Lyft Could Complement Late-Night Transit in British Columbia

Lyft is working closely with officials in British Columbia to bring ridesharing to Vancouver and across the province. But the opportunity to help people get from point A to point B with a quick tap of a button isn’t the only reason we’re excited to launch there: it’s a chance to show how we can partner with public transit to offer the best transportation options that riders deserve.

Lyft believes that ridesharing is part of a larger movement to build cities around people, not cars. Rideshare can complement transit effectively by filling in gaps in service. Creating a more seamless transportation network is critical to reducing vehicle ownership and building more sustainable, people-centered cities. Lyft’s investment in bikes and scooters further develops this network, broadening transportation choices that work for a variety of needs.

Many cities recognize the value of late-night transit service. It reduces impaired driving, provides reliable options for individuals who cannot or prefer not to drive, and increases access to vibrant entertainment and nightlife districts — areas that often have challenging transportation and parking issues. These cities and institutions have worked with Lyft to find different ways of increasing access with reliable transportation, specifically during the late evening and early morning hours. For example, we partner with Big Blue Bus to provide on-demand rides to and from light rail stations in Santa Monica late at night on weekends. Our partnership with Oregon Health & Science University provides free rides to employees traveling to or from the campus between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

To understand what our impact could be with regards to complementing late-night transit in British Columbia, we looked at comparable cities to Vancouver with similar characteristics and activity. Here’s what we learned.

Methodology

Geography

We looked at several cities that, like Vancouver, have limited late-night transit service and one or more concentrated entertainment areas. The cities we identified were Seattle, San Francisco and Portland — all cities where Lyft operates. Our goal was to understand the following questions:

  • How does Lyft complement transit?
  • How does Lyft help people get to and from places in the evening?

To conduct this analysis, we examined Lyft ride volume data over a two-year time frame at the census tract level for each city.

Time Periods

First, in each city we looked at a 24-hour period of pick-ups and drop-offs (PUDOs) to determine what time interval is “evening travel.” Then we compared evening rides (8 p.m. to 4 a.m.) to rides occurring at all other times. We found that, generally, PUDOs increase at night in neighborhoods with popular evening entertainment activities. Additionally, these areas are typically not where the majority of all PUDOs occur.

Case Study: Seattle

General Lyft Activity

In Seattle, we see most PUDOs happen in the downtown core, the city’s central business district (in light yellow below). To the north and northwest respectively, South Lake Union’s biotech research hubs and Capitol Hill are also frequent trip destinations. The map below shows the percentage of PUDOs occurring in each census tract as a share of all rides in the area shown.

Evening Lyft Activity

During the evening in Seattle, we see more pick-ups and drop-offs (PUDOs) near the Ballard and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, which are popular evening destinations with retail, bars, restaurants, and music venues. In those areas, almost 50% of all Lyft PUDOs happen between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., indicating a demand for nighttime transportation. The map below shows what percentage of rides in each census tract occur during that evening period.

Late-Night Transit Service

We also wanted to understand how late-night transit service in the evening relates to the spatial patterns in the pick-up of late-night rides that we saw above. King County Metro provides Night Owl service with around 40 bus routes operating between midnight and 5 a.m., 20 of which operate after 2 a.m. Although Ballard is served by a “Rapid Ride” service with connections to downtown Seattle, it only operates approximately once an hour after midnight. The spike in evening rides we see in Ballard makes sense given how infrequent the “Rapid Ride” service is at night.

Source: King County Metro

Case Study: San Francisco

General Lyft Activity

In San Francisco, most PUDOs happen in the downtown core and in the SOMA neighborhood (South of Market St.), representing the central business district (northeast portion of map).

Evening Lyft Activity

During the evening in San Francisco, we see more PUDOs near the North Beach and Mission districts, both popular entertainment and night-time destinations. In those neighborhoods, nearly half of all PUDOs happen between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Late-Night Transit Service

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) operates an Owl Night Bus service between 1 and 5 a.m. The Mission and Castro districts are comparatively well-served with several bus routes, like Route 14 that operates approximately every 12 minutes in the evening. However, North Beach is only served by Route 91, a circuitous route with 30-minute headways that is the only north-south connection within the primarily residential Richmond and Sunset districts in the western part of the city.

Source: SFMTA

Case Study: Portland

General Lyft Activity

In Portland we see most PUDOs occur in the downtown area and the Pearl District to the north of downtown, encompassing the central business district.

Evening Lyft Activity

During the evening in Portland, we see more PUDOs in the Central Eastside, a diverse area with multiple shopping and retail areas, including breweries, restaurants, and other night-time destinations. In this area, more than 50% of all PUDOs happen between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Late-Night Transit Service

TriMet recently brought back late-night transit service in September 2018 with two 24-hour bus lines in Portland, one of which passes through the Central City Core to Central Eastside in eastern Portland. However, this route only operates approximately once every hour after 11 p.m.

Source: TriMet

Wrap-up

Lyft’s partnerships with cities and transit agencies create reliable options for people to travel without requiring them to drive, from enabling access for seniors and people with disabilities to first-last mile connections to mobility hubs. Even in areas without a formal partnership, our research has found that ridesharing organically fills in the gaps in existing transportation services. There are multiple safety benefits as well, including the reduction of impaired driving in part due to Lyft and ridesharing.

Overall, our data consistently indicates that the volume of Lyft trip activity mirrors population distribution. In other words, more people are being picked up and dropped off in areas that have a high concentration of jobs, services, and amenities. When we look closer at time of day, we see another trend emerge. Far more pick-ups and drop-offs occur in entertainment and nightlife neighborhoods during the evening hours than during the rest of the day.

This can be attributed to the lack of viable transportation alternatives in those areas. There appears to be a trend of relatively high Lyft activity at night in areas with limited transit service coverage and/or frequency. Central business districts tend to have the highest concentration and diversity of transit services, whereas these entertainment districts have less transit service coverage, relying primarily on bus services that run less frequently throughout the evening.

Vancouver and other cities across British Columbia are already familiar with the challenges of late-night transportation, particularly in entertainment and nightlife areas. TransLink, the regional transportation authority of Metro Vancouver, has tried to address this issue with its NightBus service, with 10 bus routes departing from a central downtown hub every 30 minutes between 2 and 5 a.m, and is also currently studying the feasibility of extending metropolitan rail service hours. What’s exciting about Lyft’s potential future in British Columbia is that provincial leaders realize the need for more reliable options around late-night service and are taking steps to address it.

We look forward to working with TransLink, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, and other stakeholders to bring ridesharing to British Columbia and deliver the mobility services that people count on.

Special thanks to our teammates: Peter Day, Mike Xing, Debs Schrimmer, and Hyun Shin for their assistance on this project. If you are interested in joining Lyft and working on exciting transportation issues in cities around North America, check out our Careers page.