Walk is a four letter word, as are Uber and Lyft….they all have synergy…helping people complete their journeys.
Although Uber and Lyft arrive in the same package as your household vehicle, on four wheels that is, they function differently in the transportation mix. They provide pedestrians with a back-up plan and a safety net, since phone apps show these carriers in geographical reach, circling about. Pedestrians no longer have to travel off-the-grid. This is as much a cultural change as a transportation one.
But, walking trips are hard to measure- they often slip under or through the mode count. That is because trips taken on foot are too short, or too hard to remember, or just too hard to enumerate. No matter- whether counted or not, walking trips are the critical ones. They keep people healthy and mobile, without needing to enroll in a gym membership. Walking trips are literally the foundation for a connected, citizen-responsive community. They are, literally, the “feet on the ground.” And walking is also the most inexpensive form of travel- it requires no cost, except a comfortable pair of shoes.
Of Packages and Doctors
Sometimes walking is a one-way option…but the round-trip is not. The most likely scenario here is that the destination, say a food-store, is a reasonable distance away. But, on the return trip walking is not feasible. On the return, the pedestrian may have acquired a bag of groceries. Or, it might start to rain. So, they need a backup plan.
Alternatively, if the trip involved a visit to a medical office or doctor, the pedestrian might be light-headed and needs to return home quickly. The point is that lots of one-way trips on foot make sense, but we often travel by car instead in both directions because we are not sure about the feasibility of the return trip.
Again, taxis make sense for the return- but since taxis tend to cluster around airports, concert venues, and big office buildings- it requires some planning and wait time for them to show up. In low density areas, the waiting time can be considerable. But, in addition to time, there is simply the inconvenience and cost. No one who walks to Trader Joes and gets two or three bags of groceries wants to pay a cab fare that matches their grocery bill.
There is tangible data, at least for Los Angeles, that Uber and Lyft drivers accommodate short, local trips, with more agility and cheaper fares than conventional taxi companies. These TNC (transportation network company) drivers are on-the-road part-time and seem to fill in the transportation gaps left by the bigger medallion firms.
Safety after Dark, Comfort in New Places
There is another reason that Uber and Lyft encourage people to take more walking trips, but it is less obvious than the heavy bag of groceries. It has to do with safety and security; somewhat like the fear people experience at bus shelters, due to the uncertainty of the wait time or worry about crime.
For people who do not regularly take a stroll, getting outside their immediate boundaries can be “scary”- in the sense that it is unknown. They are not really sure what the sidewalk conditions are, perhaps a mile or two up the street, and whether they will feel “safe” in new neighborhoods they encounter on foot….particularly if it is getting late, and there are not many other people around. In the past, summoning a taxi to such places could be somewhat of an ordeal. The taxi might be out-of-range, and then slow to show up. Taxis don’t frequently circle places people walk…like hiking trails, bike/ped walkways, and scenic overlooks.
With a TNC, like Uber or Lyft, there are likely to be more accessible vehicles in the neighborhood, and the walker- straying afar- is more likely to be picked up. More mundanely, the college student who walks into campus in the morning but stays all day and into the evening to study at the library, now has a safe way to journey home after dark. When taxis were the only option, people felt compelled to drive, even if they only need one-half the ride. With a TNC, they can be more secure that there is a ride back home.
Until now, there has been a lot of dialogue by planners about Lyft and Uber taking transit share, competing with transit providers, and perhaps putting them out of business. The bigger picture is that Lyft and Uber are complements of many different transportation modes, and that includes pedestrian trips. It is simplistic to expect that people substitute one transportation mode for another. In real life, real people recombine, and remix…and that entirely reinvents transportation. The TNCs, Lyft and Uber, may bring ignite entirely new ideas “underfoot.”