The two rideshare companies in operating in Pennsylvania, Uber and Lyft have been in the headlines lately after the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission (PUC) issued a cease and desist order to stop operating in Allegheny County. And while that issue seems to be drawing to a conclusion, Uber has mobilized their loyal users to help convince the PUC to allow rideshare services to operate throughout the state.
The first thing to know about ridesharing is that it’s not really ride sharing (more on that below). You are simply requesting a ride or e-hailing with a smart phone app. One advantage of using an app is obvious, there is no need to call, but additionally you learn of the drivers identity and license plate. You also can call them with a one push of a button, get a fare estimate and know when he or she is expected to arrive.
But it also is a boon for the driver as well. Since the customer has already registered their name, contact information, credit card number and added an optional photo. This makes the random bad guy pickup far less likely and has made these “taxi” jobs more appealing to job seekers.
Unlike Lyft, Uber has premium levels of service which has allowed them to penetrate markets before going head to head with taxis. Uber’s Black Car and SUV services use PUC certified limousine drivers with fares at about double of its basic level of Uber X. Uber X in fact was created to compete with Lyft and the other startup companies such as SideCar.
In Philadelphia the Taxi and Limousine Commission has not permitted Uber X or SideCar to operate in the City. But Uber Black Car and Uber SUV have acquired a large following anyway. Oddly enough Uber X does operate in Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester Counties, which adds to the confusion of the PUC’s actions. One dynamic that has not been studied yet is ridesharing’s impact on small town taxi companies. Uber’s coverage area in Suburban Philadelphia would offer a great test case to observe the effect.
Uber’s service area goes well beyond the Philadelphia City limits.
Two issues that rideshare companies have failed to address are carrying bicycles and people with disabilities. Uber has shown some responsiveness to customer requests such as providing a car seat and wifi. It seems that its easy enough to add bike racks (Uber will be adding bike racks to select Seattle UberX vehicles in the fall). Perhaps it is more of a challenge to add accessible vehicles to the fleet, but doing so could solve both problems and expand the customer base.
True real time ride sharing where a car or a van picks up more than one rider to reach their destinations is not far behind. Last week Uber and Lyft simultaneously launched experimental real time car pool services in San Francisco with the fare per passenger running at approximately half the cost of a typical ride. If successful this could affect the way some choice riders who are dissatisfied with driving alone or taking public transportation get around. Public transportation providers should pay attention as this technology could greatly help paratransit services which often require a phone call 24 hours advance to request a ride on limited days. If transit providers are looking for an existing model to emulate they should check out Helsinki’s Kutsuplus on demand transit service.
All the press in Pittsburgh has raised the awareness of real time ridesharing throughout the state. The pushback from the various taxi companies has added to media circus and although we don’t get our information from the comments section, its clear that the taxi companies have a lot of unattended public relations problems that have to be addressed ASAP. Oddly enough a press release from Lyft seems to suggest that rideshare companies may be deploying similar tactics that the taxi companies are notorious for using against one another. Which if true would imply that the “geniuses” behind ride sharing may not be so smart after all. Regardless as to what the ride sharing landscape looks like in 5 years, bringing this transportation choice to the rest of Pennsylvania seems like a worthwhile endeavor.