Amtrak has agreed with Lyft to cooperate to allow the railroad’s passengers to order a Lyft ride from Amtrak’s own app. Dallas transit riders can call Uber to get them from a transit station to their final destination. A town in New Jersey is offering the same service to New Jersey Transit riders.
Transit agencies have long known that their transit vehicles usually can’t reach the final destinations for every rider, something known as the last-mile problem. Now, some of them see Uber and Lyft as the solution to that problem.
This is going to bite them in the end. A century and a half ago, river boat companies thought that railroads would solve their last mile problem. It never occurred to them that the railroads would soon be competing against them by building along the rivers. Within a few decades, the river boats were out of business.
Uber and Lyft don’t even have to build new infrastructure parallel to transit lines, as that infrastructure already exists. All the ride-hailing companies have to do is reduce their costs. Lyft’s shared-ride mode, Lyft Line, which may pick up or drop off other riders in the course of your journey, is often price competitive with transit, though not as quick as a regular Uber or Lyft.
In the 1920s, Hertz approached the Great Northern Railway to see if it wanted to cooperate in providing car rentals at its stations. The railroad’s president, Ralph Budd, replied that he didn’t see any reason to be promoting the railroads’ competition. Eventually, railroads did work with Hertz and other car rental companies, but it didn’t help prevent the decline in passengers. If I were a transit agency general manager today, I would be pretty dubious about providing more business that would profit my biggest competitors.