Tag Archives: Uber

Rideshare Windfall

There’s a new reason to give five stars to Rideshare…at least in Massachusetts.

Local governments will receive a transportation windfall in Massachusetts. Nearly $6.5 million will be distributed in 2019, thanks to a bill that levied a 20 cent tax on each ride, of which ten cents returns to the municipality where the trip originated. The City of Boston will receive close to $3.5M from the tax, and Cambridge, Ma., next in ridership, will net about $678,000.

New revenues may require new thinking: will the public be well served if local governments plow the windfall from the TNC’s (Transportation Network Company) back into local Rideshare?  

Re: Re-thinking?

Windfalls speak loudly so pundits and policy makers might revisit how Rideshare serves their communities. Last year, local officials were surprised to learn  that Uber and Lyft served underprivileged neighborhoods with better service than taxi companies.

The TNCs are often decried to be a source of transportation woes from increased congestion to decreased transit ridership. But, for another point of view, see this article. It’s time to ask what other “common goods” might be furthered by expanding Rideshare.

Historically, proceeds from transportation taxes, like vehicle registration fees and parking fines, plow back into a wide array of municipal priorities. But, what if the 2019 Rideshare revenue is plowed back into Rideshare? Can the TNC windfall be allocated to improve Rideshare, and, coincidentally, elevate other transportation goals?

Rethinking: Drivers and Paratransit Vans

A problem that vexes public transportation officials is the high cost of providing paratransit service. An innovative paratransit trial between the TNCs and the Boston MBTA is said to have dropped the administrative cost per trip from around $45.00 to ~$21.00*, but it has also increased the demand from riders for more trips. The riders, who rely on this service for mobility, have a need to keep mobile, and prefer the new offering to the bulky paratransit vans and cars that require several days notice to schedule.

Uber and Lyft currently have some  Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV) but the fleet size cannot meet the demand.  As I write this blog, mid-day, Thursday, from Cambridge, Ma. it would take approximately 2 minutes and $12.00 for an Uber X vehicle to pick me up for a trip to the airport, but about 10 minutes (and same price) for a WAV.  This is an exception, as trips from Newton and the outer suburbs typically require a wait of 20 minutes or longer.

The obstacles to growing the system have been twofold: an insufficient number of WAV equipped vehicles and a lack of trained drivers. The business model has been evolving though, and in Washington, D.C. Uber  has subcontracted with MV Transportation , a privately owned transport carrier, for both drivers and vehicles. Drivers also receive a bonus for taking these trips.

Thinking back to the windfall: an additional bonus would be set-aside by policy makers,  either to reward the TNC driver, or assist their financial outlay to equip SUVs and vans to accomodate wheelchairs, walkers, and electric scooters.

Meanwhile, taxi providers, who currently receive 5 cents from the 20 cent per/trip tax in Massachusetts, might also restore their fleets and initiate new WAV service, if so-inclined.

Both Taxis and Rideshare vehicles with open seating, may do double purpose. A recent article cited how shared trips can ferry bikers and recreational hikers to out-of-range sites.

Rethinking: Air Quality

Rideshare does not have to be in competition with other transportation modes. In fact, it could significantly and positively impact goals to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution.

TNC revenues (aka, the windfall) could be put towards a vehicle rebate or credit for drivers who drive fully electric vehicles. The credit would be tiered to the number of miles or time that the Rideshare vehicle is in commercial use.

The idea is not novel:  This year London legislators begin a per mile surcharge on Rideshare trips to help drivers over multiple years, switch from diesel to cleaner vehicles.  In the U.S. Lyft announced initiatives to favor greener vehicles, such as adding more to their rental-fleet, and including hybrids in the rider’s choice of vehicle options.

Helping Uber and Lyft drivers acquire electric vehicles should be a win/win for municipalities and drivers. Governments are more likely to achieve their air quality goals and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Drivers favor them because of lower operating costs and fewer repairs.

Meanwhile, another externality, the impugned congestion from Rideshare vehicles, can be tackled. Public service ads need to promote shared Rideshare trips as the social, responsible and efficient choice when transit is not a feasible option.

Rethinking: Senior Training

On a much smaller scale, it happens that I volunteer and teach seniors how to access Rideshare using smartphones. My interest as a volunteer grew out of writing a book called “Aging in Suburbia,” which you can find on Amazon.  I like to tell the students that I developed this Rideshare class in lieu of going on a book tour.

As people choose to age in place, they need transportation alternatives, as their driving skills decline and the costs of keeping a car weigh in.  For older people, Uber and Lyft provide a means to travel safely on bad-weather days or after-dark. They can also be the first and last mile link to public transportation.

We currently teach the Rideshare class with a small army of volunteers and a stack of handouts. A small investment in expanding these classes, perhaps using video and on-line training, would greatly expand the offering. A small investment in education would greatly increase the number of Boomers and Seniors we can reach and keep mobile.

Rethinking: Mind the Curb

Finally, as we imagine what municipalities could fund we should not overlook the curb. To promote Rideshare, curb space needs to be inventoried, signed, and upgraded. These improvements will make Rideshare easier for passengers, and safer for drivers.

Curb-space is the tempest between public and private space. As often noted, the availability of parking meters, on-street parking, and cheap airport parking encourages people to own and drive their own vehicles.

Regulators face a personal challenge here. It is not in their financial interest to reduce on-street parking (e.g., in FY16 Boston collected ~$15.5 in meter fees and ~$57.8 million in parking fines).  But, to accommodate better traffic flow and reduce congestion, as well as make Rideshare safer, curb space needs to be reimagined. So, parking is at the crux of the issue. The good news is that improving Rideshare increases the revenue spun off from the per/trip fee.

Thinking Forward:

Summing up, policy makers and local government seem likely to put new transportation funds to old purposes. Their staffs have long lists of transportation projects that are unfilled and underfunded. So, it takes only a moment to redirect new revenue to existing endeavors.

But, it does not have to be a zero-sum game.

Transportation budgets almost always have allocations for programs that improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, and increase access for seniors and the handicapped. These are imperatives.

Rideshare supports these initiatives, just in new ways.

The need is to acknowledge that Rideshare is a complement to existing transportation goals, grow it further, and discover better ways to link the resources.

*Pilot Financial Overview – Public Presentation to MAPC by MBTA . Based on 1,168 tides. October, 2018.

Surveys are Simple…Rideshare is Not

Imrix and Traffic
A Traffic Question

Traffic congestion is caused by many factors: population and employment growth, construction activity, deliveries, on-street parking, aggressive lane-shifting drivers, and more.

But, policy makers insist that Uber and Lyft are the primary culprits. This belief has led officials in New York City and elsewhere to propose caps on the number of rideshare vehicles,  in the name of taming congestion. 

READING THE POLLS:

Sometimes policy makers take the polls too seriously or over-interpret the results. An oft-cited poll of rideshare users in Boston, Ma. cites that 42 percent of rideshare users would otherwise use public transit. A 2017 UC Davis study of Lyft and Uber riders in seven major cities reports that fifteen percent said they would ride transit more if ride-hailing was no longer available. A separate  poll in Boston observes that 30 percent of riders have switched from transit to rideshare.  

If you unpack the surveys, there are red flags:

  1. When riders take a poll (i.e. survey) they seek a response which is socially correct and appears reasonable. It is less socially acceptable to say you would use your own vehicle and drive…it is more socially acceptable to say you would have taken the bus or train.                                                                                                                                                   
  2. Some polls fail to report the number of riders who do not currently own a car, or who have decided to postpone the purchase of one.                                                                                                                       
  3.  In most major cities, public transit operates at capacity during peak commute hours. Young people have accelerated the demand for transit because they have a lower rate of car-ownership and live close in. However, transit capacity has not expanded to meet the ridership growth.                                                                                                               
  4. Under real conditions, riders may not take the bus or train on consecutive days of the work week. The decision to ride transit on a particular day depends on multiple factors: weather, if there are kids to pick up or drop off, packages or heavy bags to tote, and the walking distance to and from the bus stop.

INFERENCES:

It is both a statistical error and a social one to infer that all of the people who said they would have used mass transit would have completed their trip that way.

There is recent data from rideshare studies that inform the issue. One of the largest increases in rideshare takes place during late evenings and weekends… times when transit service is less frequent and there are longer waits. On weekends and evenings, car owners find rideshare to be convenient for other reasons too. They can save on the cost of parking, and not worry about DUI’s.

SURVEYS ARE SIMPLE:

The thing to keep in mind is that surveys are simple…but trips are not. If someone decides to drive, instead of taking Uber or Lyft, they might “bundle” the reason for taking that trip with other interim stops. These are called “chained trips” and drivers typically complete multiple stops (or errands) on a single tour. A survey question about a single trip does not get at the nuances of chained travel, and when you ask people specifically about a single transport mode they don’t tell you why they are traveling.

The demand for trip taking is elastic, so adding capacity will encourage brand new activity patterns and travel. The convenience, reliability and low cost of rideshare has surely increased trip taking.  This observation is highlighted  in the op cit. Clewlow/Misha/UC Davis poll: 22 % say they would take fewer trips without rideshare.

NEW PLATFORM= NEW DEMAND:

However, turned around, new travel trips would also have occurred on a different platform… say public transit…if transit had become more convenient, frequent, and reliable. Unfortunately, it has not kept pace with the return of Millennials to cities and most urban systems are hobbled by network and capacity issues. The gain in more personal travel modes, like bicycles and scooters is probably indicative of underlying demand. However, these modes are not safe or practical for many potential users.  Uber and Lyft have taken up the slack.

It’s easy to point to survey results that favor transit and to scapegoat rideshare for slowing down traffic. It’s also easy for lawmakers to then proceed from survey result “A” to outcome “B” and advocacy “C”: namely, a tax or freeze on rideshare in the spirit of trying to rein it in. It is a remnant from the heady days of selling taxi medallions.

It’s harder for these survey pundits to admit that cracks in the existing transit system enabled the demand for more travel trips and hence rideshare… to spring up.

Autonomous Cars for Boomers- Model 2016

Baby Boomers will be surprised to learn that their personal autonomous car has been invented…and it’s called the “TNC, Model 2016.”

Lest the picture deceive, TNC, stands for Transportation Network Company, an acronym for services like Uber, Lyft, Lift Hero and other ride share firms. Ironically, both Uber and Lyft are investing in the technology for autonomous cars. While that technology is under beta testing….more conventional TNC service will suffice for the coming years.

A SPRAWLING DEMAND :

The demand for autonomous cars, via TNC, has to do with the geographic sprawl of Baby Boomers. This is the first generation to settle far from urban areas, and develop homes without spatial links to transit or rail. Because of sprawl and low density, it has been uneconomical to provide transit service, vis a vis road building. Only 17 percent of Boomers live in dense cities with mass transportation. An estimated 70 percent live in areas served by limited or no public transportation (see references, Chapter One, Aging in Suburbia). The remainder have settled in semi-urban areas, where it has been difficult, until now, to solve “first mile/last mile” transportation issues so most Boomers drive.

Meanwhile, cabs/taxi service has been scarce and expensive; spotting a taxi driving on these suburban roads is like encountering an endangered species in the wild. Currently, the popularity of the TNCs has made taxis even less accessible there. Taxi drivers are said to be circulating less and congregating more in places where there is reduced TNC competition like airports. It would be unlikely that a suburban resident could ever “hail” a taxi- that is flag down a vehicle just passing by through the neighborhood. Yet, essentially, that is what a TNC app, enabled by a smart-phone, makes possible. The TNC may be the leveler between urban and suburban transportation.

OLDER TNC DRIVERS:

Meanwhile, a TNC presence is growing in suburbia… in many cases because Boomers are signing up as occasional drivers. It is estimated that a quarter of Uber drivers are age 50 and older.  Boomers approaching retirement age find that the gig economy provides them with a spare source of income (next avenue). It also helps them get out and meet other people. And, since Boomers are a generation that generally likes cars, and favors time on the road, driving for Uber or Lyft is an agreeable choice.

Meanwhile, Boomers have a growing demand for an “autonomous car” service. Uber even made a promotional video to explain the benefits.

SEEKING A RIDE:

An essential reason has to do with the age of the Boomer population. Today, the youngest Boomers are age 52 and the oldest are 72. A difficulty driving safely at night is one of the first onsets of advancing age.  Yet it is in the evening that people throw parties, patronize the arts and concerts, and go out to eat. One only has to visit the matinee performance of a Broadway show to understand the demographics of those who do not drive after-dark.

So, having a “designated driver” at night is likely to keep Boomers active and engaged…throughout the evening. Although they will not be taking an autonomous car, the TNCs can meet the Boomer’s current need to keep busy and engaged after dark. Over time, the Boomers will seek their “designated driver” for more occasions, expanding from service at night to more daytime trips.

Medical trips are a second arena where the “autonomous car”, via TNC, is making inroads among Boomers. As they age, Boomers need a way to get to and from doctor’s visits, medical centers, and hospitals and these trips are the fastest growing source of their travel demand.  Driving your personal car from suburbia, often to a large medical complex in a more urban area, is not fun. There’s the anxiety about the visit, the set-aside time to park the vehicle, and, of course, and the for-profit, per/hour hourly parking charge levied by most medical centers. But the real crunch, and need for the autonomous vehicle comes during the ride home. The driver, in this case the patient, is probably tired, and may be somewhat impaired by a prescription drug or pain reliever. It would be useful if someone, or something else, bore the responsibility for a safe trip back to suburbia.

MORE RIDES, MORE BENEFITS:

The future autonomous car brings other benefits for aging Boomers who settled in aging suburbs. The autonomous vehicle can be regulated to reduce traffic congestion, obey speed limits, and make the streetscape safer for pedestrians and bicyclists too. That can only bode well for Boomers who need to stay healthy and fit outdoors, without driving to exercise and spending hours at the gym.

It will seem odd to Boomers, who have spent so many years of their lives in their car, that they can now liberate themselves from it. But, as they gain years, they will need to shed old habits. Keeping fit, healthy, and socially engaged will take priority for them over almost anything else.