- Published: 07 March 2017
- Written by John Bobsin
We need more transit infrastructure, riders and advocates say. All our transportation facilities are overloaded. There's not an empty seat to be had, at least in peak hours. But is this really true? Have a look at the automobiles traveling across the Hudson River, or on any street in Manhattan. Sure, the roads are clogged; but look closer: there are lots of empty seats in those vehicles. Enter the smart-app ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, which mobilize once-private vehicles to fill some of those empty seats and provide an increasingly-popular transportation alternative. How many riders may have been diverted from suburban transportation networks such as NJ Transit remains unknown, but according to reporting by Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Winnie Hu in the New York Times (March 7), the ride-sharing services may already be cutting into ridership on New York City's transit system; and riders switching to the cars have their reasons.
First, there's the price. Medallion taxis in New York City are convenient, if you can find one, but they can be pricey. The price of a ride using a car-pool service can be as low as five dollars, more than the $2.75 base fare of the transit system (and a lot more if the customer already has an unlimited-ride transit subscription), but potentially much more convenient: door-to-door, quiet, no stairs to climb, and with a guaranteed, upholstered seat. The result has been burgeoning patronage of the ride-sharing services. Meanwhile, the number of taxi rides has been falling, and with it, the price of the once-sky-high "medallion" that allows operation of a stop-on-hail taxi in the city's monopoly system. (Declining taxi patronage also hits the transit system, as transit operator MTA collects a 50-cent surcharge on each taxi trip.) And recently it was disclosed that ridership on the city's subway system has declined for the first time since 2009. Since then, transportation demand has increased markedly, and most of the demand has been satisfied by the city's subways and buses. Most of the city's rapid transit system is decades old and, with new investment rare, the result has been that "It's hit a point where people are choosing to travel by ride-hailing because the subways have become intolerable," according to Thomas K. Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association. The Times illustrated its article with photos of jam-packed subway platforms, with clearly worried customers trying to find a way through the crush. Riders who could say they can't afford taxis will spring for a shared-car ride, typically costing $5 for a trip anywhere in Manhattan. Late at night, when plenty of seats are available on the subways, riders may still call a car for faster and safer service, rather than wait 20 minutes for a train on a deserted platform.
With off-peak suburban train service slow and infrequent and fares high, ride-sharing services are likely to cut into suburban train and bus markets. And in another application, the city of Summit, NJ has started a program to encourage commuters to use free or discounted Uber rides to reach its NJ Transit station; they hope to avoid having to build more parking facilities by partnering with Uber