Lyft, Uber, GM Maven and the Potential Impact on the Military Community

Service members on two Marine Corps bases in San Diego spend $250M every year on their vehicles. Yet many use them less than 1% of the time. Today, Lyft and Uber cannot enter these bases to pickup passengers. Carsharing is not an option and public transportation is almost non-existent. Marines often buy cars because there is no alternative means of transportation. The Marine Corps is changing that by bringing Lyft and GM Maven onto these bases, while we also explore opportunities with Uber and Zipcar. The impacts go beyond just providing cheaper transportation. Military spouses will have greater job opportunities and retired veterans will reconnect with the military community.

In my article, The Future of Mobility for Military Installations, I cast a vision for how ridehailing, carsharing and autonomous vehicles could transform installations for both official business and personal mobility. Rather than the concepts I wrote about being prescriptive I think of them as a launch point for what a mobility service program on installations could present. In my recent article, My Year as a Fellow at NREL, I detail what has happened since I first wrote “The Future of Mobility…” article. As I have spent the last six months exploring the realm of the possible with industry, installations and federal/local agencies, I have learned quite a bit about the types of impacts mobility services can have on the military community. This article will focus on two Marine Corps installations in southern California, Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar. These installations will be the test beds for ridehailing and carsharing demonstration projects within the Corps’ Mobility Transformation Strategy, which I lead.

While official mobility is the focus of the strategy, there are substantial benefits to the military community. These impacts can be associated to these four areas: 1) Increased Transportation Options and Access, 2) Increased Financial Stability, 3) Safety, and 4) Improved Employment Opportunities. Before detailing these impacts, it is important to first understand the mobility landscape aboard the installations today.

Mobility Today

As previously mentioned, the Mobility Transformation Strategy includes ridehailing and carsharing demonstration projects aboard Camp Pendleton and MCAS Miramar. Camp Pendleton is a sprawling installation sitting between San Diego County and Orange County on the California Pacific Coast. It is a decentralized base with cantonment areas spread across approximately 200 square miles. There are more than 25,000 service members living aboard Camp Pendleton and another 12,000 service members, Department of Defense (DOD) civilians and government contractors that commute to the installation each day. Additionally there are more than 7,000 families living on base.

Statistics for Mobility Aboard Camp Pendleton and MCAS Miramar

Meanwhile MCAS Miramar is a very centralized installation siting in the center of San Diego County, just within the border of the City of San Diego. Nearly all activity, to include barracks, housing, workspace and retail stores, sits on the north side of the air field within an area less than 10 square miles. MCAS Miramar has a much smaller population than Camp Pendleton with more than 3,500 service members and 500 families living aboard MCAS Miramar and another 7,500 service members, Department of Defense (DOD) civilians, and government contractors that commute to the installation each day.

The above chart is a mobility snapshot of each base for both official business and personal mobility. Non-tactical vehicles (NTVs) represent the fleet government solution to official mobility requirements. Passenger NTVs are considered sedans, SUVs, passenger vans, and light-duty trucks ½ ton and below. These numbers exclude all special purpose vehicles such as utility vans, heavy-duty trucks, military police patrol vehicles, etc. Personal mobility is represented by “personally owned vehicles” or POVs. To calculate the number of POVs for service members in barracks, the national US ownership average of 64% was utilized. To calculate the number of POVs for military families living on base a 1.9 vehicle per household ratio was used, which is similar to current vehicle per household ratios in the region. To calculate the aggregate cost of these POVs, the national average of $9,000/year for personally owned vehicles was used. Finally, for commuters, only commuter vans are shown as the San Diego Association of Governments subsidizes and tracks these vans.

As you can see from the chart, mobility comes at a considerable cost to the Marine Corps and the military community. A separate article covering the impacts of Lyft and GM Maven for official mobility will be released tomorrow. The purpose of this article is to highlight the personal mobility impacts.

Mobility Services and the Military Community

There are four universal challenges for military communities that can be addressed by mobility services. First, it is important to better understand the military community, which can be broken into the following categories; 1) service members, 2) families, 3) civilian employees/government contractors, and 4) retired veterans. If you ask Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS), these four categories represent their customers.

The military community challenges that can be addressed by mobility services are; 1) Increased Transportation Options and Access, 2) Increased Financial Stability, 3) Safety, and 4) Improved Employment Opportunities. These demonstration projects aboard the two bases will help us understand just how much impact can be achieved.

Increase Transportation Options and Access

There are very limited transportation options on installations besides POVs. Even the few public transit buses that service parts of an installation are rarely utilized. Taxis are an inefficient and expensive alternative. Additionally today, Lyft and Uber do not have access to customers that request a ride originating on the base, which is why a concerted effort to bring facilitate ridehailing must be achieved.

Through ridehailing and carsharing, the military community can enjoy mobility “just in time” rather than the expensive “just in case” philosophy of personally owned vehicles. For those that live on installations, the impact is obvious, but there is also an impact on the commuters. Transportation options such as ridehailing and carsharing facilitate what is called multimodal transportation opportunities. A commuter that knows they have convenient transportation options when they are on base, will be more likely to commute with others or use public transportation.

Both ridehailing and carsharing center their business models around creating healthy markets by matching supply and demand. Lyft focuses on healthy supply of drivers that ensure pickups within 5 minutes of a request. Meanwhile GM Maven focuses on providing enough vehicles to assure availability when a vehicle is requested. These market based business models are exactly what the military community needs to ensure they are valued as customers.

Meanwhile MCCS acts as the partner that holds the keys to the market. MCCS is responsible for both businesses on the bases as well as Morale, Welfare, and Recreation, known as MWR. MCCS recognizes that the old business models focused on brick and mortar are being threatened by innovative new services. Therefore they have launched an innovation effort where they look to bring service providers onto the base to meet the military community’s needs. When it comes to mobility services, MCCS has multiple vested interests. First, is the business side of providing a service to the community where they benefit from a revenue share with the service provider. Second, mobility services improve access to both retail services on the installation and MWR services such as counseling and community events.

Another improved access aspect of mobility services is for veterans. As has been very publicly displayed, Veteran Affair (VA) hospitals have struggled with availability for their patients. Ridehailing can support this challenge through providing convenient and confirm-able transport to VA hospitals. “The total cost of missed healthcare appointments in the United States every year is an astronomical $150 billion.” Missed appointments means inefficient scheduling and delayed appointments for all. In fact, Lyft and Blue Cross and Blue Shield have recently created a partnership to address this, signaling that the commercial health care industry recognizes the potential impact to their customers and bottom line. Additionally, ridehailing provides the opportunity for Veterans organizations to help subsidize convenient transportation to and from appointments.

Increased Financial Stability

As I described in my “Future of Mobility…” article, Marines pay a lofty price for having “just in case” mobility by owning POVs. On Camp Pendleton it is estimated that more than 11,000 of the 18,000 Marines living in barracks own a vehicle at an aggregate cost of $104M/yr. That’s $104M that leaves the military community to pay for vehicles which are rarely used. Estimates show that a Marine that uses his POV 2% of the time spends $.86/min, more likely the utilization is around 1% which costs the Marines $1.72/min. Compare that to carsharing estimates which are around $.13/min. Meanwhile for ridehailing the estimate is $.79/min, 68% of which ($.54/min) goes to the driver. In this case that means it stays within the military community as I will describe below after addressing safety.


There were more than 2,700 active duty vehicular fatalities across DOD from 2000 to 2009. Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while impaired (DWI) DOD statistics are hard to find, but everyone knows it is a problem. Access to mobility services stand to drastically counter these problems. Ridehailing is very strait forward as someone else is doing the driving, preventing drinking or tiredness from becoming a threat.

Improved Employment Opportunities

Ridehailing aboard Camp Pendleton will target spouses, active duty, and retired veterans as drivers. This strategy focuses on creating drivers out of those that already have access to the installation. Spouses tend to have a difficult time finding employment due to the frequency with which they move. Driving for Lyft or Uber creates a flexible employment option for spouses that presents permanent or temporary job security, whichever the spouse is looking for.

As for active duty, many young enlisted seek out second jobs at places like Domino’s or McDonalds. Approval for a second job must be provided by the service members command. Unlike most jobs that adhere to a work schedule, becoming a drive for Lyft or Uber provides complete control to the service member. They can provide a singly ride a week or tens of rides over a weekend. Additionally, it provides a great transition strategy for those leaving the service. A part time Lyft driver leaving the service can continue to drive providing himself financial stability through the transition. Many service members leave the service with ideas, but little in the way of guaranteed employment or schooling. Transitioning as a driver helps them bridge that gap with a safety net. This can help curb some of the homeless veterans epidemics facing this country.

Finally, retirees could benefit from becoming drivers. While supplementing their retirement pay, it also provides them a connection back into the military community. When a retiree drives a young active duty service member bonds can be strengthened within the larger military community. This is illustrated well by the cartoon above, June: Life is Better When You Share a Ride. The Lyft video shows an elderly widow and how connections made through driving helped her feel a sense of belonging. Now envision an elderly veteran or widow of a veteran creating those same bonds with young service members who are currently making the same commitment to serving this country. I can see a sense of community forming from those interactions that invigorate the veteran and provide perspective to the young service member.

Unlocking opportunities for mobility services in the military community can have far-ranging impacts for service members, their families, civilian employees, and veterans. These impacts are best unlocked by revenue partnerships between community services and the industry partners. There is no single stakeholder within DOD that has a vested interest in the breadth of these benefits. Therefore, it won’t happen on its own. It requires those of us that care about the totality of the military community to get that ball moving. The Marine Corps’ Mobility Transformation Strategy is our way of creating that opportunity.

About the Author: Major Brandon Newell is the Chair of the Marine Corps Mobility Transformation Working Group. He has 16 years as an active duty Marine, specializing in Communications, Energy Systems and now Mobility. He has a M.S and B.S. in Electrical Engineering. You can reach him on LinkedIn at