UberPool And LyftLine Find The Gaps In Public Transit

New carpool options that have debuted nationwide this summer may cheaply and speedily close gaps in service that have long tormented transit users, according to a study released Wednesday.
UberPool and LyftLine allow riders to share their ride with travelers going in the same direction, for a reduced fee, nudging the cost of Uber and Lyft closer to the rates for public transit—enough closer to compete where public transit has long performed poorly, according to a study led by Joseph P. Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development and professor of public service at DePaul University in Chicago.
"We found that UberPool tends to do best where transit is the worst," Schwieterman said in a webinar briefing Thursday morning. And where is transit worst? Not on the well-traveled routes between the neighborhoods and downtown, but from neighborhood to neighborhood.
"On neighborhood-to-neighborhood trips we think this new mode is just pretty astounding on what kinds of options it offers."
Schwieterman sent pairs of volunteers on parallel trips across Chicago using the Chicago Transit Authority and Uber, comparing the cost and time expended.
"UberPool did not disappoint," he wrote in a blog post about the study. "Regardless of the type of trip involved, our study found that carpooling tended to get you there faster than public transit, although often not by enough to justify — for many passengers — the cost difference."
On trips from downtown Chicago to the neighborhoods, UberPool cost $7.76 more and saved about six minutes.
On trips from the outskirts of downtown Chicago to the neighborhoods, UberPool cost $7.27 more and saved 10 minutes.
On trips between the neighborhoods, UberPool cost $7.25 more and saved 19 minutes.
Riders may have saved enough time on the neighborhood-to-neighborhood trips to justify the added expense, Schwieterman said.
Federal guidelines recommend analysts assume the average urban traveler values time savings at $24 per hour, he said. By arriving about 20 minutes earlier than a transit rider, an UberPool traveler may derive a benefit from carpooling of around $8 per trip, a greater amount than the added cost.
"The most time-sensitive travelers and groups of travelers would derive an even higher benefit," he said.
In Chicago, neighborhood-to-neighborhood trips are difficult in part because of the city's grid and a historic alignment of diagonals and train lines designed to move workers downtown—a pattern now less uniform than it once was.
Schwieterman agrees neighborhood-to-neighborhood travel is particularly challenging here.
"Such trips can be painful to transit users in Chicago, in part due to our slow pace of getting bus rapid transit off the ground and our 'legacy' rail system, with its radial design that focuses primarily on travel to and from downtown. And buses on some routes stop every few blocks."
I asked him how well his study translates to other cities, where those patterns may be different.
I think the results are quite transferable to other cities," he told me via email. "In many cities, transit is quite limited, so our 'neighborhood-to-neighborhood' trips are probably closer to what the typical transit rider experiences.
"Of course, Chicago is famous for having such a strict radial focus, but transit between non-downtown locations in quite painful in most cities. The neighborhood-to-neighborhood routes we sampled had frequent bus and train service, but they required connections and the buses made stops every few blocks."

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