With transportation systems in a state of transformation in cities all over the world, the role of new service providers like on-demand ride-hailing services Lyft and Uber is in an interesting state of flux. Having begun their lives as replacements for traditional taxi services, their smart system infrastructures providing a leg-up on the industry, these services have now proven to represent a shift far larger than anticipated as their introduction has come to replace, for many urban residents, traditional forms of transport such as private vehicles and mass transit. This shift has led to a swift rise in the use of such services and augurs a trend that could significantly impact the future of transportation in cities as increasing numbers adopt them, thereby reducing public transit usage and increasing the number of private vehicles on the streets—with Uber making some 12 times as many trips than taxis according to a study of San Francisco traffic.

As a result, some areas have begun to take action, with the state government of Massachusetts instating a 20-cent tax for ride-hailing trips and Manhattan setting a congestion pricing plan in an effort to support public transport, both incentivizing and directing some of these funds to support public transport, and reduce the amount of ride-hailing cars on the streets. Uber and Lyft, however, have also shown a willingness to seek new forms of operation that bring it into the city in new ways.

Among these new models are those that seek to expand their services to new user bases, such as Uber’s recently launched UberPool and Lyft’s Shuttle service—both adopting models closer to buses or service shuttles, akin to Helsinki’s Kutsuplus, a similarity that has drawn notable criticism for its attempt to subvert public transit. Other forms of expanded operation models have moved the companies into closer cooperation with cities and other citizen-directed organizations, such as agreements with towns like Altamonte Springs, Florida which has replaced public transportation with subsidized Uber rides and a recently launched service designed for healthcare providers to help their patients make it to their appointments. The first of these shows a boldness which has made Uber a target of critique from many city planners and public authorities, noting the deleterious impact of directing mass transit users to ride-hailing services, but the second, however, signals a more productive route that sees the companies finding new solutions for existing problems—the high rate of no-shows costs healthcare providers an estimated $150 billion a year, many of these related to difficulty in reaching the healthcare provider.

Moves like these show an active engagement with the future of transportation and suggest a need for cities to take an ever stronger role in guiding the evolution of their transportation systems as the number of options and operators increases.

San Francisco study of Uber and Lyft usage in the city

New taxes and congestion pricing legislation 

The Verge on Altamonte Springs’s bold experiment 

Read about the new partnerships with healthcare providers in the USA Today 

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