A Framework for when Ride-Hailing/Sharing Companies and Public Transit Agencies may work together for the Public Benefit

Ride hailing and ride sharing companies have been steadily taking passengers from public transit systems, which weaken already funding-constrained agencies, negatively impacting cities. However, when not directly competing, these firms can work with cities or transit agencies to improve urban mobility and enable cities or transit agencies to reduce costs and/or improve efficiencies and service levels. 

While the “first mile, last mile” use case is perhaps the most widely known, my personal favorite is the use of TNCs in lower density areas that still require transit service, but end up with long headways, sometimes 30 or 60 minutes, and with limited service hours (no late nights, no weekends, etc.), where a 40-foot bus operates mostly empty. An on-demand car feeding a trunk bus line or rail station would provide a shorter wait time, 24 x 7 x 365 service, and the 40-foot bus could be re-deployed to an area with greater transit demand, thereby improving transit service in both areas.

The various use cases of partnerships can be classified in a framework along a continuum of complimentary to competitive with transit and in terms of positive to negative impact for the city. For example, replacement of late night bus service with on-demand TNCs has a different profile than a contract for on-demand service to operate in lieu of a transit system altogether. At IDC, we have examined various transit-TNC operating agreement types and plotted them accordingly in this framework in our paper, Ride-Hailing/Sharing Companies and Public Transit Agencies:  Symbiosis or Competition?  The paper is focused on the US market and presents example cases with Uber, Lyft, and Via in implementations in various US cities, including Phoenix, AZ; Columbia, SC; Arlington, TX; and Summit, NJ. But the competitive-impact framework could be applied to any region or country as the issues around the mass popularity of ride-hailing services which include traffic congestion, air quality impacts, and the loss of transit ridership and revenue, are not unique to the US, nor are some of the critical issues around crafting a meaningful partnership. Only the cities and transit agencies and sometimes the ride hailing companies involved are different.

Critical to the success of using ride-hailing or ride-sharing services for public transit requires thoughtful contemplation on a wide range of elements, such as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), attention to unions and labor rules, and properly approaching data ownership and privacy, among other considerations. On the topic of data, TNCs have often refused to share data they have collected. However, if they are operating in public service on behalf of a public agency, cities and transit authorities, should claim the rights to this data. Data is critical for transit agencies to measure the impact of the contracted services as well as to plan for hours and levels of service, systemwide route network planning, revenue planning and budgeting, as well as to fully understand the mobility needs in their jurisdictions. Moreover, transit agencies are required by federal law to provide detailed reporting.

Another key area of concern is passenger safety. There are significantly greater safeguards built into transit operations over those of typical TNCs operations, such as the vetting of drivers through in-person interviews, driver training, the oversight from police and transit road supervisors that can observe driver behavior on the streets, and pre-tour checks by supervision designed to physically assess that drivers are fit-for-duty. Hence, operations by agency personnel and by TNCs are not safety equals. This is particularly important and noteworthy for routes or services that are currently served by a transit system that are being considered for replacement with a TNC service.

Finally, cities and transit agencies should proceed cautiously. The long-term sustainability of TNCs has yet to be proven and financial viability of these companies relies on eliminating drivers by using autonomous technology. But fundamental to this approach is that autonomous vehicles can operate safely in all weather and environmental conditions, and have regulatory authority to operate in mixed traffic in all locations. To date, autonomous vehicles have yet to prove their safe operational ability, particularly during fog, snow, and rain. Evolving transit-TNC models may work in the coming years, but long-term applications should not be assumed, at least not yet. In the meantime, the various scenarios of competition or complementary co-existence have been modeled in a useful framework for cities.

Mark Zannoni is Research Director for Smart Cities and Transportation and head of IDC’s Worldwide Urban Mobility Program. To learn more about the Worldwide Smart Cities and Communities Strategies advisory research service from IDC Government Insights, click here.

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