Uber

With Ride-Sharing Technology, Cities Will Build On-Demand Bus Lines Around You

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, mass transit agencies of America.

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Screenshot by Eric Boehm

Uber has become a ubiquitous part of urban America, but the capitalists who disrupted the taxi cartels aren't done changing the way we get around. The next step in the Uber-ization of transportation will see ride-sharing services taking on mass transit agencies—and if you thought the taxi industry was long overdue for a major shake-up, get ready for an even more stunning transformation.

Transit options that can serve individuals better than buses and move mass numbers of people with greater efficiency in ever-more-crowded cities are better for consumers, of course, but it's also a good deal for city governments.

Bloomberg reported this week on how Pinellas Park, a suburb of Tampa, Florida, is already partnering with Uber and Lyft to run two bus lines for about $40,000, or about a quarter of what it was spending to run those two bus lines previously.

Interestingly enough, the experiment with ride-sharing-as-mass-transit in Pinellas Park would never have happened if city officials had their way. In 2014, voters rejected a plan to increase taxes to pay for upgrades to the bus system and to build an expensive new light rail line.

Some Miami suburbs and a town near Denver, Colorado, are considering similar arrangements, Bloomberg reports.

The coming mass transit disruption will take on different forms in different places. The Bloomberg article focuses on how some cities are partnering with Uber and Lyft to replace smaller bus lines and to provide a better feeder system for existing mass transit, but there are already indications that ride-sharing services could beat mass transit agencies at their own game.

Uber is already doing this—more or less—in places where it has rolled out the Uber Pool option. Uber Pool uses algorithms to link up users' pick-up and drop-off locations, allowing a single driver to give multiple rides simultaneously along the most efficient route. Essentially, Uber builds brand-new bus lines in real time, responding immediately to supply and demand.

One of Uber's long term goals is to lower its price point until grabbing a ride with your smart phone is cheaper and easier than driving or taking a bus, as I detailed earlier this month. That means fewer ugly parking garages and more useful space in downtowns, more good news for America's cities.

Other ride-sharing services are following that model to develop a middle ground between Uber and civic mass transit services. Bridj, a startup private bus service, uses no fixed lines and responds to demand by rerouting buses in real time.

Government-run transit agencies can't even begin to compete with that sort of thing. Even if they had the ability to re-route buses on demand, other forms of mass transit (like those billions of dollars' worth of light rail lines American cities have foolishly built over the past decade) have routes that are written in stone.

At least some cities seem to realize that much. Rather than trying to compete with increasingly more transit-like ride-sharing options, Kansas City bought 10 buses from Bridj earlier this year. At least 10 other cities are curious about trying similar arrangements, Bridj's CEO told Bloomberg. The bus service is also operating in Washington, D.C., and Boston.

Cities would be wise to follow the lead of Kansas City and Panella Park by finding better way to integrate ride-sharing and mass transit, rather than throwing up barriers to innovations. Just like the taxi companies that fought against the first stage of ride-sharing's evolution, the unions that represent bus drivers and mass transit workers will surely throw fits over the disruptions caused by these newer development.

Even the best civic planner can't predict the need for mass transit at such an individual level. We're so used to living in cities where we have to build our plans around the existing transit options—but Uber, Bridj and whatever comes next will make it possible to have mass transit built around us.

NEXT: Alaska's Love Affair with Third Parties

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  1. Having taken Uberpool, I expect it will flop.

    Here is the problem: as currently set up, with privately owned vehicles seating 4 – 7 passengers, it’s too expensive to substitute for mass transit. it’s too slow to justify the expense.

    I think to drop the cost down to the point where the price justifies the inconvenience, I expect you would need vehicles that can seat about 12 – 16 people at a minimum.

    1. The real problem will be the government price-fixing that makes the idea a sure money-loser.

      1. Nevaeh . I can see what your saying… Ruby `s stori is great… on tuesday I got a top of the range Infiniti after having earned $9212 thiss month and in excess of 10k this past month . no-doubt about it, this really is the most-comfortable job Ive ever done . I actually started nine months/ago and pretty much straight away was making minimum $77 per-hour . view …………. http://freedoms.top

      2. Nevaeh . I can see what your saying… Ruby `s stori is great… on tuesday I got a top of the range Infiniti after having earned $9212 thiss month and in excess of 10k this past month . no-doubt about it, this really is the most-comfortable job Ive ever done . I actually started nine months/ago and pretty much straight away was making minimum $77 per-hour . view …………. http://freedoms.top/

    2. My last pay check was 9700 dollar working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
      This is what I do,…. http://bit.do/FOX92

    3. And who would want those mass transit low-lifes in their own personal vehicles?

  2. I’m looking forward to living in a time/place where owning a car is less cost effective than transit options like ride-sharing or robo carshares.

    1. You kids and your dystopian fantasies…

      1. My generation was all about, “When we get flying cars…”

        Still waiting.

        1. Your flying car will be a scaled up drone.

    2. I want to see land prices drop as all the infill becomes available.

      1. Can you imagine how much better cities will be when parking lots and garages go away?

        1. Not just cities, suburbs too.

          The amount of space taken up by parking lots is insane.

          1. I am hoping for more dynamic, non-plastic*, walkable suburban areas.

            *Carmel, IN falls on the plastic side of the spectrum, but still better than many I have seen.

            1. How are you using plastic in this context?

            2. Being handicapped, every time I hear people wanting to make suburbs into ‘walkable’ places, it’s like a slap in the face.

              I can walk up to about a half-block. One of the nice things in the suburbs is being able to run errands and park nearby a store/service, get in and out, load and unload my trunk with minimal issues.

              The ‘walkable’ people would prefer that I park in a designated lot and the rest of the downtown is all pedestrian, which means I can’t go there, unless I get an electric wheelchair and accessible van, and spend half an hour getting it in and out of the van each time I want to go anywhere.

              We already have places with walkable downtowns. They’re called cities. If you want to have that kind of lifestyle, there’s thousands of such places in this country.

              I wish that everyone who thinks everywhere should be converted to city philosophies just enjoy their cities and quit trying to impose their ways on us. People should have different options on how and where to live, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way. You should be able to ‘vote with your feet’, so to speak.

              If you think the way we live in the suburbs is pathetic, you are completely entitled to your opinion. Just leave us alone.

              1. Walkable areas still have street access. And without personal cars crowding up sidewalk parking, you can hail a rideshare or robocar to pick you up out front, so you’ll have even less distance to walk.

              2. I wish that everyone who thinks everywhere should be converted to city philosophies just enjoy their cities and quit trying to impose their ways on us.

                Fair enough and good points.

                I wish cities hadn’t spent the last half century attempting to mimic the suburbs, though. My own hometown had the first American downtown indoor shopping mall (it was torn down a couple years ago – the rest of the downtown shopping was long gone). Another neighborhood was torn down and replaced with a parking garage with a “civic center” on top. Other neighborhoods were cut in half with expressways. And so on and so forth.

                1. If you had said Civil Arena I would say you are in Pittsburgh. Was your indoor shopping mall older than Motor Square Garden? It didn’t last long as a mall but assuming it lasts until 2020 it will have been up for a century.

    3. I look forward to this time too, but I’ll always own a personal car, even if it becomes a luxury/hobby. I just love to drive too much.

    4. “I’m looking forward to living in a time/place where owning a car is less cost effective than transit options like ride-sharing or robo carshares.”

      Move to Manhattan. If you can afford it.

      I would also like to live where driving was unnecessary. But it’s more important to live where living is affordable and crime-free.

  3. Government-run transit agencies can’t even begin to compete with that sort of thing.

    I think you must have taken a severe blow to the head when you fell off the turnip truck there, dearie. You should get that checked out.

    Government has a monopoly on the use of force, they got guns and they ain’t afraid to use ’em. What the hell are you on about “compete”? Compete with a bullet in your head, motherfucker.

    1. Government has a monopoly on the use of force

      People say this all the time, but its clearly not true.

      1. Government has a monopoly on ability to use force on a large scale without negative consequences to itself.

        1. [citation needed]

          I think they do bring negative consequences upon themselves. Ask the Taliban government of Afghanistan how their use of force worked out.

          Or Hitler.

      2. “People say this all the time, but its clearly not true.”

        I can’t see who else has the use of coercion.

        1. Everyone with a fist or a firearm.

      3. Government claims the power to exercise a monopoly on the “legitimate” use of force and coercion in a defined geographical area, for a given layer of said government.

        And claims the power to brutally suppress any would-be competitors.

  4. Bloomberg reported this week on how Pinellas Park, a suburb of Tampa, Florida, is already partnering with Uber and Lyft to run two bus lines for about $40,000, or about a quarter of what it was spending to run those two bus lines previously.

    This isn’t privatization, this is subcontracting which often results in the worst government behavior crossed with the worst private behavior.

    In privatization, the city would just left Uber, Lyft, etc., the city would withdraw from the transportation business and let run independently without money from the city.

    1. “the city would withdraw from the transportation business and let run independently without money from the city.”

      An abrupt abandonment of bus lines would be irresponsible. The city should offer a one-time prize for companies to provide equivalent services to bus lines. Then back off.

    2. This isn’t privatization, this is subcontracting which often results in the worst government behavior crossed with the worst private behavior.

      The traditional term for this is “fascism” (government directing private companies), as opposed to “socialism” (government running public companies).

  5. it’s also a good deal for city governments.

    That is begging the question. Under no circumstances are government agents in the business of regulating public goods and natural monopolies efficiently. If you think taxi driving cartels are putting up a fight with Uber ride-sharing wait until the parasites on the government teat feel threatened by Uber on-demand mass transportation.

  6. I predict it will flop because when the bus routes start heading out to the suburbs in droves to pick up upper middle class office workers the usual suspects will decry the inherent racism in the new bus lines and how the rich are depriving the poor of the “right” to heavily subsidized transit. It’s part of the problem now – the bus routes have to pay attention to political concerns rather than just try to move the greatest number of people most efficiently.

    1. If they’re priced approrpriately I don’t see an argument that can be made against them.

      1. LOL. Government’s job is to make sure appropriate pricing never happens.

    2. “I predict it will flop because when the bus routes start heading out to the suburbs in droves to pick up upper middle class office workers the usual suspects will decry the inherent racism in the new bus lines and how the rich are depriving the poor of the “right” to heavily subsidized transit.”

      Doesn’t have to go to the ‘burbs; in SF the proggy gov’t is already griping that a service called Chariot is setting up a ‘two class’ transit system; either the rich have to ride in the smelly muni buses or Chariot has to make their vehicles as stinky as the Muni!

      1. I have never encountered anything like the smell inside a Muni bus, anywhere else in the world. I don’t anywhere else lets the bums ride around all day either. (In NYC the bums do ride the subway all day but it’s easy to avoid them. But strangely, they don’t the bus at all.)

  7. Wake me up when Uber can carry 6 million passengers a day for 2 or 3 bucks each. Until then, I would settle for getting the unions out of mass transit and cutting that down to a buck each.

    1. Get the cities out of mass transit first, the other will follow.

      1. Yes, surely. I don’t know which would be easier, though.

        And I still don’t see how Uber can scale up to urban densities anyway.

    2. In some areas, private jitneys already offer lower fares than public transit authorities do, even with the subsidy, much to the annoyance of the goodthinkful.

      1. Heh, I’ve taken some of those here in NYC. Unfortunately it was usually a matter of holding on tight and praying the suspension or whatnot holds out.

        1. Have you been following the news about public transportation in and around DC?

          1. There’s a streetcar to nowhere and an imploding subway system – that’s about all I know.

            1. Your jitneys sound like a step up.

              Fun fact: The streetcar is slower than the bus line that it supplements.

              1. There are advantages to them when done right – like in Europe, where they avoid mixing with cars and they run like 3 or 4 hooked together. But that would require actually considering what is needed, I guess.

    3. Current city buses and subways can’t carry 6 million passengers for 2-3 bucks each. The cost is closer to $7 each. Guess who is paying the difference? Hint: it isn’t the actual users.

      1. A government subsidized ride for a super low amount still can’t compete for many customers with a service that can pick you up almost immediately and take you to the place you want to go. Saving a couple of bucks but losing an hour of your time isn’t a bargain for all but the most broke ass folks.

      2. Point taken but NYC is not as highly subsidized as less-dense areas. Plus everyone but the top 1% rides – not just the poors. So, 53% of us ARE paying the difference.

    4. I assume the 2 or 3 bucks you are referring to is the fare price you pay to ride the subway. A lot more than that goes into the real cost. Hell, in NYC alone there is a 28% surcharge on all NY state income tax. Effectively, 1.82% of all income earned in the city goes to the transportation authority. That 2-3 buck ride is more like 20-30 bucks. I think Uber or any other similar business model can crush that.

      1. That should say “28% surcharge on all NY state income over $1,000,000”. That includes personal and business income.

  8. I can’t see trading my personal vehicle in for mass transit, public OR private. A man needs to be able to drum on his steering wheel and say cusses at other vehicles in privacy.

    1. Besides, who wants to rub elbows with those people?

  9. RE: With Ride-Sharing Technology, Cities Will Build On-Demand Bus Lines Around You
    Ask not for whom the bell tolls, mass transit agencies of America.

    We simply cannot tolerate Uber to take over the mass transit agencies. Uber will be ready to go when the customer wants to leave. This goes against decades of public transportation concepts of making the customer wait for the bus, train, etc which satisfies the most important player in the public transportation field, the drivers. After all, just because the customers are giving these public transportation entities their hard earned money doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be happy waiting an extra 20-30 minutes if the operator is late or lazy. Convenience is for the public employees, not their paying customer. Secondly, one can only speculate how much the taxpayers will save in not having to be taxed for public transportation. The amount not put in public coffers will only make life more miserable to those who take our taxes and wasted it. Where will they get more money from the public if government run transportation is not available to be taxed in a manner that is obscene and ridiculous? Plus think of all the public employees who will become unemployed. They will have to join the ugly and nefarious private sector to eek out an existence, create their own pension plans, medical plans, etc. The horrors of capitalism will not cease if Uber is allowed to exist, especially if it replaces public transportation.

  10. It will never work. What good is public transit if unionized employees can’t drive around empty buses all day and night?

  11. Molly . I can see what your saying… Samuel `s c0mment is unimaginable… last monday I got a great new Infiniti after bringing in $6142 this past month and-also, $10k lass month . without a question it is the most comfortable work I’ve had . I began this 5 months ago and straight away began to make over $81 p/h

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.factoryofincome.com

  12. Christopher . if you, thought Maria `s postlng is astonishing… on thursday I got a gorgeous Honda NSX from having made $8819 this-past/5 weeks and-more than, $10 thousand this past munth . without a doubt it is the nicest work Ive had . I started this 8-months ago and pretty much immediately startad bringin home at least $78.
    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.factoryofincome.com

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