Quantcast
Business

Uber and Lyft Revolutionize Public Transit

Could Uber and Lyft make the dream of futurists for personal rapid transit come true?

Since the 1950s, thinkers such as city transportation planner Donn Fichter began to envision an automated public transit system for low-density areas where rail and even buses were not practical. Even in denser urban environments, it has always been a challenge to get people to leave their cars at home when mass transit cannot offer point-to-point and schedule on demand service.

The 1960s through 1990s saw research studies and a handful of demonstration projects in the U.S., Europe and Japan. In 1999, I visited the Honda R&D facility in Tochigi, Japan, where I could summon a self-driven minicar to take me to specific spots around the campus. The vehicle would then return to its home base on its own. Other proposed systems used guideways, separating the vehicle from existing road or rail systems but offering less flexibility.

The automotive industry is investing heavily in autonomous vehicle technology, some aspects of which are already available in mass-market vehicles from major manufacturers. Two major industry suppliers, Delphi Automotive and Mobileye, are teaming up to produce off-the-shelf autonomous vehicle technology that will be shown at the International CES in Las Vegas in January. This will enable automakers to more quickly introduce self-driving cars and spend less on their own research and development.

Uber has just started a pilot program in Pittsburgh involving up to 100 self-driving vehicles in partnership with Volvo. The company has also acquired Otto, a start-up company headed by autonomous vehicle engineer Anthony Levandowski.

Uber's modified Volvo XC90 for its Pittsburgh self-driving fleet.Uber

Earlier this year, General Motors announced a $500 million in investment in rival Lyft. This month, Ford said it would have a fully autonomous vehicle on the road for ride sharing by 2021. Google's 25-mph prototype vehicle is also testing on public roads.

Uber and Lyft are looking beyond competition with traditional taxi services. They may be creating the first practical, affordable personal rapid transit (PRT) systems that will compete with buses. In 2014, Uber launched UberPool, enabling multiple parties to share a ride along similar routes. The following year, the company announced uberCOMMUTE in China, which they described as " carpooling at the press of a button." In the U.S., it's being tested in Chicago. Then, in December, Uber launched uberHOP in Seattle, which operates along pre-selected commuters routes.

Virtually all mass transit systems are publicly subsidized. Farebox revenues rarely cover more than 50 percent of expenses, which are labor and capital-intensive. In Pinellas Park, Florida—a Tampa suburb—has just replaced two bus lines with Uber service, subsidized to the tune of $3 per ride. It's cheaper than running the buses. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority budgeted $40,000 a year. Running the two bus lines cost four times as much.

In the Denver suburb of Centennial, Lyft launched a program this month providing free rides to the Dry Creek light rail station. In this case, the program is designed to encourage mass transit use by enabling commuters to get to the station without having to park a car there all day. A self-driving bus is already being tested in Washington, DC.

A key benefit of a self-driving vehicles is greater fuel efficiency. The computer can drive better than you can. It will drive at a steady speed, will avoid jackrabbit starts and won't exceed the speed limit. Ultimately, a preponderance of autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic congestion by communicating with each other and traveling together in a controlled caravan. Car-sharing and carpooling make for more efficient use of roadways, vehicles and infrastructure devoted to parking.

There are concerns, however, that self-driving cars will encourage more driving. That remains to be seen, but if the technology is accompanied by more car-sharing and greater use of electric vehicles, that may act as an offset.

A KPMG/Center for Automotive Research study stated, "The new technology could provide solutions to some of our most intractable social problems—the high cost of traffic crashes and transportation infrastructure, the millions of hours wasted in traffic jams and the wasted urban space given over to parking lots, just to name a few. But if self-driving vehicles become a reality, the implications would also be profoundly disruptive for almost every stakeholder in the automotive ecosystem."

Personal rapid transit is no longer a pipe dream; it's a business.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
TAFE SA TONSLEY / Flickr

Worldwide Clean Energy Investments Hit $333.5 Billion Last Year

Global investment in renewable energy hit $333.5 billion in 2018, the second-highest on record, according to a new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

That's a 3 percent jump from 2016 and 7 percent short of the $360 billion record set in 2015.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

How Blockchain Could Boost Clean Energy

By Jeremy Deaton

Bitcoin, the much-hyped cryptocurrency, made headlines recently for driving a surge in power use. Around the globe, digital entrepreneurs are 'mining' bitcoins by solving complex math problems, using supercomputers to get the job done. Those supercomputers use a ton of power, which largely comes from coal- and gas-fired power plants spewing gobs of carbon pollution.

But while hackers wreak havoc on the climate, blockchain, the bleeding-edge technology behind bitcoin, could one day help clean up the mess. Climate wonks say blockchain has a role to play in the clean-energy economy, helping homeowners sell electricity, allowing businesses to trade carbon credits, and making it easier for governments to track greenhouse gas emissions.

Keep reading... Show less
Abdallah Issa / Flickr

Post-Fire Landslide Problems Likely to Worsen: What Can Be Done?

By Lee MacDonald

Several weeks after a series of wildfires blackened nearly 500 square miles in Southern California, a large winter storm rolled in from the Pacific. In most places the rainfall was welcomed and did not cause any major flooding from burned or unburned hillslopes.

But in the town of Montecito, a coastal community in Santa Barbara County that lies at the foot of the mountains blackened by the Thomas Fire, a devastating set of sediment-laden flows killed at least 20 people and damaged or destroyed more than 500 homes. In the popular press these flows were termed "mudslides," but with some rocks as large as cars these are more accurately described as hyperconcentrated flows or debris flows, depending on the amount of sediment mixed with the water.

Keep reading... Show less
The most notable observation from the count was DeMartino's sighting of the golden crowned kinglet, but in general volunteers found the same species they normally do. (Photo above is of a golden crowned kinglet, but not the one DeMartino spotted.) Melissa McMasters

Birders Get a First Look at How 2017 California Wildfires Affected Wildlife

By Matt Blois

A neighbor knocked on Rick Burgess's door at about 9:30 p.m. to tell him a fire was coming towards his home in Ventura, California. When he looked outside he saw a column of smoke, and the hills were already starting to turn orange. He loaded up his truck with a collection of native plants he was using to write a countywide plant guide, and barely had enough time to get out.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
A learning garden from Kimbal Musk's nonprofit called Big Green. The Kitchen Community

Elon Musk's Brother Wants to Bring #RealFood to 100,000 Schools Across America

Kimbal Musk's nonprofit organization, The Kitchen Community, is expanding into a new, national nonprofit called Big Green, to build hundreds of outdoor Learning Garden classrooms across America.

Learning Gardens teach children an understanding of food, healthy eating and garden skills through experiential learning and garden-based education that tie into existing school curriculum, such as math, science and literacy.

Keep reading... Show less
Drilling fluids spilled into Ohio wetlands during construction of the Rover Pipeline in April. Sierra Club

Rover Pipeline Spills Another 150,000 Gallons of Drilling Fluid Into Ohio Wetlands

Energy Transfer Partners' troubled $4.2 billion Rover pipeline has spilled nearly 150,000 gallons of drilling fluid into wetlands near the Tuscarawas River in Stark County, Ohio—the same site where it released 2 million gallons in April.

The 713-mile pipeline, which will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan and Canada, is currently under construction by the same Dallas-based company that built the controversial Dakota Access pipeline.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Large Dams Fail on Climate Change and Indigenous Rights

Brazil has flooded large swaths of the Amazon for hydro dams, despite opposition from Indigenous Peoples, environmentalists and others. The country gets 70 percent of its electricity from hydropower. Brazil's government had plans to expand development, opening half the Amazon basin to hydro. But a surprising announcement could halt that.

Keep reading... Show less
Jim Henderson / Wikimedia Commons

World's Largest Money Manager: Companies Must Respond to Social and Climate Challenges

The world's largest publicly traded companies must take a more active role in solving social issues or face blowback from investors, the CEO of BlackRock said Tuesday.

"To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society," Laurence Fink wrote in his annual letter to CEOs of companies in which BlackRock invests. BlackRock is the world's largest money manager, with more than $6 trillion in assets.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!