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As Riders Flee Trains, Key To Metro Recovery May Lie With Uber, Lyft

In this July 15, 2015 file photo, Uber driver Karim Amrani sits in his car parked near the San Francisco International Airport parking area in San Francisco.
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
In this July 15, 2015 file photo, Uber driver Karim Amrani sits in his car parked near the San Francisco International Airport parking area in San Francisco.

Are Uber and Lyft a key to restoring Metro’s plummeting rail ridership?

At a time when the number of people using Metrorail is at its lowest level since 2004, about 700,000 trips per workday, the D.C. region’s transit authority has pointed to the popularity of new personal transport options as a reason for its losses. But a report by a pro-transit group found people who use Uber and Lyft, the two most popular ride-hailing apps, and bike- and car-sharing services are more likely to hop on the train or public bus.

Among Uber and Lyft users, 50 percent said they take the train and 45 percent said they use a bus frequently, according to the study of 4,500 people in seven cities including Washington, D.C., by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Read the full report from the American Public Transportation Association.

Moreover, ride-hailing services are used most often after 8 p.m. compared to other modes, when city rail and bus lines are least available, the study said. Ride-hailing users, therefore, are using Uber or Lyft only occasionally to commute, opting first for trains and buses during the day.

The group’s study comes as transit systems nationwide grapple with the task of integrating their rail and bus routes with, rather than competing against, app-based personal transport, even if ride-hailing “appears more likely to substitute for automobile trips than public transit.”

As urban transportation continues to evolve — as technology offers city dwellers ever more options for getting around — partnerships between services may enhance ridership for all, the report said.

“Public transit agencies should seize opportunities to improve urban mobility for all users through collaboration and public-private partnerships, including greater integration of service, information and payment methods,” according to one of the report’s four key findings.

“While a number of regulatory and institutional hurdles complicate partnerships in this area, technology and business models from the shared mobility industry can help drive down costs, increase service availability and improve rider experience.”

Travelers who frequently use “shared modes” — trains, buses, Uber, bikesharing, etc. — also drive alone less often and spend less money of transportation than other study respondents, the study found.

APTA executives will discuss their study with representatives from Uber, Lyft, and major U.S. transit systems at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Washington.

The researchers surveyed people who already use “shared mobility” services, leaving open the question of whether future partnerships between public transit agencies and tech companies like Uber can attract significant new users. Also, the respondents generally appear to belong to a more affluent demographic group.

“The average household income of respondents was $90,926, with an average age of 41.0 years, reflecting the relatively high cost of living in the study cities,” the report said.

This story will be updated.

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