Can Uber and ride-sourcing overtake public transit?

According to a recent study conducted for the American Public Transportation Association, people still take the bus and train despite significant disruption from ride-sourcing services like Uber and Lyft.

The study investigates – through a poll of 4,500 respondents who don’t drive, plus interviews with people in the transportation sector – the impact new mobility systems have had on the public transit industry. The major findings:

  • 65 percent of respondents use public bus or train most often, the study finds. Only 12 percent of respondents use bike-sharing most often, while about the same number use car-sharing (Zipcar) most often. Ride-sourcing (Uber, etc.) is used most often by about 10 percent of the cohort. “Supersharers” – those who use all types of mobile systems for a number of tasks in three months – actually bike-share much more (21-22 percent say that’s used most often).
  • About 44 percent of respondents take the bus at least once per week, and nearly 50 percent take the train at least once per week. Car-sharing? Only 15 percent use it at least once per week. Again, bike-sharing is popular among “supersharers,” as nearly 50 percent use it at least once per week.
  • So when people ride-source, 60 percent of respondents say they do it for recreation purposes, while only 20 percent actually commute that way. And people ride-source on weekends and at 8 p.m. or later, while bus and train spike during commute times.
  • The study tracks how people use transit apps, finding that people most use ride-sharing and ride-sourcing apps for maps, while people most use transit apps for schedules.
  • The study breaks down transit use by income level: the lower your income, the higher the probability you’re taking the bus, while the higher your income, the higher the probability you’re on the train. Car-sharing and ride-sourcing is equal across most income levels, though there’s a slight advantage to higher income folks with ride-sourcing.

Clearly it’s a highly useful study that shows the true impact of disruption across the country. The verdict: public transit is still a force.

Ride-sourcing (or ride-hailing) has been an issue for the taxicab industry in some major cities but it remains a niche slice of the overall sector. Uber and the like do cut across all income levels, but its existence is reliant on demand on a much smaller scale than public transportation.

Moreover, Uber and other ride-sourcing services require multiple steps daily, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get your ride at the time you need it. People – especially millions who may not be using a smartphone for daily tasks – rely on public transit because it’s relatively reliable. Schedules change rarely. Information on public transit comes in paper, online and through traditional media. Transportation modes are accessible and routes are established. In fact, public transit routes help justify a neighborhood’s livability for millions of people.

All this to say that public transit will not go away any time soon. It’s essential for commutes and its variety of transportation modes caters to all income levels and lifestyles.

As the study shows, ride-sourcing is especially essential for people on weekends and at night – aka I need a ride home because I’ve had a few drinks. There’s a market for this, certainly, and it will cut into traditional cabs (which rely on that audience), but in the end, there’s no way ride-sourcing overtakes public transit in the Millennial era.