TransLink 2017 - Part 2: Rideshare could complement public transit services

Dec 30 2017, 10:57 am

‘TransLink 2017’ is a six-part Daily Hive end-of-year series on the state and future of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system, based on our recent extensive interview with TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond.

Part 2 discusses the overlap between ride share services and public transit, and how both modes of travel could complement each other.

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Kevin Desmond, the CEO of TransLink, thinks rideshare could complement the region’s public transit services, but only if it is implemented properly.

“In certain metropolitan regions where your objective is to raise the mobility game, I don’t think we should fear ridersharing,” he said.

“But I think there would need to be ground rules, and I think it would be a pity if it is a completely unregulated environment where everyone is competing against everybody else. And if they start undermining certain elements of the transit system, it is really undermining the tax supported system.”

Within the Seattle region, where Uber and Lyft already operate, ridership on the Sound Transit system is growing in the double digits from the expansion of light rail lines. Overall ridership – including the King County Metro – is also on the upswing.

Further up north, Metro Vancouver’s public transit system is also experiencing sharp ridership growth, with a growth rate of 4.5% last year and 6.3% growth this year. TransLink’s annual ridership surpassed the 400 million mark for the first time earlier this month.

Both Seattle and Vancouver, he says, are defying falling transit ridership trends seen elsewhere in North America.

He noted that rideshare could be cutting into transit ridership in some cities, like Los Angeles and New York City.

Los Angeles may have a large population but it does not have density, and on the scheme of things the transit system there is underwhelming given the size of the metropolitan region. And in New York City, rideshare is increasingly the alternative to the poorly maintained subway system plagued by lengthy disruptions and delays.

Desmond says where rideshare services could particularly increase mobility is in the suburban communities – where low density has made it difficult for TransLink to financially operate bus routes that bring people to SkyTrain stations.

Farther out into the future, in the coming era of autonomous vehicles, he envisions a common payment platform for transportation that links rideshare services with public transit.

“Imagine someone at home on a common platform is able to trip plan, pay, call up their automated van and pick up three more people on a common payment platform and drop you off at high-capacity transit like SkyTrain,” said Desmond. “TransLink will still provide heavy duty trunk service where that capacity cannot be replicated by ride sharing.”

“I don’t want to say we should divide up the transportation market, but in a certain sense if you do that, you achieve what we do best and ride sharing services can supplement that in a way that does not undermine the affordable high capacity transit we provide to people for all walks of life.”

Gordon Price, the Director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University, likened the future of transportation in the same way as communications.

“You’ll pay one agency or company for a suite of transportation options where the next trip always seems to be free and the system is managed to that technology,” Price told Daily Hive. “All that GPS data to maximize the options of the transportation system work as a whole… we are selling this as a service in the same way that Rogers, Shaw and Telus sell communications.”

Rideshare in BC is currently subject to a consultation process and is still at least one year away from being enacted into legislation by the BC NDP provincial government.

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