Feb 1, 2019

Uber and Transit

Uber Wants to Be Your One-Stop Transit Stop

The ride-hailing app launches its first integration with public transportation options in Denver.

In 2004, Denver looked bound to be the most advanced transit town west of the Mississippi. With a $4.7 billion bond measure passed, the city planned to add 122 miles of brand-new light rail, commuter trains, and rapid bus lines for RTD, the area’s mass transit agency.
But as these new system segments went live across the Mile High region, something went awry. Riders did not rush to fill the platforms. Quite the reverse: To date, transit ridership has actually declined and drivers have put more miles on the roads.

Now, an unlikely actor is making an effort to reverse that downward trend. On Thursday, starting in Denver, Uber will offer a transit option on its app, alongside its usual mix of ride-hail offerings. On-demand travelers who punch in their destination expecting to see UberPool and UberX options will now also see the time and cost comparison, plus point-to-point directions, for taking that same trip by bus or train. In one city, at least, the Uber app now more closely resembles Google Maps, with a major service bonus: It’s a multimodal navigation service, plus the actual means to get there.

“We want to help you feel confident on transit,” David Reich, Uber’s head of transit, said in an interview. Some travelers in Denver might not think to ride a public bus or train, he said; having their go-to ride-hailing app automatically populate with transit directions could help ease consumers into making a more wallet-friendly and/or planet-conscious choice. Eventually, that step could be easier. Through a previously announced partnership with the mobile ticketing software maker Masabi, travelers in Denver will eventually be able to purchase RTD fares inside the Uber app and use their phones to board.

Why Denver? It was the city’s enthusiasm, plus its own relatively advanced transit tech offerings, Reich said. Its existing mobile ticketing app was simpler to integrate with Uber’s than other cities that might have had to start from scratch, explained Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy and research. The city’s sprawling suburban character also mirrors a lot of other North American cities. “There are a lot of environments where this could work,” said Salzberg. The eventual plan is to integrate other transit systems into the app, too. Plus, Denver has the advantage of a newly built, spacious rail system with reliably on-time performance, which cannot be said for every city.

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