What’s the first place you think of when you think of Uber? For the relatively short time that Uber’s been around, we’ve traditionally been thought of as a solution for those who live in densely populated urban areas. That’s natural; the more densely populated an area is, the more likely drivers and riders are to find themselves near each other, so riders get picked up faster and drivers don’t have to drive as far. While that’s true, it’s far from the whole story.
We’re excited to say that Uber is increasingly fulfilling the transportation needs of people in smaller towns and cities, where the only form of transportation had traditionally been driving your own car. We dove deep in our data to explore further, using California as a case study.
Although statewide rules have been in place in California since 2013, just being able to operate statewide doesn’t mean you’re genuinely providing service everywhere. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as visualized above, Uber first took off in the four largest census defined urban centers — Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Riverside-San Bernardino — where over half of Californians live.
But the data also reveals that Uber’s service has rapidly expanded outside of the largest population centers. In 2017, riders took trips in Fortuna (population 13,000), Gridley (8,000), and Mecca (11,000).
We broke this out in more detail below, showing every urban area in California as defined by the census. The vertical axis ranks cities by population (using a log scale), starting from the largest (Los Angeles), to the smallest (Lake Rancho Viejo). To the right, you can track the level of service in each town over the last 5 years. The dominant trend is for increasing service levels down the list of cities, reaching into smaller and smaller urban areas over time.
In May 2013, Uber served only 17 urban areas, of which only one area had a population under 30,000. In May 2017, Uber has grown to serve 172 areas, of which 102 areas have populations under 30,000. This represents tens of thousands of trips per month, which provide new ways for residents to get around. As the number of riders that Uber serves increases, it’s clear that growth has not limited to large, densely populated metropolitan areas.
We’re excited by the growth of our service in the small towns and cities all across the state of California. We’re especially excited because these are places where there has not been an alternative to driving your own car, meaning that those who couldn’t drive — because of disability, age, or the expense of owning a vehicle — were cut off from the benefits of travel.
It’s important to note that this growth was only possible because of California’s embrace of statewide regulations, lowering the barriers to entry for rideshare drivers and allowing them to operate across individual city boundaries.
As Uber continues to expand into less dense places, we’ve begun to explore unique opportunities to experiment with other transportation stakeholders. Partnerships with municipal transit authorities and senior centers are some great examples.
Of course, it’s important to remember this entire expansion is just the start — we’ve only been going for 4 years. We’re excited to see where our service can extend next, and all the benefits that can bring.