Every form of transportationĀ has some unique considerations. Car drivers worry a great deal about parking nearĀ their destinationāa consideration bus riders donāt need to think about. But, as transit consultant Jarrett Walker has written about, some considerations are universal. As Uber and Lyft have added carpool services, some people have noted that they canĀ learn from traditional transit:
— Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) August 24, 2015
But what lessons go in the opposite direction? What canĀ transit learn from Uber?Ā
LESSON 1: PAYMENTĀ CONVENIENCE MATTERS
When you get in an Uber, you donāt pay fare like you doĀ on aĀ bus. You just start moving. When you reach your destination, you donāt fumble for cash and wait for changeĀ like you doĀ in aĀ taxi. You just get out.Ā This may seem like a smallĀ detail, but Uber riders frequentlyĀ citeĀ this convenience as giving the serviceĀ a magical feeling. For the driver, the less time sheĀ spendsĀ acceptingĀ payment, the more time she can spend getting people around.
BusesĀ too can use off-board payment systems to relieve passengers of the headache of fumbling for their fare and waiting on 50 other passengers to each find and payĀ exact change. Typically,Ā passengers get a proof of payment and fare inspectors will check a fraction ofĀ rides, much like meter inspectors check a fraction of parking meters.
LESSON 2: Ā THEREāS NO SUCH THING ASĀ ENOUGHĀ CUTTING WAIT TIMES
With much fanfare, Austin introduced bus services that come every 15 minutes at peakĀ times and every 20 minutes off-peak. For Uber, by contrast, a passenger waiting 15 minutes for service is considered a failure. Downtown pickup frequency wasĀ often under 3 minutes and even then, Uber still worked hard to cut wait times down. The company endures a huge amount ofĀ negative media and customer sentimentĀ for āsurge pricing,ā all to make sure that whenever and wherever a passenger requests a car, one will show up in a coupleĀ minutes.
At $1.25 to $2.50 per ride and limited other funding, itās difficult for transitĀ to match 5-10 minute frequencies acrossĀ their large service area. But transit operators and the cities in which they operate needĀ to bring the same relentless focus on frequency that Uber brings. Some important ideas for adding frequency include off-board payment, ālevel boardingāĀ buses people can walk onto withoutĀ climbing stairs, multiple-door boarding, and dedicated bus lanes so that buses arenāt caught up in traffic.
LESSON 3: RELENTLESLY IMPROVEĀ DRIVER CUSTOMER SERVICE
Transit agencies and taxi companies have become increasingly responsive to social media complaints. One AustinĀ taxi driver was recently firedĀ after a customer took a video of terrible (and illegal) serviceĀ and it found its way to a company bigwigās Facebook account.
Uber doesnāt leaveĀ this customer service to chance. Every singleĀ ride comes with an easy formĀ forĀ customers to rate their experience.Ā Drivers who maintain high ratings are rewarded and driversĀ with low ratingsĀ are givenĀ remedial training. If they donāt improve, they are let go. Most drivers go above and beyond expectationsāoffering gum or bottled water or mood music. Transit agencies could incorporate a methodĀ for customers who pay by app to rate their rides and use informationĀ to grade and improve drivers.Ā This would require a massiveābut necessaryāchange in how agenciesĀ relate toĀ their drivers and customers.