Jan. 8 (UPI) — While taxi companies have long complained about ride-share services like Uber and Lyft cutting into their business, ride-hailing may be eating away at a new victim — public transit.
In some of the largest cities in the United States and around the world, public ridership is falling in areas where ride-sharing services are on the rise. In cities like New York City, which just landed a future location for Amazon new East Coast headquarters, there's been a noticeable drop in subway and bus riders — while ride-sharing picked up nearly 15 percent in one year.
NYC Transit officials, in fact, said last summer the ridership dip is already affecting its 2019 budget.
NYC Transit Executive Vice President Tim Mulligan said his agency first noticed drops in late night travel in 2014, and by 2017 they covered all time periods throughout the day. Meanwhile, he said, rides for-hire saw a 13.1 percent increase. New York subway ridership fell 0.3 percent in 2016, 1.7 percent in 2017 and another 2.1 percent midway through 2018.
"The actual amounts of riders added to for-hire vehicle-taxi market is strikingly similar to the same number of riders we see [declining] in subways and buses," Mulligan told the NYC Transit board recently. "This is the best analysis and evidence that we have to date, of not just a correlation between for-hire-vehicle growth and subway ridership decline, but causation."
Mulligan said when NYC Transit examined public transportation in other large cities — like Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston — it found they'd experienced similar tips. Same goes for international cities like London, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Bay Area Rapid Transit, which serves the San Francisco and Oakland areas, reported last month it's losing millions to the ride-share industry. Like NYC Transit, BART saw record-high ridership in 2013, only to see those numbers tumble with the arrival of Uber and Lyft.
In the past five years, in fact, BART officials estimated the agency has lost about 10 percent of its ridership to and from San Francisco International Airport, or about $4 million. Connector trips to and from Oakland International Airport have fallen 6 percent in the past two years. Ride-sharing firms, though, have seen nearly 10 million pickups and drop-offs at both airports combined.
"When these connectors were built, we didn't see that something like ride-shares was going to happen," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.
What about the impact in other major cities? Los Angeles Metro said it doesn't yet have any data on the amount of business going to Uber and Lyft — but it's significant enough that the agency is will launch its own ride-share program this month.
"I would like to point you to our own ride-sharing programs, the first of which will launch as a pilot program in January called Mobility on Demand, which will offer shared rides to and from three transit stations in a defined area," L.A. Metro Brian Haas told UPI. "Later next year, we will be readying to launch a MicroTransit pilot, which will offer shared rides on short trips, similar to Uber and Lyft."
BART, meanwhile, has started a year-long trial with an app that offers a 25 percent discount for groups of two or more using the service, in a move to better compete with ride-sharing companies in cost.
NJ Transit, which offers service to and from the largest metro area in the United States, said it hasn't yet noticed a significant impact from the uptick in ride-share customers. It admitted, however, it's just beginning to take a look at the numbers and is eyeing ways to partner with Uber and Lyft.
"We are in the early stages of investigating ways we could work with ride-sharing programs to expand our customers' travel options, by providing, for example, last mile transportation connections and additional choices to bring our customers to and from our stations and stops," NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith told UPI.
Some say NYC Transit's ridership dip has more to do with poor service and ill-timed construction rather than the ride-hailing trend. In such cases, commuters are merely choosing a for-hire vehicle over the headache of complicated subway and bus routes.
"I think there is a definite link between all of the [construction] and the rise in Uber and Lyft and other for-hire services," NYC Transit board member Andrew Albert said last year. "I can't tell you how many people walk down into a station, see a wall of diversion notices and say, 'I'm not dealing with this,' go up and hire a car.
"We have to do a better job at outlining what diversions are taking place. … It's off-putting and its affecting ridership with people would have normally taken the system."
Another NYC board member, union representative Peter Ward, echoed Albert's sentiments, saying riders in less affluent New York City neighborhoods like Far Rockaway appear to be choosing the convenience of ride-share services than less-expensive public transportation.
Ward pointed to his work with hotel unions, where workers have long complained about negative service during their early morning subway and bus commutes.
"We are not alone," Mulligan said. "This is a part of a national and international trend where the U.S. and other international agencies, on average, are experiencing declines."