Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Knowing how the ride-hail service is used near key metro stops could help the agency address its “first-and-last mile” problem.
Uber and Lyft market their services as complementing public transit, encouraging people who might otherwise drive all day to use an mix of municipal and private transit. But not everyone agrees that’s what happens. Some transit experts argue the services pull riders off trains and buses and into the backseats of cars. And some say the services are contributing to a slump in transit ridership in Southern California.
So is ride-hailing friend or foe to transit? L.A. County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority may soon be getting at least a partial answer. The L.A. Times reports that the agency is negotiating an agreement with Lyft that would provide access to data on how riders use the service for trips that begin or end at certain Metro stations, such as those at the end of a line or at major employment centers that draw lots of commuters.
Besides offering a better sense of how many cars Lyft is putting on or off the road, the data could shed light on transit’s “first-and-last mile” problem, according to Metro officials. "We know that people use services like Lyft to get from home to transit, or to get to their final destination," Jacob Lieb, a Metro sustainability policy manager, told the Times. "But we don't have that much detail about how, and in what circumstances."
What would Lyft get in return for its data dump? The Times reports:
Metro would advertise the service to its riders, Lieb said. Metro is also considering adding Lyft to a trip-planning feature in the agency's mobile app, which creates an itinerary based on a user's starting point and destination.
If it goes through, Metro’s agreement would be the latest in a promising trend. Last year, Dallas Area Rapid Transit became the first U.S. agency to formally partner with both Lyft and Uber, and now allows transit riders to hail rides from both services through its official app. Kansas City recently announced a related partnership with the microtransit service Bridj, essentially promising low-cost, on-demand bus rides.
These are all smart moves for cities grappling with a technology that hardly existed five years ago. Whether Lyft and Uber are friends or foes, ride-hailing isn’t going away.