Lyft geolocation
Geolocation around Westlake station. Courtesy of Todd Kelsay.

The latest update to Lyft’s app will include a trip planning feature designed to encourage passengers to consider combining rideshare or carpool with transit, walking, and bikeshare. The move comes as part of a large push by the ride hailing company and its arch-rival, Uber, to try and capture a share of the first mile/last mile market. The service will go live by the end of June.

Lyft has won contracts with agencies around the country to provide final mile service, and recently launched pilot final mile programs on Mercer Island and in Pierce County. Eventually, ride hailing services could reduce the need for park and ride spaces.

“If we can get more people to solve the first and last mile problem with rideshare, that’s good for us. Ultimately, if that gets more people on light rail, or taking buses, that’s good for the environment, and that’s what we’re about,” says Todd Kelsay, Lyft’s general manager for the Pacific Northwest.

According to Kelsay, the update will incorporate a dynamic trip planning algorithm that uses real-time arrival data. Customers will be able to compare the estimated price and time of a trip that drops them at a transit stop with other Lyft services, like point to point rideshare or the Lyft Line carpooling service.

At the moment, the service will be limited to a trip planning feature, but Kelsay says that the company is open to the idea of incorporating transit fare payment in the app. Kelsay says that Lyft communicates with transit agencies “all the time,” and cited a recent conversation with Metro about the trip planning feature and “pilot programs we run.”

The project is a worthy experiment that could boost ridership, especially in suburban areas. But pick up and drop off in dense areas could frustrate transit users and operators. Near the Union Station hub, for example, rideshare drivers often block a lane of traffic on Jackson in order to on or offload passengers to one of the curbside lanes. In the process, they can delay multiple bus lines. It’s easy to imagine Lyft drivers entering restricted areas, like a bus lane or a bus bay at a transit center, and disrupting the entire network in the process.

Lyft can encourage drivers and passengers to pick up and drop off in specific areas using geolocation. Lyft already uses geolocation to coordinate rides originating from SeaTac Airport and major events. Kelsay says that some, but not all, major hubs will have pick up and drop off zones in place when the trip planning function goes live. Kelsay said that Westlake and King Street Station will have geolocation at launch.

“[Geolocation] is our preference,” Kelsay said. “Typically, we set up a venue function so that when you’re at the Mercer Island Park and Ride, for example, the app will know where you are and tell you to put your pin down where it’s safe and efficient.”

Mercer Island’s rideshare experiment bodes well for transit integration

Mercer Island P&R parking garage

Hopefully, the trip planning feature succeeds on the level of the pilot first/last mile rideshare program on Mercer Island. At the end of March, the city of Mercer Island began spending $20,000 on Uber and Lyft rides to and from the Mercer Island Park and Ride, as part of a $226,900 last mile program. The money is a small portion of the settlement the city won from a lawsuit against Sound Transit over East Link’s right of way.

During the program, passengers will be charged a $2.00 flat rate for any Mercer Island ride that originates or terminates at the Park and Ride. Starting in August, the fare structure will shift to incentivize carpooling. The single passenger flat rate will rise to $5.00, but Lyft Line and Uber Pool carpool trips to or from the park and ride will cost $2.00.

The early returns of the Mercer Island Park and Ride program are promising, according to Kirsten Taylor, a city of Mercer Island senior project manager. Taylor says that, though the program hasn’t run for long enough to create a meaningful sample size, anecdotal evidence suggests that a new segment of commuters are riding the bus.

“We’re hearing from people we’ve never heard from—they think it’s great,” says Taylor. “They’re saying it’s really innovative, and they love that the city is testing it out.”

“One of the really neat revelations we’ve heard so far is from people who haven’t used any rideshare or bus transit during weekdays, because they couldn’t figure out how to make a connection with the lack of parking in downtown [Mercer Island] or in the park and ride. We’re getting new riders,” says Ross Freeman, Mercer Island’s sustainability manager.

Metro officials are monitoring the ride share and the the flexible-route, demand-responsive Route 630. Both modes are designed to appeal to commuters who gave up trying to find spaces in the at-capacity Park and Ride. If the success continues, Mercer Island’s rideshare and route 630 could be models for new services designed by other cities and Metro to lure car-dependent commuters to other modes.

29 Replies to “Lyft and Uber Tackling Last-Mile Problems”

  1. “If we can get more people to solve the first and last mile problem with rideshare, that’s good for us.”

    Reworded: We’d love to make a buck off of local transit’s failure.

    Actually providing reliable local transit would be a better solution.

    1. Not for people who live on the side of Cougar Mountain or in the outer fringes of Pierce County. If you live in an area with only a few people per mile and windy non-grid streets, then transit can’t serve you very efficiently, and below a threshold it’s plain unrealistic. This is the niche that rideshares and taxis can usefully serve. Especially when transit budgets are capped and they have to prioritize areas of overwhelming demand, areas with high ridership, and areas with a concentration of low-income or elderly people. (“Concentration” being the opposite of isolated exurban houses.) The biggest question is why we’re allowing and disproportionately subsidizing such low-density houses and entire neighborhoods in the first place. If it’s really rural, where’s the farm?

    2. “Actually providing reliable local transit would be a better solution.”

      Reworded: Setting in place land-use standards that would make local transit routes pencil out everywhere would be a better solution.

      Zoning the entire city and county single-family suburgatory makes cost-effective transit an extreme challenge.

      1. Tearing down the homes of millions of people to start over isn’t a viable solution, Brent.

      2. Not to get to far off-topic, but that trope don’t swim.

        Changing zoning doesn’t force anybody to sell their property and move out. If neighbors want to keep their neighborhood swanky and unwalkable (to the nearest grocery store miles away), they can just agree not to sell their land to developers.

        If people choose to sell and move elsewhere, it is totally by choice. Nobody is going to come with a bulldozer and mow down your house, except through eminent domain for a public purpose.

    3. Every tool to its use, Engineer. You know that. I’ve noticed over the years that the better the taxi service- which Lyft and Uber are a lot closer to than private cars- the more reliable the transit too. And vice versa.

      Problem of ride-share blocking bus zones- doubt these companies have either the clout or the will to insist on the right to do that. Worse the blockage, less the reliability. Matter of adjusting and enforcing rules to meet the new situation.

      Unable to use a touch-screen, and therefore smart-phones, I’d worry most about this service becoming a “class” thing. But now that I see children texting before they can talk….I’ll probably always be able to find somebody that can help me.

      Union contract ought to be mandatory. Though I think it’d be healthier to have drivers own and operate cooperatives. And same for whatever theoretical other provider the Seattle City Council hires to supplement Metro’s lack of buses and drivers.

      Operating-personnel-owned cooperatives might be a good work-arrangement for Metro and Sound Transit too. Best defense against privatization, which means paying for private profit instead of workers’ wages.

      Only resistance I see will be from every single employee. Because everybody knows that for things like bus lines, owners have no limitation on hours or any other labor protection at all. Like the great labor organizer Joe Hill said: “Workers of the World Arise! You have nothing to lose but your chairs.”

      Swedes used to do puns like that. Reason many fellow IWW members probably didn’t care that the oppressors shot him. Incidentally, is STB not covering City’s new transportation ss because it’s on next sharp post down from the last Head on the Tax?


  2. Sure it works great when rides are $2.00 to and from the P&R on Mercer Island, but that only works because it’s completely subsidized by lawsuit money. When the last/first mile starts to cost double what a bus ticket costs, the market may just disappear.

    1. That’s largely due to artificial competition from “free” parking at the P&R. If you had to pay market rate to park at the P&R, the additional cost to take Uber/Lyft might be tiny – especially since many people would only need it for one direction (having a family member to do pick-up/drop-off for free in the other direction).

      1. This “one direction” aspect is a good point. I can look at a schedule and plan when to take a half hourly bus to make a transfer at the transit center in the morning, but good luck reliably timing it so I get back to the transit center in time to not wait 20-30 minutes on the way back. Assuming the route does not support a higher frequency, Uber/Lyft may be a good backup option, but it it costs you an extra $10 and parking is free, you’re more likely to try and park at the park and ride instead. May even have to drive further to a “less preferred” park and ride to get a spot.

    2. But if it’s cheaper to subsidize TNC fares rather than run a few bus routes, those TNC fares can stay the same price as a bus ticket.

      Either way, there’s a subsidy. But outside of crush-load, most bus rides have some subsidy. If a $2.50 Lyft ride on MI would have been $10 unsubsidized, then that’s a 25% farebox recovery, which is pretty reasonable for a suburban bus route.

    3. Can one access the subsidized Mercer Island rideshare without a smart phone or larger computer? Do you have to be a registered resident of the island?

      1. Probably not? And no – you simply have to be on MI. There’s no proof of residency, I believe.

      2. I suppose having a computer screen at Mercer Island P&R set to the Uber, Lyft and transit apps could solve the social accessibility issue one way. I’m not holding my breath for MI to approve dockless bikeshare though.

  3. Anecdotally, one situation where the Uber/Lyft/transit combination works very well is trips to and from the airport. From most of NE Seattle, and Uber/Lyft ride to UW Link station runs at about $10-15 (that’s a direct ride, a pooled ride would be less). So, door to door, home to terminal is about 1 hour for $10/15 (with transit pass, add $3 otherwise). This takes about the same amount of time as driving to the satellite lot near the airport and waiting for a shuttle, but costs a fraction of the price, and avoids nearly all traffic congestion.

  4. I really love this. Especially as this capability helps me make transit connections around Paine Field. Hopefully more partnering with TNCs will help commuters leave their cars at home…

  5. “ss” either typo or my keyboard’s inability to do those Nazi double lightning bolts. Maybe early emoticons, which meant Nuremberg Tribunals handed the inventor.


  6. Ride share from/to my house and the P&R would add too much time to my commute. I’ll continue to drive as long as parking is free and available.

  7. Or we could not rely on private companies that don’t recognize transit passes to serve where people actually live?

    I guess in the myriad far suburbs of Pierce County that’s the ‘workable’ solution, but what are you supposed to do if you get shoved out of decent bus range by the seemingly-inexorable rising tide of rent hikes and rely on a transit pass to get anywhere, including grocery trips?

    It’s even more fraught when you’re not able-bodied.

  8. Ride-share (Lyft and Uber…I’ll refer to them as “Ubers”) really do work well for making longer-distance transit trips work. Car-share (Car2Go and ReachNow) do, too. Car-shares are only slightly cheaper and only sometimes more convenient than Ubers — car-shares don’t work when headed to a place with difficult parking, and they only work in denser neighborhoods (otherwise you can’t rely on one being close to you when you need it). In Central Seattle, I often check all four apps to determine which will be cheapest or quickest for getting to the train or bus, but I know only Ubers will work when I’m taking a ferry or headed to International District station on a Sunday when parking is free and therefore there is no parking. For more suburban areas (and all commuter-oriented places) like Mercer Island, car-share can’t work well because all the trips will be in one direction in the morning and the other direction in the evening, so there really is no benefit to car-share over SOV (in terms of numbers of vehicles and park-n-ride spaces needed).

    While both car-share (in urban environments) and Ubers (in suburban and urban environments) make these longer-distance transit trips more feasible, they can also cut down on short-distance transit use. Let me illustrate with real-life examples: Why would I pay $2.75 to take the #2 bus Central District-to-downtown and risk having to wait for a late bus, when I can usually get there more quickly (and with less schedule risk) for about $4 by using the cheaper of Lyft/Uber/Car2Go/ReachNow. On the other hand, if I am headed to points south in the city (like the airport), I am much less likely to want to fight traffic in my SOV (or pay for a long-distance Uber) all the way there when I can instead just take a $3 Uber/car-share to Capitol Hill (or other) Station and train from there.

    Even for people within walking distance of a Link station or frequent bus route, having the option of Ubering makes it much more likely the person will use transit for things like downtown shopping, where they will have bags of items that they don’t want to (or can’t) trek 1/3 mile.

  9. It’s too bad that ST continues to design Link stations with circa 2001 drop-off and pick-up zones.

    Along with Lyft and Uber, the share of people reaching link stations via these methods is significant. Smart phones has significantly changed our mode of access to long distance transit! BART studies are showing that the percentage rivals park-and-ride trips at suburban stations with huge amounts of parking (as high as 25 to 30 percent at a few stations)!

    Yet, ST continues to design link with three or four spaces that require turning around in loops or cul-de-sacs. In practice, more and more people are going to instead be hopping out on the street — and then use neighborhood residential streets to turn around (no stopping signs will be ineffective).

  10. I’m an Uber and Lyft driver and we hate the short trips! People should be walking more! We have high levels of obesity. One mile is not going to kill you!

    1. What you mean when you say you “hate the short trips” is that they don’t pay you enough for the time it takes you to make them, right?

      It seems like the common short trips, from their perspective, are loss-leaders, and each app wants to price them cheap so their app is first in the mind of the user when it’s time to make a longer, more profitable trip. But, of course, it’s a corporate marketing strategy, so corporate should take the hit, not labor. Considering that the companies don’t appear to be operationally sustainable, they may be unable to. They may fail before they’re able to.

      1. They make money on each and every ride. Our car takes the hit with wear and tear…I was laughing at the lyft guy saying that all he cares is the environment…we end up losing money because we have to drive to pick up the passenger and in short rides we may make 2 bucks for 15’minutes of driving.

  11. While I have been extremely skeptical of these schemes, it looks like the Mercer Island experience may be a good one. If the results from Pierce County are promising, I may be coming around on this, for the case of low density areas near good transit nodes where subsidizing the fare capture is a similar rate as the bus.

    One issue Rideshare guy brings up above: drivers do tend to hate these short trips (especially short pool/line trips!), one reason being that the deadhead is often the same or longer than the actual ride. They might well just actively avoid the areas! There really ought to be a “carrot” incentive to drivers who do these trips, perhaps it’s something to negotiate with Uber/Lyft, which stand to benefit from being propped up by tax money. (In general, drivers really should get some compensation for dead heading to a pick up, if anything to encourage Uber/Lyft to minimize dead heading as much as possible).

Comments are closed.