[By Charlie Wood]
Uber is launching a tool aimed at making it easier for suburban commuters to reach their nearest train station each morning — a sign the ride-sharing giant might be trying to play nice with cities after studies have shown that public transport has taken a beating from Uber and rival Lyft.
In a statement on its website published Friday, Uber said the tool, called “Make My Train,” is being rolled out to two major rail networks: the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) in New York and Caltrain in the San Francisco Bay Area. Uber estimates the networks are collectively used by at least 360,000 people each weekday.
When users select a train station from one of these networks as their destination in the Uber app, they’re automatically given a list of train schedules based on real-time data.
After selecting their preferred station, as well as their preferred drop-off time, the app works its algorithmic magic and suggests a time for users to schedule their ride to the station.
Uber added that it launched the Make My Train after researching how people use its growing stable of public transportation-related features, which were rolled out throughout 2019.
It’s possible, however, that the tool is an attempt to placate cities who’ve seen a decline in public transport use just as ride-hailing firms like Uber and Lyft have grown.
According to the American Public Transport Association, Americans made roughly 200 million fewer unlinked transit trips in 2018 than 2017. Looking back in time, the decline is even starker: there were over 860 million fewer unlinked transit trips made in 2018 than in 2014– a decline of around 8% across those four years.
Though it’s easy to pinpoint the cause as cuts to public services, a 2019 University of Kentucky study suggests that the advent of ride-hailing is the main factor.
The study used a random-effects model to examine ride-hail and transit trends in 22 of America’s biggest cities, and accounted for 10 different variables, including population, density, proportional car ownership, gas prices, and transit miles in each metro area.
Its authors concluded that, while factors like changes in service levels, gas price and auto-ownership are important, they’re “insufficient to explain the recent ridership declines.”
Make My Train is a sign of Uber’s willingness to integrate real-time transport information into its offering – something it’s clearly been doing since at least 2017, when it partnered with real-time transport information provider Transit.
Last month, Uber expanded its Uber Transit feature to Las Vegas. First launched early 2019, the feature lets users buy bus and train tickets through the Uber app.