If you have been to San Francisco, then you know that the public transportation system in the city is woefully inadequate. The city has some old trams and only one subway line. These fail to meet the transportation requirements during rush hour. You can see commuters riding electric unicycles, skateboarding or even running to work. All these methods are preferable to using the public transportation. This is the main reason companies like Uber and Lyft have their headquarters here. San Francisco is the ultimate market for carpool companies like Uber and Lyft. Rush hour traffic is a major issue in many big cities worldwide and this is not limited to San Francisco. But compared to cities like London, Beijing and Hong Kong, public transportation in San Francisco is the worst.
Uber and Lyft have thrived in the city with their popularity and customer base increasing steadily. As these companies continue to grow, something weird is happening. They are becoming similar to public transport systems. Lyft has recently launched a new service called Shuttle. Shuttle is a shared car that runs on a fixed route at a fixed fare. So it is basically a car functioning like a bus. In Manila, Uber launched a similar service called UberHop. With services like these, the companies are maximising their profits, but are they hurting the public transport system? Or are they helping the system? In many cities in the US, the prices offered by carpooling services are very competitive and sometimes cost only a dollar more than traveling by bus. And since buses have to stop along the way at designated stops to pick up and drop passengers, they take double the time compared to a carpooling service. This situation is unique to the US. In other global big cities, the subway system is much cheaper and faster than carpooling.
In San Francisco, the introduction of Shuttle by Lyft has led to a lot of people questioning whether companies like Uber and Lyft are harming the public transportation. Lyft’s co-founder, Logan Green, has been a lifelong advocate of using buses for transportation. While in college, Green served on the transportation board of Santa Barbara. Also, he doesn’t own a car. While serving on the transportation board he lobbied to raise funds to improve the bus system by increasing the taxes. But voters rejected the idea and Green was very disappointed by the result.
Companies like Uber and Lyft want a future were fewer people actually own cars. Instead, they use a combination of trains and cabs to commute. To encourage more people to adopt this behavior, companies are offering special promotions. Uber offered commuters in Seattle, subsidized rides to certain light-rail stations and the subsidy was provided by the company itself. Although this is a smart move towards the future they envision, it has its pitfalls as well. If Uber becomes equivalent to a public transport system, it may need to be regulated. Right now, Uber sets its price as per an algorithm which changed the fares dynamically based on a number of factors. The company already faces issues with its pricing. If Lyft or Uber is the only transportaion option available in a city, then their prices will come under scrutiny.
Other cities have also tried to experiment with ride-hailing services to improve their public transport. Earlier this year, Austin has started their own carpool van app. Nashville is also trying something similar. Maybe the future of bus system is not so grim after all and it can be salvaged with the help of ride-hailing services.