Posted by the Uber Policy Research Team
Transit is the mobility backbone of cities. It’s an essential option for people without personal automobiles, an important alternative to driving for car owners, and an integral part of making cities more accessible and sustainable. In the United States’ biggest cities, transit connects us to where we live and work, where we take care of the essentials, and where we explore and play.
The first/last mile problem
By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will have moved to or been born in urban centers. As cities grow, more people will be drawn to transit as a means of reliable and efficient transportation.
Despite the improvements transit has seen in the U.S. over the years, its reach still has limitations. Many homes and jobs are within proximity but farther than an easy walk to transit, creating what’s known as the first/last mile problem. Even in areas where homes and businesses are less than a mile away from transit, poor connectivity and limited pedestrian infrastructure — things like missing sidewalks, absent or low-visibility crosswalks, and signalized intersections separated by large stretches of roadway — can create gaps in access to transit. Real and perceived safety, comfort, and reliability concerns can also create bias against transit usage, making the first/last mile problem seem at times more like an abyss than a simple gap.
At Uber we believe our services can be used to complement existing public transit, making it more accessible and efficient for people to use. We’ve partnered with cities, organizations, and local transit systems to help solve the first/last mile problem, including MARTA in Atlanta, DART in Dallas, and the Westside Transportation Alliance in Portland, Oregon. We’ve also been studying the effect of Uber on transit use for a while by looking at the proximity of Uber dropoffs and pickups to transit stations.
We’ve found evidence that riders are intuitively using Uber to solve the first/last mile problem on their own. Looking at aggregated Uber data for trip pickup and dropoff locations, we’ve identified clusters of trips around transit stations. In some cases 25% of trips in a region (or more) start or end near transit, including such places as New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. But considering that many transit station locations, especially in flourishing cities, are surrounded by trip attractors such as businesses, schools, restaurants and shopping centers, it’s perhaps not that surprising that we’re finding such high proportions of trips in these locations.
So we decided to hone in further. We’ve been studying transit locations in suburban areas, such as commuter rail stations and the terminuses of well-utilized railway lines. In Boston, we found that trips within 1/8 mile of terminus stations along the T more than doubled between 2014 and 2015, and that nearly 1 in 4 trips that start and end in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, have an origin or destination near a MAX or WES rail station.
Case study: San Francisco Bay Area Caltrain
We decided to dig even deeper into the data in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s recent Vital Signs report tells us that while Bay Area transit usage has declined overall in the past two decades, Caltrain ridership is at a record high. There have been on average 58,429 weekday Caltrain boardings in 2015, a 9.3% increase from last year. We looked at Uber trips where riders were dropped off near a Caltrain station and then picked up at a different station within a 4-hour window. This first/last mile trend in Uber trips showed an annual increase of 153%, echoing Caltrain’s explosive growth in ridership. Going beyond simply looking at trips that start or end near transit stations, this analysis takes our earlier maps a step further, with even stronger evidence that Uber is helping fill the first/last mile gap. The map below shows some of those trips.
Case study: Chicago L
Many people who don’t live or work near a transit line choose to drive themselves the first/last mile and either park on the street or at park-and-ride lots. Uber’s cost efficiency and reliable pickup times in cities across the U.S. make it an increasingly viable alternative to driving to transit. Riders save money in parking fees and no longer have to circle for parking when lots are full or nearing capacity. At Chicago ‘L’ line park-and-ride stations, the average pickup time for an Uber is around 3 minutes, and the average cost of a trip to a station is under $10. The map below shows park-and-ride stations that were part of the analysis.
Working together with cities
As more riders and drivers join the Uber platform, our ability to connect people from all parts of a city to transit will improve. In cities with UberPOOL, riders can even share trips to transit, for a cheaper, more efficient trip that’s good for both Uber riders and for cities. We look forward to continuing to work with cities to increase transportation options for travelers and make cities more accessible for everyone.