Uber's Bid for the Suburbs
Solving the first mile-last mile problem has long occupied a top spot on transit planners' to-do lists. How can we increase transit use by making it easier for people to get from their homes to the nearest station?
The question may have less to do with boosting transit and more to do with making commuters' lives easier.
In the town of Summit, New Jersey, commuters who take the train to New York City can't find anywhere to park their cars for the day. From Priya Anand's piece: "Commuters buy parking permits, but are not assigned spaces, and often waste 15 to 20 minutes prowling for a spot in the morning [...] But building a new parking lot to address commuter demand would be a long-term, multimillion-dollar endeavor."
One answer: subsidize Uber rides to and from the station. "Priced at $2 each way, the rides would cost commuters the same as an all-day parking permit. The deal would reduce demand for Summit's hard-to-come-by parking spaces and create a steady pool of demand for Uber."
Clearly interested in extending its service to car-dependent suburbanites, Uber has agreed to a six-month pilot program serving 100 residents. Summit's city administrator estimates that the program would only cost about $167,000 per year, a tiny fraction of what it would take to install parking.
To be fair, "Summit is about 6 square miles, which keeps ride-hail fares within its boundaries relatively inexpensive." And far more than 100 residents may eventually want to use the program. But Uber has plenty of reasons to make this kind of initiative work: not only does rideshare fully enter the suburbs; daily commuters also offer steady business, unlike weekend partygoers, occasional visitors, and other Uber staple clients.