Uberization of transit

Public transit on demand…excerpt, Houston Chronicle, Nov 2017 Why the ‘Uberization’ of public transit is good for cities by Junfeng Jiao, Juan Miró, Nicole McGrath, University of Texas at Austin, 3 November 2017

In fact, public transit “Uberization” has already begun. Many U.S. cities are teaming up with ride-hailing companies to provide on-demand public transit, as well as so-called first- and last-mile connections to transit services. These offerings appeal to riders’ desire for individual flexibility. By connecting ride-hailing apps with public buses and rail, cities can help residents seamlessly move from one form of transportation to another.

Among many examples, in mid-2017 Capital Metro, the regional public transit agency for Austin, Texas, piloted the Pickup app, which allows customers to request rides to anywhere within its service zone in a section of northeast Austin from their phones. In Central Florida, five cities have launched a unique pilot program that offers discounted intercity Uber trips. And the city of Centennial, Colorado, recently partnered with Lyft to provide transit users free trips to and from their Dry Creek light rail station.

Another option is offering fixed-route, on-demand bus service, like Ford’s Chariot, which is currently available in New York City, Austin, Seattle and San Francisco. This approach, which is a cross between a ride-hailing app and a bus route, provides more flexibility than traditional public transit while keeping costs low. Chariot operates during commuter hours, guarantees riders a seat once they reserve a ride online and accepts employer-paid commuter benefits. Not to be left behind, Lyft and Uber are also trying to fill this hybrid bus/on-demand type service with Lyft Shuttle and UberPool.

Congestion is increasing. U.S. drivers hit a record in 2016, traveling over 3.2 trillion miles in one year. Photo: David J. Phillip, Associated Press / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Photo: David J. Phillip, Associated Press

This idea is not as new as it may seem. For years Americans have relied on a dependable on-demand, door-to-door public transportation system: the yellow school bus. According to the American School Bus Council, every school day in 2015 nearly 484,000 school buses transported 27 million children to and from school and school-related activities.

However, most school buses are used only twice a day, in the early morning and again in the afternoon. Local governments, transit agencies and private enterprises should consider partnering with school systems to turn school buses into on-demand transit services during idle hours.

 We can also look to other countries for innovative ideas, such as colectivos – buses in South America that operate as shared taxis running on fixed routes. Via, a new ride-hailing vanpool service operating in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., was inspired by “sherut” shared taxis in Israel. Other forms of informal transit, such as Thailand’s tuk-tuks or jeepneys in the Philippines, may also inspire ways of filling transit gaps here in the United States. The beauty of Uberizing transportation services is that it can take many different forms.

Importantly, Uberization is not a replacement for traditional public transit. While there is some indication that ride-hailing apps reduce transit ridership, shared mobility services actually complement public transit.

Ride-hailing apps are usually used for social trips, and are most popular late at night, when traditional public transit is less frequent. Also, ride-sharing services reduce car ownership and decrease traffic congestion. And research shows that people who use ride-sharing services tend to use public transit more often.

The ConversationAs U.S. cities continue to grow, their leaders will need to think creatively to reduce traffic congestion and ensure that all residents’ mobility needs are met. They can learn from Uber and Lyft about providing more flexible and responsive public transit services.

Junfeng Jiao is Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning and Director, Urban Information Lab at the University of Texas at Austin,Juan Miró is the David Bruton, Jr. Centennial Professor in Urban Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and Nicole McGrath is an M.S. Candidate, Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas at Austin. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Houston needs more protected bike lanes

Could tactical urbanism lead to more permanent solutions?

November 2, 2017

In just a 30-day period, three people have been killed on their bikes in the city of Houston.

On Sept. 9, a man on his bicycle was killed crossing the Southwest Freeway between Hillcroft and Bellaire. On Sept. 21, Troy Stogner was struck and killed by a vehicle traveling on the feeder road of I-10. On Oct. 7, Taisheonna Kennedy was hit from behind by an SUV traveling northbound on the feeder of the East Sam Houston Parkway.

Houston Chronicle, Nov 2017
Three dead in 30 days — a bitter reminder of the work that remains for the city to protect bicyclists from speeds and road conditions designed exclusively for cars and trucks.

GRAY MATTERS: Houston is hell on cyclists and pedestrians. We can change that.

In March, City Council adopted the Houston Bike Plan. For many bicyclists, it was the first time since the early 1990s, when the first bike plan was passed, that we felt heard. The plan, which includes many of the city’s major thoroughfares, is a testament to the different ways people ride their bikes. Many of us ride for recreation, but we also use our bikes as a vehicle for transportation.

Though the bayou greenways are natural gems and make up much of the off-road network for Houstonians, our needs as bicyclists go beyond these trails and onto the streets of the city. There is no bayou greenway that runs north from Montrose into the Heights. Or south from downtown to the Medical Center. Houston’s bicyclists need Houston’s streets to be safer.

Texas A&M is experimenting with glow-in-the-dark bike lanes and "Dutch junctions" on campus. Photo: Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle / © 2016 Houston Chronicle

Photo: Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle

Texas A&M is experimenting with glow-in-the-dark bike lanes and “Dutch junctions” on campus.

The Gulfton neighborhood is a perfect example of a community who uses its bikes for utility more than leisure. Gulfton residents use their bikes to get to work, to access health care and to get to school.


What: Pop-up bike lane at Sunday Streets in Gulfton

Where: Bellaire Blvd. near Atwell Dr.

When: Sunday, Nov. 5, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Click here for more information about Sunday Streetsclick here if you’d like to volunteer to help build the bike lane

When the City announced that a Cigna Sunday Streets event would be held in Gulfton, we recognized the opportunity to make a statement about safe streets. We’re going to build a pop-up bike lane to raise awareness of the need for better bike infrastructure and to demonstrate design possibilities.

GRAY MATTERS: How to make Houston streets safer: Enough talk. More infrastructure.

This bike lane will be a poignant reminder of the three recent fatalities, since it will be located just a mile from where the bicyclist, whose name has not been released, was killed on Sept. 9.

This temporary installation will give a community that relies on its bikes for practical transportation a chance to experience the kind of bicycle infrastructure that Houston needs but is sorely lacking. And it is also a call to action to our elected officials to implement and fund the bike plan in order to make streets safer for the most vulnerable road users.

Across the country, this type of demonstration is known as tactical urbanism. Activists in Texas cities like San Antonio, Austin and Dallas have taken it upon themselves to implement, and therefore suggest, improvements to the built environment that urge a shift away, ever so slightly, from car-only design.

In Austin, community members transformed a street for the day with wooden risers, cones and chalk to slow traffic in a dense residential neighborhood where children often play.

In San Antonio, activists calling themselves the San Antonio Department of Transformation used toilet plungers and paint to improve safety at a notoriously dangerous intersection.

Paint and toilet plungers make for tactical urbanism in San Antonio. Photo: City Of San Antonio

Photo: City Of San Antonio

Though meant to be temporary, these demonstrations ask: What if they were permanent? What if we always built our streets this way? What if we weren’t satisfied with the way we currently are forced to get around our cities?

As Houston recovers from Harvey, it’s time to rethink the way we build. We can’t continue with business as usual as our community members lose their lives.

Jessica Wiggins is the advocacy director for BikeHouston. 

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