Last August, Timothy B. Lee wrote,
In the short run, these services will be a way for yuppies to pay a little less for their taxi rides. But they're also starting to blur of the line between taxis and buses. In the long run, that line is likely to disappear altogether, as all conventional buses are replaced by smaller and nimbler just-in-time transportation options.
No, "flexible" transportation services are not going to replace buses, ever, as long as they're competing on a level playing field. Jarrett Walker had the ultimate takedown years ago, and then reprised it again and again when people kept repeating the same nonsense:
You can spare yourself a lot of confusion about flexible service by keeping in mind the physical facts of the matter: Driving a special routing to respond to a customer request takes more of a driver's time than picking up a customer along a fixed route. Since we pay for service mostly in hours of labor, we have to care about how many passengers we'll serve with each labor hour, so flexible service is intrinsically limited on that important score. That's why when flexible routes near their (very low) capacity limits, we usually try to turn them back into fixed routes.
In February, Uber analyzed its data from Los Angeles and concluded that many people were using it as feeder service to get to the Metro, leading Chris Plano to reiterate Timothy Lee's speculation in March:
On the other hand, ride-hailing could actually be stealing riders from transit. If the same trip can be completed in less time with an Uber or Lyft than using the Metro, some riders will choose the speedier option. However, at the moment, it is unlikely that hordes of people will abandon transit for ride-hailing simply because transit is still less expensive.
Jarrett himself, in a comment on Plano's post, mentions that Uber and Lyft executives "are often quite explicit about wanting to draw people away from public transit," and seems to believe that because the e-hailing services are less regulated than the public transit agencies, they might actually succeed.
I'm not convinced at all. I'm guessing that these are actually people who might have driven to the Metro station, but even if they switched from riding feeder buses, Plano is dancing around an important point: these are people who are willing to pay a premium price for a faster trip. Let's say they're spending five dollars for an Uberpool to the train station. They would probably be happy to pay four dollars to ride a public bus, and for four dollars a pop (no free transfer), LACMTA would probably be able to run the buses frequently enough to satisfy them. But because LACMTA charges a consistent $1.75, and would probably be bitterly attacked if they tried to charge more in some neighborhoods, this leaves an opening for Uber. I really doubt that Uber could make that work, even with driverless cars, for less than a bus fare.
Stay tuned for more!