Serving the whole city

Posted by Cory Kendrick, Data Scientist

A hundred years ago, one in every seven people lived in a city. Today that number is one in two. By 2050, another two and a half billion people will have moved to or been born in urban centers — making up two thirds of the world’s population.

As our cities have grown, so have the costs of living in them. Increasingly the poor have been pushed to the outskirts, a trend the Brookings Institution calls the “suburbanization” of poverty. Over a quarter of poorest people living in 100 largest U.S. cities have their homes in the suburbs — up from 18 percent in 2000. And the suburbanization of the less well-off exacerbates their situation because social immobility and income inequality are directly linked to a lack of access to reliable transportation. In New York City, 56 percent of the population is reliant on public transit to get to work. So someone’s ability to find a job is often about how well their neighborhood is connected to a city’s transport system.

This is where Uber can help. Our goal is transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone. As more drivers sign up we’re able to reach parts of the city that more traditional means of transportation don’t get to. Here’s how our trips have grown in New York City over the last four years:

And as this map shows how Uber is increasingly serving greater London, rather than just the center of the city:

This is because Uber uses the existing infrastructure in cities to help people get around. Take Johannesburg, South Africa, for example. Uber is available no matter where you need a ride. And it’s as reliable in outlying neighborhoods such as Soweto, which has high unemployment rates and lacks good options when it comes to cheap transport. At the push of a button, Uber connects Soweto with the rest of the city.

In Boston, it’s often difficult to get a cab if you’re not downtown. Even if you call ahead from places in Roxbury and Dorchester, there’s a one in three chance that your request won’t be met. With Uber, it’s less than one in 20.

Of course, Boston has a great subway system, the T, which does extend into these outlying areas. But not everyone can live near a station. Uber complements the existing infrastructure by providing a ride where the T lines ends — effectively covering the last mile home. And it’s reliably available 24 hours a day. The average waiting time is less than four minutes across the city during the hours that the T is closed.

Of course cost is a real issue for poorer people. In Los Angeles, for example, a recent study in less well-off neighborhoods found that a ride with uberX cost half as much as a taxi and came in less than half the time.

And with uberPOOL, people going in the same direction at the same time are able share a ride — and split the cost of the fare. This makes Uber even more accessible to people of all income levels. And when you consider that a car is one of the most expensive assets a typical American family buys and maintains yet sits idle 96 percent of the time, the cost of using uberPOOL could compete with car ownership.

McKinsey has argued that urban mobility is at a tipping point. Increased investment in public transit is undoubtedly part of the solution. But it takes time and money. Uber helps use the existing infrastructure more effectively today at no extra cost: we reach the parts of cities other modes of transportation can’t or don’t always get to.