrier (that is prevalent in cities and suburbs of the U.S. which have made transit impracticable) with first and last mile connections to public transit.

Subsidizing Uber or Lyft rides to transit stations has been piloted for real — in Summit, New Jersey, Pinellas Park, Florida and Centennial, Colorado. In 2016, Centennial paid 100% of rides between one light rail station and any point within a 3.75 mile radius, and light rail ridership from the station increased by 11.6%. The pilot cost $4.70 per ride, significantly less than the $21 per ride for the city’s previous first/last mile service. The model for San Francisco figured a cap at $1.40 per ride would pay for the program in increased public transit rider fares. If carbon reductions are the goal, they advise ride or bike share subsidies aimed at areas of high single-occupant vehicle commute rates which lack high frequency transit lines within a half-mile.

“Our modeling efforts suggest that cities can benefit from these three approaches to augmenting or supporting public transit with new mobility services,” the report concludes. “Dynamic trip-planning and ticketing systems and on-demand minibus services each require modest up-front investments that would be paid back within two years by reductions in operating costs. Subsidizing ride-sharing services to help city dwellers cover the first and last mile between transit hubs and neighborhoods with poor transit access can boost ridership and generate more fare box revenues with no initial capital outlay.”

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