Ride-hailing apps may be taking riders away from public transit, but they’re also beginning to establish partnerships to address the notorious first/last mile issue. Uber is claiming that a new upgrade to its app falls into the latter camp, making it “easier for riders to combine Uber with public transit,” according to the company’s website.
The new feature is available on Android in partnership with Transit, and it shows departure times for trains and buses near wherever a rider is being dropped off. It’s available in a select number of U.S. cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and the Bay Area, among others (you can see a full list here).
Uber is pitching the app as a way to better connect cities “where people can easily access all neighborhoods, including areas underserved by transit”; provide alternatives to personal car ownership and reduce traffic and parking because “public transit and carpooling can mean fewer cars on the road and less congestion.”
Some, including Jacob Kastrenakes of The Verge, are skeptical of the company’s pitch, however.
“Promoting public transit is great, but this feature is mostly designed for people who are already headed to a bus or train — and it seems to be most useful for making sure they hurry to the stop so they don’t miss a nearing departure,” Kastrenakes wrote. “Please, don’t yell at your driver to speed up.”
Regardless, several other — and likely more substantial — moves to partner ride-hailing apps with public transit have been made recently. As Josh Cohen wrote for Next City last year, “in an effort to encourage transit ridership and alleviate the impact of service cuts brought on by budget woes,” the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority of St. Petersburg, Florida, subsidized 50 percent of the cost of taking rides with Uber, United Taxi (a local cab company) or Care Ride (a paratransit service) if those rides were connecting to the bus for part of 2016.
Lyft has also worked to bridge the first mile/last mile gap by partnering with a technology company to reach people who “aren’t close enough to a transit station to walk there, but who may just take the train if they could press a button on an app to hail a quick ride to or from that station,” Jen Kinney wrote for Next City in 2016.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.