Subsidizing Transportation Network Companies to Support Commutes by Rail

Research Team: Michael Cassidy (lead), Carlos Daganzo, and Wesley Darling

UC Campus(es): UC Berkeley

Problem Statement: Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) have been touted by some as a possible means to encourage more transit ridership by providing a better connection to and from transit stations. TNC companies, like Uber and Lyft, however, are often inaccessible to certain groups, such as individuals without smartphones. Moreover, the tendency of TNC vehicles to double-park when loading and unloading passengers can add to traffic congestion, as do their “empty-miles” (i.e., time spent cruising without a passenger) while awaiting new fares. TNCs can also compete for trips with public transit which can erode transit ridership and precipitate reductions in service that beget further ridership losses. Declining transit service may ultimately produce gaps in mobility that cannot be filled by TNC vehicles that have much lower passenger-carrying capacities. These negative effects fall hardest on the transit dependent and other disadvantaged groups.

Project Description: This project explores how rail transit’s first- and last-mile issue might be addressed by partnering with transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. This project also explores how rail and TNC partnerships can improve travel for low-income commuters who currently rely on low-frequency bus service. The research team parametrically test subsidizing TNC fares for feeder services in the San Francisco Bay Area in an idealized fashion. Inputs such as the residents’ value of time and vehicle ownership were taken from various local data sources. The communities that were selected for this study are served to different degrees by the BART rail system. The research team found that the optimal policy must be tailored to the characteristics of the community it serves. In dense, walkable communities with strong bus service near rail stations, TNC subsidies should be targeted to less-accessible neighborhoods and low-income commuters to not compete with bus transit and active modes like walking. For lower-density communities with limited dedicated bus feeder service, TNC subsidization can be applied more broadly, although disincentives, like increasing rail parking fees, must be considered carefully, because they can induce commuters to drive directly to work instead.

Status: Completed

Budget: $79,918