Showdown: Uber vs. Autonomous Vehicles vs. Mass Transit

You should be excited about the future of transportation !


I decided to write this essay after having lunch with my dear friend Blanca. Our lunches are always cut short by the rigidity of a workday schedule, but in our 45 minutes we manage to frantically cover everything from the news, to what’s caught our attention in the tech or academic realms, to our hopes and dreams. We also somehow manage to eat a plate of Vietnamese food in the meantime. Last month’s discussion covered transit, AI and autonomous vehicles. This essay is my attempt to structure these thoughts, compiled from too many articles, too many lectures, too many conversations, into a coherent body. I’ve included a bibliography of sorts with all sorts of interesting links and further reading — it’s probably more interesting than the essay itself.

1. Why I’m excited about the future of transportation — and you should be too!

Transportation, from bicycles to street-cars, subways, and automobiles, has defined the form of the built world. This in turn affects everything from access to opportunity, to energy consumption and pollution. After decades of stasis, there’s a new form of technology in town that promises to change everything: smartphones.

Transit is now one of the most prominent tech frontiers. Transportation infrastructure is made up of networks (both physical and virtual), people, and information, making it a space ripe for new data-driven ideas and venture-capital funding.

The past few years have seen all sorts of ideas bubble up. Popular brands such as Uber and Lyft, but also companies like Chariot, Scoot, and Bluegogo, are all battling it out, throwing tech at this longstanding problem: how can I get from A to B more conveniently?

A little Taxonomy:

  • Uber/Lyft: Ride-hailing/sharing services simmilar to taxis
  • Loup: Like Uber/Lyft, but cars drive around predetermined loops
  • Chariot: Private vans that crowdsource the most efficient routes
  • Scoot: Electric scooters that you pick up and drop off via an app
  • Mobike, Ofo, Bluegogo: Dockless bike-share that works via an app and gps

Many, if not most, of these new players in the transit space are focused in or around San Francisco, the true capital of Silicon Valley (sorry San Jose).

2. I lost my head in San Francisco

Living in San Francisco is exciting. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, there’s always something going on (excuse me while I polish my rose-tinted glasses). Two months ago I left Honolulu, and the mountains and the beaches and my pickup-truck, behind to move here, to The City. I’ve settled into a co-living space in the Mission District, spending my free time riding my bike around town, silently cursing every time I’m forced to abandon some of my momentum.

Everyone who lives here also knows that there’s a strange energy permeating the city — the result of the tension between it’s hyperactive high-tech industry and it’s traditional institutions, from neighborhoods to the city government. This tension has led to a fraying, or in some cases an outright tearing, of the city’s fabric: gentrification, inequality, a housing crisis, to name a few issues.

Transit is one dimension through which this tension reveals itself. Because San Francisco is home to so many tech-transit companies, it’s also become their testing ground — the city has become a petri-dish of nascent transit startups.

Many of these companies aren’t afraid to push back against city regulations, or use loopholes, or otherwise find creative ways to take advantage of an infrastructure that was developed with other purposes in mind. Most cities in the developed world are dealing with some or many of these issues, but San Francisco presents a comprehensive example. SF city government is presently dealing with issues that are probably still a decade away for the average US city.

One issue which has already come and gone is Uber/Lyft’s battles with city taxi-regulations. After operating in a legal limbo for years, and after pressure from the Taxi industry to level the playing field, city officials decided to lower regulations for Taxis — as opposed to raising them for the ride-hailing companies. It is difficult to see how this can work in cities with more stringent regulations, such as the requirement that London cabs be wheelchair accessible. In most European cities, increased regulation — or in the case of Italy, outright banning — is the norm.

Back to SF: Although the issue is settled for now, it doesn’t mean that Uber and Lyft have now become effectively integrated into the city’s fabric. Far from it. There are claims that they’re clogging up the city center, displacing public-transit ridership (more about that later), and that their frequent stops block traffic or obstruct bike lanes.

Chariot, and other bus-like services, face a different set of legal problems: the argument from city officials is that they displace bus ridership without providing wheelchair access or vehicle inspections. They additionally have a history of using Muni bus-stops as pickup-drop off points, obstructing them in the process. Chariot is the only company that’s survived the regulatory onslaught, using the loophole that they run vans instead of busses.

Dockless bike-share companies like Bluegogo, who aim to store their bikes on public sidewalks, also face legal battles. City officials are afraid of abandoned bikes pilling up on downtown sidewalks, and they don’t want the public sidewalk to become an integral part of a company’s business model. They implemented regulations requiring Bluegogo to apply for parking spaces to use as de-facto docks — rules that Bluegogo was not able to meet in time.

At the root of all these issues is the fact that transit provided by private entities is out-competing public mass transit. There wouldn’t be a problem if nobody used these services, but they’ve become ubiquitous. Isn’t having more options a good thing? Not necessarily.

3. Public vs. Private Transit

For decades it’s been a very clear choice: private automobile, or public transit. Private citizens had a monopoly on the former, public entities on the latter. The new tech-transit companies fall somewhere between the two: they are privatized, for-profit services offered to the public.

These new transit options are lean and innovative, injecting some much needed dynamism into a stale industry, and they have siphoned off market-share from every preexisting category. There is also additional ‘induced demand’, from people who wouldn’t have left the home if it weren’t for the existence of these new convenient options, but the fact remains: there is a net drop in ‘classic transit’, i.e. busses and subways.

The rise of private transit operators can actually lead to more cars on the road: a New York City study shows that ride-share services lead to an increase in vehicle-miles travelled within the city limits. This is because ride-share still makes use of cars-on-roads, and attracts far more users of public transit that it does drivers of personal Single Occupancy Vehicles. In a city as focused on public transit at NYC, this has directly lead to an increase in congestion.

Competition from these newcomers — perfectly exemplified by the fact that Lyft ran a promotion where they explicitly price-matched MUNI bus fares by offering rides for $2.25 — risks trapping public transit agencies in a downward spiral: diminished ridership leads to shrinking budgets and reduced service, especially in less dense, less affluent communities. This problem is especially pronounced in small-to-mid-sized cities with transit departments that are already struggling. Again, the newcomers are also all too eager to fill the vacuum — during Washington DC’s 2016 “Metropocalypse”, Uber and Lyft pounced, offering significant discounts to entice new users.

In some senses it’s an unfair fight: in the case of buses vs chariot, two comparable services, chariot is a purely commercial enterprise whilst buses have an additional social mission: serving undeserved areas and providing ‘transit as a public service’. Buses effectively subsidize low-ridership routes with revenue from their more high-performing routes. This is the reason why budgetary pressures have lead the city of San Jose to streamline it’s bus transit-map, cutting service in areas with low ridership. It makes economic sense, but it risks stranding riders who need a way to get around. Chariot doesn’t have to care about any of this: they can funnel their resources into the most high-performing routes (crowdsourcing this is actually the core principle behind their model). This allows them to lower their fares, and in some cases threaten to undercut public transit.

Another wrench in the works, and the reason why many question the long-term prospects of private transit operators, is the fact that Uber and many other private firms are operating at a loss, effectively subsidizing their operations through venture-capital — a fundamentally unsustainable business model. Another form of implicit subsidy is the fact that city governments already provide the necessary transit infrastructure free of charge: through the construction and maintenance of roads and highways. These companies use public roads for free, effectively passing the infrastructure cost onto the taxpayer.

In a way, developments in the 21st century mirror those of the beginning of the 20th. This was a time when private rail companies ran street-car lines in major American cities. The rise of the automobile meant that they faced competition from drivers who drove paying passengers parallel to the rail line, usually for a cheaper fare because they were unregulated and used the existing public infrastructure. Rail companies lobbied for new regulation to reign in these independent micro-buses, and they were successful: it eventually became economically unsustainable. Many cities around the world still have these unofficial van-services, from Manila’s Jeepneys to Rio’s Kombis to Brooklyn’s Dollar Vans, but in most western cities they gradually died out.

Private streetcars maintained a monopoly on transit for a short while, then cheap automobiles ended the debate by increasing personal car ownership. This lead to a precipitous decline in street-car ridership — at this point the government stepped in and took over the operations of the rail lines. It’s now generally expected that mass transit is publicly run, but like the rise of the automobile in the 20th century, there is another source of disruption just around the corner:

4. The Self-Driving Wrecking Ball

Transit is already entering a rough couple of years (or decades), and I haven’t even brought up self driving cars yet. If Google/Uber/the myriad of research labs working on autonomous vehicles are to be believed, this revolution is right around the corner, if not already here.

Self driving cars operate in a slightly different space from the tech-transit companies mentioned previously. These cars don’t take the individual out of the privately-owned vehicle — they simply provide a more convenient way of piloting it.

This brings up 2.5 alternate and competing visions of the future:

1) Autonomous technology is integrated into mass transit.

a. Public transit is able to take advantage of this new technology.

b. Only private tech-transit companies are able to take advantage of it.

2) Autonomous technology reverses current trends (gradual decline in ownership) and lays the groundwork for a revival of the personal vehicle.

Scenarios 1)a and 1)b both share many characteristics: it’s easier than ever to get around without a personal vehicle (in cities at least), so we can finally get rid of the 25% of the urban surface area currently devoted to surface parking. Maybe while we’re at it we can replace some parking spaces with Uber pickup/drop off zones so that they don’t block bike lanes. This then essentially becomes a continuation of the battle presented in Public vs Private Transit. Cities continue to grow, and we face more or less gridlock depending on whether Uber/Lyft are able to compete with public transit on cost. If private companies are able to take advantage of autonomous technology and public agencies are not (through political or bureaucratic inertia), we can expect public transit to slowly wither away. “Why would you take a fixed route anywhere,” the argument goes, “if you can jump into a driverless car that can take you anywhere?”

Scenario 2) Is the apocalypse scenario. Because time in transit is not longer seen as ‘wasted’ (Google ads already show mothers spending quality time with their children, or employees getting work done), it’s possible to live further away from city centers than ever before. Easy transit coupled with high costs of living (cough- Bay Area), means sprawl becomes an even larger issue than it already is, chipping away at agricultural and recreational land. Cities empty out and lose their vibrancy, and we’re all a little worse off –except for those who already have to commute large distances.

I call this the apocalypse secession because I personally believe that any form of transit is better than the personal automobile — possibly the most inefficient form of transportation ever devised. Cars only spend an average of 1 hour a day transporting a single individual — the rest of the time they sit unused, taking up a valuable chunk of the urban footprint. In order to move a 150 pound individual, a 3000 pound hunk of metal must come along with it. Perhaps when all cars are electric then fuel efficiency will become something we can ignore, but it’s still unjustifiably inefficient for every individual to require the manufacture of a personal vehicle.

Granted these are the extremes: reality will likely lie somewhere in the middle.

5. The Role of Policy and Regulation — or — What will the future actually look like?

So where will we end up in 20 years? A lot of this comes down to, you guessed it, policy and regulation. I don’t know enough about the current state of society, policy or economics to attempt to make accurate predictions of what the future holds, but I’m hoping that by laying out the different possibilities is a helpful tool for making future decisions.

5.1 Will we still own cars?

Where along the spectrum of scenarios 1–2 will we end up? This comes down to the forces which push and pull people too and from personal vehicle ownership, notably cost and convenience. The battle will be waged in two theaters: the vehicles/services themselves, and the environment they operate in.

5.1.1 Vehicles & Services

Will autonomous technology significantly lower the cost of ride-share, or van services like chariot? Or mass transit in general?

Even if this is the case, will these services be convenient and comfortable enough to compete with personal ownership? This comes down to the quality of mass transit, both public and private: for transit to displace personal vehicle ownership it has to do better — much better — than mass transit is currently doing. If public transit authorities decide that they want to level the playing field between them and private transit operators by implementing obstructive regulation, we can expect personal vehicle ownership to remain the norm.

There is also an additional cultural dimension: car ownership is a big part of modern American culture (despite new polls indicating that millennials are more attached to their smartphones than their cars). A personal vehicle comes with an aura of freedom that even the most efficient ride-share networks can’t duplicate. In many developing countries personal vehicle ownership has become a sign of status and marks a successful entry into the middle class. Breaking this aspirational image is a key part of shifting culture away from personal vehicle ownership.

5.1.2 Environment

Will the built environment remain optimized for personal vehicle use?

In the US new regulations propose earmarking federal funds to build new stretches of highways, but not mass transit systems. Cities across the world (except for certain places like Tokyo) subscribe to the idea that there should be free parking available near most businesses and that homeowners deserve to be able to park on the street in front of their homes. Most US cities require mandatory parking minimums i.e. A fast food restaurant must provide one space for every 3 seats, or an apartment block must provide two spaces for every unit. Even more foreword thinking cities like London or Amsterdam that allow residents to buy neighborhood parking passes price these passes well below theoretical market rate. In a city center, a surface parking space should be priced — according to regular real-estate prices — at tens of thousands of dollars a year. (In places like the Bay Area with stratospheric housing costs, this can be evidenced by the number of people paying significant rent to live out of garages — this was also the case with one of my neighbors in Honolulu).

When roads and parking are heavily subsidized or provided free of charge, it’s no surprise that this distorts the market and encourages personal vehicle use. Tipping the balance away from vehicle ownership will depend on the extent to which the true cost of parking and driving is passed on to the owner of the autonomous vehicle. This could be archived by passing the true costs of road construction and maintenance to vehicle owners via increased gas taxes and vehicle fees, putting an end to street-side parking, implementing universal paid parking and removing mandatory parking miniums.

Autonomous vehicles may find a way around all of these obstructions: they may be sent away to park at the city’s periphery, or barring that, endlessly roam the streets. Endlessly looping autonomous vehicles waiting for their owners would be a congestion disaster. Solving these riddles will require creativity.

5.2 Legislating Public vs. Private

Assuming that autonomous vehicles have not derailed everything, something has to be done to solve the public vs private transit conundrum from section 3 — Public vs. Private. There are 2 directions that can be taken:

1. We give up on ‘public’ transit and accept that private companies will end up providing a more convenient service for the average user.

2. We decide that public transit provides a valuable social service, and needs to be protected. The discussion switches over to how this can be achieved without suffocating the innovative new arrivals.

Where should we focus our energy and why?

5.2.1 Discussion of Option 1 — Should public transit be kept alive?

Private transit has many advantages: these are all the classic benefits associated with free-market economics. Private transit companies are motivated to constantly innovate, and are able to provide cheaper, more efficient customer-focused services. If Uber is able to able to take you from A to B for the same price as a bus ticket, what’s the point of maintaining public transit agencies? This is the argument currently espoused by many opponents of public transit in the United States.

Unfortunately, many of the arguments against free markets also apply. Transit is not considered a pure ‘commodity’ — as mentioned previously, public transit agencies provide ‘transit as service’. This is evidenced by the fact that most cities subsidize their public transit agencies. Transit is therefore similar to education or healthcare. A return to wholly privatized transit risks stranding disadvantaged users who rely on subsidized fares, use unprofitable lines through poor or low density communities, or who have disabilities and require amenities such as wheelchair access.

Additionally, privatized transit will also find it effectively impossible to implement the types of large-scale infrastructures needed to run efficient centralized transit systems like subways, since they rely on the use of existing public infrastructure. The ‘Uberization’ of transit implies that cities will remain structured around roads and rubber tires.

Specifically regarding ride-hailing networks: When it comes to dense cityscapes, it would be inefficient to give every set of passengers their own vehicle — there simply isn’t enough space. Additionally, what made cars so successful as a mode of transportation is exactly what limits them in urban settings: Automobile use is decentralized, and unable to act in an intentional, collective manner. Traffic can flow and respond to obstructions or changes in the environment, and it minimizes the amount of ‘active’ infrastructure necessary, but this stops once the setting becomes too dense and complex — the equilibrium breaks down and we get hellish traffic jams. Once we reach a certain density/complexity, what is needed is an intentional and focused transportation system that can coordinate with itself and take advantage of economies of scale. Herding 1000 people onto a subway train and delivering them in one go will always be more efficient than a couple hundred independently driven Ubers.

Autonomous vehicles do provide one counterargument to the idea that publicly funded centralized transit is better suited for dense areas: connect them up wirelessly to a centralized system, and their collective motion could be optimized, akin to a swarm of insects or a school of fish. Fewer traffic jams occur when everyone is capable of accelerating simultaneously. The app Waze can already give us a glimpse of what this would look like: the app reroutes traffic through less congested side-streets. In some cases this means traffic can optimize itself, but it also means that quiet residential streets and intersections can experience levels of use they were not designed to accommodate. Couple this with induced demand, and it can leave the entire road system worse off and more congested — this is the case in a region of my neighborhood near a highway on-ramp.

The arguments presented all apply to dense urban areas, but it’s obvious that Manhattan or San Francisco does not represent the average transit experience. Rural and suburban regions have stayed stubbornly impervious to classic forms of mass transit. Autonomous vehicles and ride-share, however, are able to operate in this low density, decentralized space, and achieve the impossible: competing with personal vehicles on their own turf.

It’s therefore still valuable to include ride-share into the transit space. Whether it can be integrated into the services of the average public transit agency (i.e a public version of Uber) is still an open question, but several forward-thinking transit agencies are experimenting with their own services. So that being said:

5.2.2 Discussion of Option 2 — What does effective coexistence of public and private look like?

As usual, the answer will probably involve creative compromise. There are two ways ‘coexistence’ can happen:

The playing field can be evened out, retaining public transit as the main form of mass transportation but giving users the option to use private transit if they chose to pay a premium. This can happen through innovative new forms of public transit and increasingly subsidized fares, or through obstructive regulation of the private newcomers (they could be forced to pay licensing fees, justified by the fact that they are profiting off the public right of way). The latter option is much easier to implement, and as such it is a tempting ‘easy fix’ for legislators, but as mentioned previously in section 4, it risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater: Missing out on an opportunity to revolutionize transit and assuring the slow decline of mass transit in the face of autonomous vehicles. This is obviously not the correct solution.

The other way of ensuring effective coexistence is integration of public and private into a unified scheme. This would involve public transit agencies reinventing themselves as ‘mobility orchestrators’ rather than operators. Some possibilities current being explored by different public transit authorities include subsidizing ride-sharing rides altogether (such as the city of Altamonte Springs in Florida), or during times of reduced service (evenings/holidays), major events, and during service outages. Ride-sharing could also be used as a ‘first-and-last-mile’ service, connecting low-density regions with ‘trunks’ — efficient transit corridors such as rail, subway, or Bus Rapid Transit systems. Atlanta is already integrating Uber into it’s transit apps. Again, subsidizing ride-share risks turning it into a replacement for other forms of transit, such as rail. Cities could also require private operators to share their transit data, benefiting the city but stripping the operators of some of their competitive advantages.

Another option being explored is in the realm of paratransit. Paratransit is a subsidized service for individuals with mobility issues, and according the US Government Accountability Office, the average cost of a ride is around 30$, a large portion of which ends up being paid by a local government agency. A Massachusetts paratransit agency has begun subsidizing Uber and Lyft rides for people who’s mobility issues don’t prevent them from utilizing such services, and has reported savings of up to 70%. An issue, however, is that most ride-share drivers lack the proper credentials and training to assist people with certain disabilities.

6. Phew that’s a Lot of Branching Paths

As with most systems this complex, the future will probably look like a messy superposition of every option. Different cities and regions of the world will make different decisions.

The reality is that city centers simply can’t thrive with transit systems based around individual forms of transportation, autonomous or not. On the other hand, bringing transit to lower density cities and suburbs requires an more decentralized approach than ‘classical transit’ can provide. Private transit companies have brought a dynamism to a stagnant industry, and it’s imperative that we don’t kill off these new innovation engines.

So there will be some form of compromise between public and private transit, between mass and individual transit, between ‘rubber on asphalt’ transit and walking/bikes/trams/trains/subways, between low and high density forms of urbanism. The important question that now must be answered becomes:

What is our guiding value? How do we balance the needs of the average user, and the needs of the disadvantaged user?

How do we even begin answering a question that can be viewed through the lens of environmentalism, social equity, energy consumption, or health? Should we leave it to the technocrats, or public discourse?


Sources / Further reading :

1. Now Arriving: A Connected Mobility Roadmap for Public Transport (New Cities Foundation)

“Transit agencies trapped in a downward spiral of shrinking budgets, diminished service, and declining ridership have begun turning to these companies as complements or even substitutes for traditional modes, especially as a first-and-last-mile connection to mass transit. This is a dangerous path that practically invites disruption; as ondemand mobility continues falling in price while increasing coverage, transit agencies risk being hollowed out by their would-be partners.”

2. The Case For and Against Public Subsidy for Public Transit. (

“The public should subsidize transportation for the disadvantaged from non-transportation specific revenue sources. Perhaps the biggest problem with current subsidies is that they are place-based and not people- based. Why should the entire system be subsidized? Also, why should a professor pay the same fare as students? Or in New York, why should Mayor Bloomberg, the richest guy in the city, pay the same fare as the cleaning staff of Bloomberg, Inc.?”

3. Integrating Public and Private Mass Transportation (Berkeley Institute of Urban and Regional Development)

Understanding private mass transport and its integration with public transport, both in US cities and elsewhere, would be incomplete without studying private transport as an economic industry. In the US, there has been an ongoing discussion among researchers, urban planners, and transport regulators about the impact and legality of app-based door-to-door “ride sharing” services such as Uber and Lyft. Aaron Golub of Portland State University presented new research in progress about these services’ economic feasibility in the long run. […] Golub questioned how sustainable “the Uber model” is given that his calculations suggest the net earnings for drivers in the US could be as low as $4 per hour after accounting for hidden costs that contract drivers might not initially take into account when deciding whether to participate. Whether these services can be a sustainable option for providing last-mile connections to mass transit, in the long run, may depend on either public subsidy to be financially sustainable or adjustment of the business model. For example, instead of door-to-door services, these providers could serve predefined pick-up zones, reducing costs.”

4. How the Debate over Public vs. Private Transportation Hurts Everyone (

“However, this scenario, as with the jitney episode, does suggest three things. The first is that trying to rebuild our cities at the densities of 19th century industrial cities in order to make public transit work, is probably short-sighted and counter-productive.and counter-productive. Faced with this inherent problem and potentially disastrous competition, the streetcar operators turned to local governments for help. They argued that the jitney service benefited from the fact that it was unregulated and that it was cherry-picking customers from the most profitable routes without the burden of providing service for the entire region. They further argued that the jitney drivers were unlicensed and potentially unsafe. In the end, most municipal governments around the country established regulations, ostensibly for public protection, that made most jitney service uneconomic.”

5. How not to create traffic jams, pollution and urban sprawl (

Whether in America or Asia, oceans of free parking might delay a transport revolution. When autonomous cars that are allowed to move with nobody inside them become widespread, demand for private cars could fall sharply. Starting in the morning, one car could take a child to school, a city worker to his office, a student to her lecture, party people to a club, and a security guard to his night shift, all more cheaply than taxis. Cars that now sit idle could become much more active, which would drastically change parking needs.

6. Why Autonomous Vehicles Probably Won’t Induce Sprawl (

“In sum, from the perspective of land use, housing, and social dynamics, AVs are not likely to directly induce sprawl. Growth controls will remain. AVs will not likely shift housing preferences. New information will better inform consumers about the choices they face while commuting. While sprawl and uncontrolled growth should still be considered, they present a decades-old challenge that continues to require a balanced approach to how (and where) communities grow. AVs may present a challenge to questions about growth, but they also present an opportunity to optimize travel within existing urban areas and for individuals underserved by current transportation infrastructure.”

7. Public Transit Should Be Uber’s New Best Friend (

“ Given the high fixed costs of vehicle ownership, the first and most important transportation choice a New York household makes is whether to own a car. Residents who go without a car may use some combination of public transit, taxis, Ubers and other alternatives (like bicycling and carpooling) to get where they need to go. In that sense, Ubers, taxis and public transit are complements to one another instead of competitors.”

8. Travel Time Use Over Five Decades (The George Washington University)

“We find that total travel time features an inverted-U shape, registering a 20 percent increase from 1975 to 1993, but an 18 percent decline from 1993 to 2013. We find that demographic shifts explain roughly 45 percent of the increase from 1975 to 1993, but play a much smaller role afterwards.”

9. Transit Ridership Falling Everywhere — But Not in Cities With Redesigned Bus Networks (

“Meanwhile, transit ridership decreased in almost every major city. But there were two cities that bucked the trend — Seattle and Houston, which posted 4.1 and 2.3 percent increases, respectively. Those two outliers share one thing in common: In addition to expanding light rail, they’re both redesigning their bus networks.”

10. Driving Apps are Creating New Traffic Problems. (

“Bayen says that apps can have that effect — initially. But as increasing numbers of drivers rely on their phones for directions, “you see massive amounts of people who are changing their routing patterns.” And when throngs of drivers use the same apps, traffic can build up in ways that the roadway system wasn’t built to accommodate.”

11. Uber, Lyft, others won’t solve San Francisco’s transit problem. (

“A successful transit system is one that works great for everyone, not a system that works so unreliably that it’s only ridden by those with no other option. If all of us, including our elected officials, don’t ride Muni regularly, then it will never become the world-class system we need and want. There will neither be the perceived need for a better transit system nor leaders to advocate for it.”

12. No, autonomous cars will not “abolish transit” in dense cities (

“In many cases, people talking about driverless cars replacing transit are talking from an outer-suburban point of view, based on the experience of low-density, car-dependent places that are unsuited to high-ridership transit. In those settings, if density is not increasing, they are probably right. Driverless taxis will be more efficient than transit in these areas. But all over the world, people are moving into dense cities, where even autonomous cars can’t replace a bus full of 60 people or a train full of hundreds. There simply isn’t enough space to put walls between every pair of travellers, as the car model of transportation requires. Nor will driverless taxis ever be there whenever you need them as great transit lines will. Like bikeshare systems, they will experience surges where many of the vehicles are in the wrong place.”

13. Is San Francisco Over Reacting to Bluegogo? (

“That said, part of the complaint from Peskin’s office is that Bluegogo bikes will end up littered around the city, obstructing public access and creating a hazard. “…we can’t drop bikes in positions that would disrupt an adequate path for pedestrian traffic. We don’t intend to do that. We also have a system in place to monitor, review and reward/penalize our users for bicycle placement behavior,” wrote Movshovich. “We are doing a lot of research to placing bikes in specific areas that would not impede any sort of traffic.”

14. This App Wants to Help Public Transit Compete With Uber (

“UberPool and Lyft Line find riders going in the same direction to offer an option that’s cheaper than a taxi and as much as twice as fast as waiting as a bus stop. Public transportation agencies have noticed, and they’re worried about losing riders. Now a startup hopes to help city buses catch up to current technology–and start offering flexible, on-demand services along with the fixed routes that have been standard for the last century.”

15. Lyft Is Testing a New Shuttle Service in Two Cities. (

“A new service being tested by Lyft in San Francisco and Chicago allows riders to go to a specific pickup location, ride along a set route, and get off at any of a number of drop-off points.”

16. Silicon Valley Bike Vision

17. Why Public Transit Ridership Is Down In Most U.S. Cities (

“In all but a handful of cities, public transit ridership was down in 2016. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin and Washington, D.C., to name a few, all saw decreases in the number of people taking public transit.”

18. Researchers! Why is US Transit Ridership Falling? (

19. Connect Bikes and Trains — Increase the Number of Cyclists and Train Passengers (

“For the past three years, Copenhagenize Design Co., in team with 5 train and bike operators and 4 mobility consulting firms, have been working to develop intermodality between bikes and trains in Europe.”

20. Loopy Ideas Are Fine, If You’re an Entrepreneur (

“This alone suggests that the real cost of constructing civil infrastructure for Hyperloop is ten times as high as advertised, to say nothing of the Bay crossing. So it’s the same cost as standard HSR. It’s supposedly faster, but since it doesn’t go all the way to Downtown Los Angeles it doesn’t actually provide faster door-to-door trip times.”

21. Could Lyft And Uber Put Public Transit Out Of Business? (

“It is likely that these services will just exacerbate the differences that already exist in the quality of public transit in different areas. The localities that invested and ran their systems well won’t be as impacted. In the areas where frustration is higher, the problems will surely become worse when revenues and ridership decline. And the biases and history that impact why certain systems are the way they are will become more apparent. On the other hand, those areas that did actually built effective railway and metro systems that cover longer distances may find ridesharing to be a perfect complement.”

22. How Cities are Integrating Rideshare and Public Transportation (

“A number of agencies have partnered with commercial rideshare providers in efforts to address late-night service interruptions and commuter parking shortages, as well as a host of other issues. Below is a selection of major recent trends in transit-rideshare collaborations, with examples from some of the cities exploring them.”

23. Uber and Lyft Users More Likely to Use Public Transit Frequently, Own Fewer Cars And Spend Less on Transportation (American Public Transit Association)

“Customers expect choice and convenience when they travel,” said Dallas Area Rapid Transit President/Executive Director Gary Thomas. “Working with Uber and Lyft, and integrating them into our own transit app, is one way we can do that. We believe these relationships help make public transportation relevant to a new market of prospective customers.”

24. Are “Rogue” Bike-Share Systems Bad for Cities? (

“The group offers a list of what bike-share systems should provide a city, including a cohesive network of safe, routinely maintained bikes; equitable access; methods of rebalancing bikes and repairing or removing broken bikes; and ongoing collaboration with local governments to ensure connections to transit. All things, NACTO argues, that are being largely left off the table in the rogue systems.”

25. State approves sweeping new regulations for Uber, Lyft (

“The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates what it calls Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft, passed myriad new regulations Thursday, from rules as small as where the pink mustaches on cars should go to as sweeping as stricter vehicle inspections.”

26. SF transit agency scales back regulations for cab drivers (

“Now, the SFMTA has taken the opposite route. Seeing the hesitance of the CPUC to enact strict Uber and Lyft regulations, the SFMTA is loosening regulations around taxis.”

By the Bay

Thoughts on housing, transportation, and all things Bay Area

Leopold Wambersie de Brouwer

Written by

I’m not sure where I’m from. Transit Engineer — Sorta-Belgian trying to make it in California — Aspiring urbanist.

By the Bay

Thoughts on housing, transportation, and all things Bay Area

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