When residents of a Texas city want to get around without a car, they won't hop a bus but hail a car on their smartphone. The city has launched an experiment to replace transit buses with ride-hailing services and passengers love it.
Arlington, Texas, a sprawling 99-mile city outside of Dallas and Fort Worth, is doing something innovative. After residents repeatedly voted against spending money to build a transit system, the city decided to ditch its commuter bus service introduced in 2013 and partnered with ride-hailing or ride-sharing company Via to offer rides to passengers.
Commuter bus ridership had dwindled to just a hundred passengers a day, but since Via replaced buses, ridership is up again. The company has reportedly provided more than 5,000 rides and customers give the service a 97 percent approval rating. One rider explains:
“The commuter bus didn’t apply to me at all, because it didn’t take me where I needed to go,” Bill O’Toole said. Since January, O’Toole left his car at home and commuted with Via, summoning the van from his phone for a flat fee of $3 a ride or a weekly pass for $10. The city partially subsidizes the fees.
“Stress at work has been alleviated, and it’s probably just the fact that I’m not starting stressed,” O’Toole said, adding, “I really hate driving.”
The city plans to expand the program to cover 120,000 of its residents by the summer and go city-wide over the next couple of years.
The discussion of how ride-sharing impacts public transit is very relevant as cities grapple with how to meet the transportation needs of their citizens even as mass transit systems are aging, ridership is declining (in some markets), and budgets are tight for additional funding.
Some research shows that ride-sharing complements transit as services like Uber and Lyft pick-up and drop-off riders from transit stations.
Mass transit officials are also embracing ride-hailing and other shared tech services like car-share and bike-share finding that "the more people use shared modes, the more likely they are to use public transit, own fewer cars, and spend less on transportation overall."
However, new trends and research suggests that ride-sharing may replace mass transit in some cases. Arlington's experiment is an anecdotal example, but researchers at the University of California at Davis found that ride-hailing reduced transit use by 6 percent reduction among Americans in major cities.
While it really depends on the location, generally ride-hailing reduces use of buses by 6 percent and rail service by 3 percent.
Commuters are clear that they want convenience, efficiency, reliability, and price in transportation. As other cities and transit systems work with or are replaced by ride-hailing, public policy must reflect those changes. It's time to rethink whether expensive transit projects are the way of the future.