By Tina Bellon
(Reuters) – As U.S. transit ridership plunged during the pandemic and cities reduced service, lower-income residents living in city outskirts made up the majority of passengers in new ride-hail partnerships some transit agencies struck with Uber to replace service cuts.
The data provided by Uber Technologies Inc to Reuters exclusively analyzed hundreds of thousands of on-demand transit trips in seven U.S. cities and one Canadian city between April and December of 2020.
The service allows cities to subsidize Uber trips to replace costly bus lines whose ridership has fallen drastically during the pandemic. The findings highlight the dependence on public transit by many essential workers, who could not stay home and had no other means to get around.
Uber’s data showed that some 75% of on-demand transit trips began or ended in lower-density neighborhoods with fewer than 15,000 jobs and people per square mile, according to U.S. census data.
More than half of the trips originated or finished in low-income areas based on metrics by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Chris Pangilinan, head of global policy of Uber’s public transportation team, said the findings emphasized the need for transit agencies to shift their focus away from serving mainly downtown business centers.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on not just serving office workers, but also serving people who are commuting elsewhere,” Pangilinan said.
Uber is also offering routing software to plan on-demand and fixed-route trips, a service it hopes to sell to more transit agencies.
While Uber and Lyft Inc have been working with some cities for several years, partnerships increased during the pandemic when many mass transit providers cut service and turned to ride-hail companies to offer transportation options for essential workers.
Some gave monthly bus-pass holders a limited number of rides, others covered the entire cost for regular trips to and from essential workplaces.
Florida’s Miami-Dade County, which replaced several night bus lines with fully subsidized Uber and Lyft rides, said some 13,000 trips are provided through the county’s Go Nightly program every month.
“It has allowed us to continue serving our community, mostly essential employee riders who depend on Miami-Dade transit at a time when we had to make the tough decision to eliminate overnight service,” said Carlos Cruz-Casas, assistant director of the county’s department of transportation.
The program also allowed the county to save costs, which at $14 per hour per rider are well below the $40 needed to run the overnight fixed-line bus routes.
While ridership has increased back to around 70% of pre-pandemic levels, the transit agency is now considering expanding on-demand services during daytime to serve remote areas previously not connected to the transit network, Cruz-Casas said.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas; Editing by Matthew Lewis)