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Are Uber and Lyft helping or hurting public transit?

A new survey examines how ridehailing is impacting transit choices


As ridehailing services such as Uber and Lyft continue to grow, their impact on transportation policy, congestion, and the environment have been the subject of much curiosity and research. Can the ease of ridehailing convince car owners to abandon their vehicles and rely on new mobility options, or will it lead to more car trips and increased congestion?

A new report issued this morning suggets that ridehailing is becoming more intertwined with mass transit. Commissioned by Masabi, a mobile ticketing service that works with transit systems as well as companies such as Uber and Lyft, the new research surveyed 1,000 adults in the United States last fall with access to mass transit.

More than one-third of respondents (35 percent) said they are combining ridesharing with public transit on an occasional basis, while 7 percent are combing transit and ridehailing on a weekly basis. In addition, while 80 percent of weekly drivers said they never use public transit, 95.5 percent of weekly rideshare riders utilize public transit.

Aiming to capture how public transit systems are faring in a rapidly evolving mobility and technology environment, the report comes as the impact of Uber and Lyft on transit service, and overall emissions, has been debated by researchers and transit advocates.

Another report released last October by University of California Davis transportation researcher Dr. Regina Clewlow found that while widespread usage of these services may be decreasing the number of miles users drive themselves, it appears, overall, to increase the total miles driven in cities.

Clewlow’s research found that 49 to 61 percent of ride-hailing trips “would not have been made at all, or made by walking, biking, or transit,” suggesting that Uber and Lyft are replacing other modes of transit.

The Masabi report found more evidence of multimodal trips—combining transit and Uber or Lyft—and that 9.2 percent of riders were using rideshare instead of public transit.

“This report paints a picture of the future of public transit and how it can both learn from and operate in partnership with new mobility options, to the benefit of all,” Brian Zanghi, CEO of Masabi, said in a statement. “By implementing the types of convenience features found in ridesharing and other transportation alternatives and integrating multiple transit modes to deliver full first-last mile mobility.”

The new report also discovered that respondents had mixed feelings about their mass transit systems, which may explain why many continue to be underutilized. When asked about the quality of their mass transit options, 32 percent of those surveyed said options are improving, 19 percent said the quality of public transit is declining, and the rest said it was staying the same.

The report also found that 70 percent of respondents drive themselves on a weekly basis, while 40 percent never use public transit despite having access.

This analysis comes at a challenging time for transit systems. Underfunded systems are, for the most part, in a slump, especially city buses, and declining service make it easy for riders to opt for the convenience of ridehailing. According to the American Public Transportation Association’s latest figures, public transit ridership has shown an overall decline of 2.88 percent.

Many transit systems and agencies have made efforts to improve service and adopt mobile technology, whether its through partnering with Uber and Lyft to subsidize rides or connect passenger to transit options or launching their own microtransit systems that adopt on-demand routing.