I wrote last year about how the current challenge for transit in cities is not building ridership but making room on transit for all the people who already want to ride, but are getting passed up or squeezed on. A lot of people have been paying attention to Uber and its competitor Lyft, and their Uberpool and Lyftline services may already be reducing car ownership. I've tried them both multiple times over the past couple of years, and they've gotten more promising.
When I first tried Uber, all they offered were big SUVs, that you had all to yourself. It was more convenient than trying to find the number for the local car service and wait on hold, but it was too expensive for me. The smaller Uber, and Lyft vehicles and the ability to share rides with the Uberpool and Lyftline brought the price down to where it was a potential splurge for when I was tired of the subway.
After decades of taking taxis rarely, if ever, I was actually underwhelmed by the taxi experience in general. People pay so much more than for a subway ride, but the ride is often a lot slower and less smooth. Basically, you're stuck in traffic in a car with at least one stranger, who controls the radio and the heat, doesn't necessarily know where they're going, and sometimes really wants to talk. How is that relaxing?
Sometimes it is definitely worth paying for a taxi, to have a guaranteed seat, a one-seat ride, or door-to-door service. For places and times where the buses and trains run at low frequencies it can be a lot quicker.
I was interested to see how well these sharing services work. For the first several months I had the vehicle to myself, even if I took advantage of Lyftline's offer of waiting ten minutes for a lower price. But recently I've had a few shared rides. One couple was on their way to LaGuardia, and taking us home must have added at least fifteen minutes to the trip. I hope they left plenty of time!
One thing that can't come soon enough is services like "Uberhop," currently in pilot in Seattle, where you can get quicker and/or cheaper service by walking to a point chosen by the software. Last year I was waiting for a Lyftline to twist through a maze of one-way Greenwich Village, and noticed that my fellow rider was being picked up a few blocks away. I texted the driver, and was able to get to the car right as the other passenger was getting in. I saved all three of us another four-block loop on congested streets.
A promising application of this technology is when there is an unexpected outage on the subway, or even a skipped bus run, and a surge of SUVs (or even vans) come and whisk the waiting passengers away. Cost is a potential factor, but I think if people could be confident that a car would come quickly and get them there with minimal delay, a lot more of them would do it.
More observations on this issue coming soon.