by James A. Bacon
Arlington County is toying with the idea of replacing under-utilized bus lines in the northern part of the county with ride-sharing services provided by Uber Technologies Inc., and Lyft Inc. The service could offer rides to and from Metro stations at Ballston, East Falls Church and Courthouse
Subsidizing the ride-sharing services would be more cost-effective than operating full-service bus lines with low ridership, Marti Reinfeld, the county’s interim transit chief, told the Washington Post.
“What we would be supporting is picking up residents in their neighborhood and taking them to one or two designated stops, most likely a transit station,” Reinfeld said. “The county will subsidize that at some level.”
The idea is still conceptual, but Arlington officials confirm that they have held conversations with Uber and Lyft, both of which have sought similar partnerships elsewhere in the United States.
Bacon’s bottom line: Every transit operation in Virginia with money-losing routes ought to be thinking the same way.
The first step is to prune under-utilized and money-draining bus routes and concentrate resources into the most robust transportation corridors, offering greater frequency and reliability of service, in turn increasing ridership on those routes. This is what Houston famously has done, boosting ridership at no extra cost. The same consultants behind that transformation are working to rationalize the Richmond bus system.
The second step is to work with Uber, Lyft and anyone else with a bright idea to create a shared-ridership feeder system, in effect substituting vans and carpools for near-empty buses. Subsidies might be useful in order to stimulate the start-up of these services, but ideally they could be phased out over time as the concept takes hold and ridership builds to profitable levels.
A third step worth considering — requiring input from Uber, Lyft and others on what would be cost-effective — would be to invest in remodeling bus stops, rail stations and intermodal facilities to accommodate the easy ingress and egress of vans and carpools. The more seamless the connection between Uber-like services and mass transit, the more attractive the set-up is to passengers, and the more likely the idea is to succeed.
While I am no fan of subsidizing any mode of transportation, I acknowledge that there is no getting rid of money-losing transit operations, and we must do the best job with them we can. If subsidizing shared Uber rides instead costs less money, then there is a net gain to taxpayers.There are currently no comments highlighted.