• Follow us


Transit Agencies Turn to Uber for the Last Mile

Transit officials worldwide worry that ride-hail apps like Uber and Lyft are creating traffic and pulling passengers away from public transit. Amid that concern, Florida’s Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in 2016 tried something unusual: It began to subsidize rides on Uber, taxis, or wheelchair-accessible cars that ended at a public transit stop. In a sense, the experiment made Uber into public transit.

In many ways, the project feels like the future, an innovative embrace of Silicon Valley. The county nixed two poorly performing bus routes and used that money to give riders $3 breaks, and later $5 breaks, on Uber or taxi rides to specified public transit stops. By swiping to a special screen inside the app, Uber riders can travel to within 800 feet of 24 eligible bus stops and then transfer to a bus for free.

“In our county, we really are trying to change the culture so that more people are using public transit rather than thinking about putting their car on the road,” says Janet Long, a Pinellas County commissioner and chair of the transit authority board. She and her fellow commissioners voted in May to extend the program, called Direct Connect, through 2021, for up to $300,000 a year.

Pinellas County, which includes cities like St. Petersburg and Clearwater, “was a surprising first” for this kind of experiment, says Sharon Feigon, executive director of the nonprofit organization Shared Use Mobility Center. “It’s a smaller agency, a conservative community in a lot of ways, and they were taking all these risks.”

Since 2016, the idea has been widely copied, with varying success. A program in exurban Toronto that went all in on subsidized Ubers in place of fixed-route buses was a victim of its own popularity, and was forced to raise prices and limit individuals’ use to hold down costs. Kansas City, Missouri, ended its app-based shared-van service after netting just four rides a day. Centennial, Colorado, nixed a partnership with Lyft after spending more money and serving fewer riders than its traditional call-a-ride service. Boston, meanwhile, just re-upped a three-year-old partnership with Uber and Lyft to supplement its call-a-ride service for residents with disabilities, despite some complaints from wheelchair-using riders that the program had left them stranded.

In a new report, the Shared Use Mobility Center gives the Pinellas County program mixed reviews. (The center, which receives funding from Uber, worked with Uber and the transit authority on the report.) On one hand, public officials have worked diligently to improve the service, changing where it operates and boosting marketing when ridership foundered. They also showed creativity in partnering with private companies and adapting the strict guidelines and paperwork that typically come with public funding. (Transit authority lawyers decided, for example, to defer to Uber’s drug- and alcohol-testing process even though it did not meet federal standards, reasoning it provided taxis as an alternative. They also had to ensure that people without smartphones could access the service.) The transit authority “was willing to take risks and keep iterating. I think that was really commendable,” Feigon says.

But viewed through a different lens, the Florida program raises questions about whether this kind of “first-mile, last-mile” collaboration between the public and private sectors is worth the time and money, and whether the tech can attract more people onto struggling transit services.

For one, not that many people are riding. In its first six months, Direct Connect supported fewer than two trips per day. After two years of experimentation, reworking, and national publicity, the numbers did climb, but only to 30 trips per day. By contrast, each stop on the two canceled bus routes served fewer than three riders a day. Average daily ridership for all of the transit authority’s routes is 32,419.

Daniel Reck, a transportation doctoral student at the Swiss university ETH Zurich, is fascinated by Pinellas’ ride-hail collaboration. But when he got to Florida for a short research trip, he was puzzled by the program’s low ridership numbers. Reck’s research suggests that Direct Connect is hampered by something that transportation folk call a “transfer penalty”—a measure of how many extra minutes commuters are willing to spend traveling to avoid a transfer. What’s it worth to avoid transferring to a bus that runs infrequently and often behind schedule?

In Pinellas, Reck and a colleague found that the Direct Connect program saved riders about 15.7 minutes of travel time. But he questions whether the savings makes it worth taking two vehicles—the Uber and the bus—instead of just one. He says the transfer penalty is “a conceptual barrier” to using ride-hail services for the first and last mile. This has implications beyond ride-hail experiments, he points out. Many agencies are pondering how autonomous taxis or shuttles might supplement their networks, helping to move people from their homes to bus and train lines. But what if riders won’t get onboard?

Uber, which has established at least 20 public transit projects like Direct Connect around the globe, acknowledges that it can be difficult to convince riders to transfer. “There’s always a transfer penalty, for any public transit service,” says Chris Pangilinan, who heads public transit partnerships for the company. But he says Uber sees a strong relationship between Uber rides and transit stops. When London launched a limited nighttime Tube service in 2016, for example, the company says the number of Uber journeys beginning within 200 meters of a Tube station during the nighttime service rose 22 percent.

Here’s the especially tricky thing: Pinellas can’t track how many people are using its program to transfer to public transit, nor how many people have been converted to public transit users. The transit authority initially sought specific pick-up and drop-off data from Uber and the taxi companies, so it could understand how its new service was being used. Uber refused. “While we would have loved more data at the beginning of the pilot, we think it was important to get started with the partnership,” says Whitney Fox, a spokesperson for the transit authority.

Uber later provided the transit authority with quarterly rankings of the transit stops most frequently used for the program. But Uber data is still marked as a trade secret, and public record requests must be run through Uber’s legal team. The taxi company that the agency works with, by contrast, provides information on pick-up and drop-off times and on rider identities and fares.

There was also a data blooper. Uber says it accidentally allowed riders to request subsidized rides from places outside the agreed-upon service area for much of 2018. (Reck, the researcher, first spotted the discrepancy earlier this year.) The ride-hail company did not charge the transit authority for these extra rides, but they inflated the ridership numbers for a time.

The mess-up points to another important question: Whether these kinds of projects can scale. As in the Toronto Uber experiment, public officials realized that “success”—that is, lots of people using Uber and taxis to get to transit—would have cost the agency more money than it was spending on its low-performing bus routes. In other words: The more people who use the Direct Connect, the less sustainable it is for the transit authority. That’s unfortunate for a program that seeks to convince more people to ride public transit.

And Pinellas County residents don’t want to spend more money on transit. The region is the nation’s 18th largest, but it ranks 180th in transit operating spending per capita. In 2014, voters defeated a referendum to redesign the county’s transit service, one of the worst in the US. That public tightfistedness has forced Pinellas to get creative—for better or worse.

Corrected, 6-30-19, 11:50am ET: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Daniel Reck's research had not been peer-reviewed.

More Great WIRED StoriesInside Backpage.com’s vicious battle with the FedsSpiff up your real-world skills with old-timey YouTubeSmall sounds, big money: the commercialization of ASMRHow to stop robocalls—or at least slow them downWhy electric buses haven't taken over the world—yet📱 Torn between the latest phones? Never fear—check out our iPhone buying guide and favorite Android phones📩 Hungry for even more deep dives on your next favorite topic? Sign up for the Backchannel newsletterRead More

Leave A Comment

More News


Bike-Friendly Cities, a New Urbanism, and More Car 2019-06-30 09:00:00Copenhagenize Design published its list of the world's top 20 cities for cyclists, and Sidewalk Labs unveiled a plan to remake part of Toronto.

What Boeing’s 737 MAX Has to Do With 2019-06-30 07:00:00Investigators believe faulty software contributed to two fatal crashes. A newly discovered fault will likely will keep the 737 MAX grounded until the

Transit Agencies Turn to Uber for the Last 2019-06-29 07:00:00Transit systems worry about losing passengers to ride-hail services. But some agencies are also testing using Uber in place of low-ridership lines.

The 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities on the Planet 2019-06-27 09:00:00The 2019 Copenhagenize Index ranks the world's urban hubs on how much they're doing to promote life on two wheels.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Stars in a New Ad Plugging 2019-06-25 22:00:00The former Terminator and California governor poses as a sleazy car salesman and makes patently ridiculous arguments against going electric.

These Cities Will Track Scooters to Get a 2019-06-25 18:36:03The cities, which include New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, will use the same tool to keep track of where scooters go, and where they are park

Alphabet's Plan for Toronto Depends on Huge Amounts 2019-06-24 19:52:19Google sister company Sidewalk Labs outlines a plan for a 12-acre lot with affordable housing, a pneumatic tube for garbage, and room for autonomous v

A Tesla ‘Truckla,’ Robotic Pizza Delivery, and More 2019-06-23 09:00:00A DIY-er DIY-ed a Tesla pickup truck, Domino's has a deal for self-driving delivery, and an electric plane designed to train pilots.

An Aviation Pioneer Goes All In on Electric 2019-06-21 06:00:00André Borschberg, one of two men to fly around the world in a solar-powered plane, launched a new company called H55.

Waymo Goes Global With Renault-Nissan Partnership 2019-06-20 20:44:54But don’t expect *les voitures autonomes de Waymo* to roam international roads just yet.

Tesla Arcade Let’s You Play a Videogame Right 2019-06-19 19:57:07Tesla gives drivers access to games they can play on the center screen, including Beach Buggy Racing 2. The car has to be in park, however.

Korean Cars Are Officially the Best, a Blood-Powered 2019-06-19 18:34:22Catch up on the most important news from today in two minutes or less.

Automotive news - from

China extends tax incentives as NEV sales dip 2019-07-02 08:52:00The Chinese government announced this week that it will keep in place tax exemptions on new-energy vehicles (NEVs) until the end of 2020, according to

ANFAC hails Spain political backing 2019-07-02 08:44:00Spain's automotive sector is optimistic the formation of a new government will see the industry well represented at the top political echelons.

Management changes at VW Group 2019-07-02 08:42:00Silja Pieh, previously CFO and Head of Product at Autonomous Intelligent Driving GmbH (AID - a subsidiary of AUDI AG) is to become the new Head o

Wabco Fleet Management Solutions selected by Vos Logistics 2019-07-02 06:59:00Wabco and Vos Logistics have signed an agreement for the former's Fleet Management Solutions (FMS).

Schaeffler to sell Hamm plant to management 2019-07-02 06:55:00Schaeffler has signed an agreement under which the management of Schaeffler Friction Products Hamm will take over the ownership of the company, w

Daimler opens new testing facility for EMC and 2019-07-02 06:51:00Daimler says it has opened a new testing facility for EMC and antenna systems.

Brembo names Daniele Schillaci as new CEO 2019-07-02 06:44:00Brembo has co-opted Daniele Schillaci and appointed him CEO following the resignation of Andrea Abbati Marescotti.

EC probes Spain EUR20m support for PSA in 2019-07-02 06:00:00Brussels has opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether Spain's plan to grant EUR20.7m (US$23.4m) of public support to PSA for investing in i

Grab and Splyt deepen ride-hailing tie-up 2019-07-02 04:45:00Grab and Splyt Technologies are increasing their collaboration to give travellers access to ride-hailing services on a global basis.

Russia monthly sales drop yet again 2019-07-01 10:17:00Sales of new passenger cars and LCVs in Russia decreased by 6.7% in May to nearly 138,000 vehicles, continuing a falling trend in 2019.

CATL steps up EV battery investments in Europe 2019-07-01 09:38:00China's electric vehicle battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) said it is increasing its planned investment in R&D and

Indonesia market decline continues in May 2019-07-01 09:35:00The Indonesian new vehicle market continued to decline sharply in May 2019, by 16.3% to 84,146 units from 100,498 units a year earlier, according to w

Motor Trend

2020 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante First Drive 2019-07-02 19:01:29To suggest the big, fast, gorgeous Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante is a formulaic car would be to flirt with heresy. But there’s an elemen

2020 Bentley Bentayga Hybrid First Drive 2019-07-02 19:00:49Call it the Tesla effect, acceptance of climate change, or just general enthusiasm for new things, but electrified cars are steadily increasing in mar

The 2020 BMW X6 Looks Like the Lovechild 2019-07-02 18:01:43BMW has revealed the 2020 X6, the swoopier and less practical sibling of the X5, and it has taken some cues from the handsome 8 Series. Compared to it

These Are The Best Car Deals This 4th 2019-07-02 17:28:12If Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, the Fourth of July celebrates the sunny season just as it’s hitting its stride. Plus, June gloom

Volkswagen Gives the Microbus Electric Power 2019-07-02 15:31:32Volkswagen took a 1962 Type 2 11-window Microbus and gave it an electrifying makeover—literally. Called the Type 20 Concept, this Volkswagen Mic

What Truck Should I Buy? MotorTrend Editors Pick 2019-07-02 15:16:58Trucks are a way of life, and we at MotorTrend recognize this. That’s why we put them to the test, driving like truck owners would: towing heavy

2019 Ford Super Duty: Why I’d Buy It 2019-07-02 15:15:12“What truck should I buy?” It’s a question consumers ask themselves every day, but what would technical director Frank Markus d

2019 Honda Ridgeline: Why I’d Buy It – 2019-07-02 15:15:01“What truck should I buy?” It’s a question consumers ask themselves every day, but what would associate online editor Stefan Ogbac d

MotorTrend Off-Road Survival List: Here’s What You Should 2019-07-02 10:28:21Overlanders need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Vehicle extraction gear is a must, but so is readying yourself for the possibility that you m

Our Favorite MotorTrend Covers From the Past 70 2019-07-02 04:00:37One of the greatest parts of the magazine industry is immersing yourself in the back catalog of old issues and seeing how the world has changes with t

The BMW 1 Series Is the Mercedes-Fighting Hot 2019-07-01 18:00:16How low should luxury automakers go? While Mercedes introduces two relatively affordable sedans and as Acura cuts the ILX’s price by a staggerin

2020 Chrysler Voyager Quick Drive: It’s Back 2019-07-01 17:45:50Although minivan sales are not going up, Chrysler isn’t giving up. The brand just announced that the Voyager—a name used in the late &rsqu

Disclaimer and Notice:WorldProNews.com is not responsible of these news or any information published on this website.