Is ridesharing the secret to boosting suburban transit usage?

Jan. 13, 2020
University of Waterloo researchers found two-thirds of people utilizing rideshare trips in a pilot project traveled to or near bus stops.

Ridesharing integration with transit can work and work well, according to researchers at the University of Waterloo. The researchers determined integrating ridesharing with transit in poorly serviced suburban neighborhoods is an effective way to get people out of their cars and boost ridership. 

The researchers analyzed the 903 Flex pilot operated by the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and found two-thirds of people who took advantage of inexpensive rideshare trips in the pilot project used them to travel to or near bus stops.

“The pilot demonstrated that integrating ridesharing with transit can work,” said Chris Bachmann, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Waterloo. “The challenge now is designing an integrated system to make it work as well as possible.”

The study involved six months of data from a pilot project in a low-density, car-dependent area of the city of Waterloo with infrequent bus service and low transit ridership rates.

Dozens of virtual ridesharing stops were designated in the pilot area so that almost all residents lived within 400 meters of one, which is the equivalent of a quarter mile or about a five-minute walk.

Residents were offered RideCo ridesharing trips within the pilot area for the same price as bus trips. Users also got free transfers to Grand River Transit, the regional transit system that operates in Waterloo.

Although the study didn’t track the almost 600 users after their ridesharing trips had ended, the results showed 65 percent of them took the subsidized service to a location close to a bus stop.

In all but a small percentage of cases, however, users didn’t travel to the nearest bus stop, the ideal objective of the initiative.

About one in five ridesharing trips also went from one transit stop to another transit stop, suggesting some users were manipulating the project to get cheap rides and bypassing the bus altogether.

A paper regarding the work, “Spatial Characteristics of Transit-Integrated Ridesourcing Trips and Their Competitiveness with Transit and Walking Alternatives,” will be presented at the Transportation Research Board 99th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Jan. 14 as part of the First Mile/Last Mile: Transit Access Explorations session.

Jacob Terry, an engineering Ph.D. student who led the study, will explore adjustments - such as limiting the distance of rideshare trips, or creating zones and not allowing rides from one zone to another - to solve those problems in the next phase of his work.

“The design of any system like this is extremely challenging,” Bachmann said. “In transportation, you always have to be mindful of behavioral responses - how people respond, basically, to the game we’ve created as they navigate through the network.”

The researchers explain the goal of integration is to make transit convenient and inexpensive enough for people to use it even if they live in neighborhoods where providing much better, more frequent bus service on fixed routes is cost prohibitive.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.