The Los Angeles City Council should be commended for its approval, last week, of Uber and Lyft pick-ups at LAX. By recognizing these services' enduring appeal for airport travelers, Los Angeles' city government now stands at the forefront of municipal rideshare regulation.
And yet, merely adapting to these rideshare services' presence will deny the city a crucial opportunity.
As Los Angeles officially commits itself to a transport system untethered to the single-family automobile, the city should utilize the popularity of rideshare services to get more people out of their cars and on to public transit.
Given that Los Angeles is geographically-dispersed and that vast tracts of single-family residential zones that separate major arterials, the Los Angeles County Metro's burgeoning rail transit system has faced difficulty accomodating riders who reside or work at a distance from transit stations.
Metro's attempts to solve the "first mile-last mile" gap have so far floundered, potentially jeopardizing the system's steady rise in ridership. The free parking at stations like North Hollywood fills to capacity early in the morning on weekdays. Proposals to charge for parking at North Hollywood and similar stations may free up some space, but will inevitably turn away a portion of drivers (particularly the all-day commuters who benefit from the current scenario). Building more parking space is unfeasible in most cases due to a combination of limited building space and exorbitant costs. (note this article http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-california-commute-20141021-story.html)
At the same time, local bus service to a rail staton-constricted to major arterials-can be as difficult to access as the station itself and bears the added limitation of a fixed and limited schedule.
By offering on-demand service with compact vehicles, rideshare services are well-positioned to transport passengers from disparate locations to nearby transit stations on a flexible basis.
Though they can become costly for long-distance trips, rideshare services' low per-mile costs-particularly on their shared-ride services- make them incredibly reasonable on short journeys, A rideshare service like UberPool could shuttle transit riders with an origin or destination as distant as 4 miles away from a station for under 6 dollars, disregarding surge fares, for a complete trip of 8 dollars or less. By comparison, the average car ride in the United States costs around 5 dollars in gas and side costs (this does not account for the higher-than-average price of parking and gas
Across the six rail lines currently in existence, rideshare services can potentially offer flexible access to millions of households and jobs (this chart shows the population and job concentration within a half mile of every station in the network) beyond immediate walking distance from stations for a cost competitive with the automobile.
Anecdotal evidence from this former Lyft driver already suggests that a portion of the population uses rideshare services in this matter.
And yet because most stations have limited loading and parking space and because many drivers are unfamiliar with station layouts, arranging a rideshare pick-up becomes difficult to those who do not plan carefully.
Rideshare companies can best assist public transit if Metro accomodates their presence at stations with infrastructure and information.
In terms of infrastructure, the city would create "Uberports," curb space near stations dedicate exclusively for rideshare pick-ups and drop-offs. The length of such designated curbspace would vary based on the station's level of traffic and parking availability. Bringing wireless service to underground trains, moreover, (as has been done already on much of the New York subway) would enable passengers to request pick-ups when approaching their destination station. Indeed, the transit agency could work with rideshare software designers to design apps to detect when a passenger is on a subway line and to arrange pick-up at a destination station in coordination with the train's arrival train.
As for information, public notices on trains could inform passengers of a rideshare service convenient means for getting home. Conversely Rideshare companies would have incentive to advertise their partnership with Metro rail as a reasonable means of traveling long distances.
At an advanced degree of integration, Metro might even allow fares to be built it into rideshare operators' pricing.
Los Angeles has already made amazing progress in the construction of subway and light-rail transit. And yet, even with the extensive long-term plans on the table, Los Angeles County would be a long-way from placing every residentwithin walking distance of a transit station.
Working together to place rail transit within convenient reach of residents who are out of walking distance from a transit station, Uber and Metro could usher in a true renaissance in Los Angeles' public transit while placing Los Angeles at the forefront of municipal transit policy.