Potential Uber riders will see a transit option alongside UberX and Black, along with the price and trip duration, and will be able to purchase a ticket for the bus or train instead of hailing an Uber.
“This is the first time we are offering forms of transportation that are run by completely different agencies in the Uber app,” said David Reich, Uber’s head of transit, in an interview. “This is a big step forward toward us realizing that ‘Amazon of transportation’ vision that Dara (Khosrowshahi, CEO) has been out there talking about for over a year now.”
Uber announced Thursday it will be rolling out the feature to Denver customers over the next few weeks.
Uber and its U.S. rival Lyft have been working with cities to include information about public transportation options in their apps, and both have managed to integrate schedule and price data into their apps in several cities. But this is the first time either company has made it possible for customers to actually buy tickets for public transportation on the app.
“We’re telling them that in some situations, Uber is not your best option,” Reich said. “Public transportation can be faster and cheaper and you can see that all in one place without needing to hop around.”
Reich did not disclose how Uber will make money from the arrangement, but he said Uber has a contract with Masabi, a software company that worked with Uber to launch the service.
Transit ridership has been declining nationally, and some blame Uber and Lyft for scooping up riders. But Denver officials are hoping their relationship with Uber will increase ridership by exposing the transit agency to new customers such as airport travelers who don’t know about their service.
“We know that people want convenience. We know they’re wanting to think about end-to-end travel,” said Laurie Huff, spokeswoman for Denver’s Regional Transportation District. “So if we can work with companies like Uber or Lyft to put a trip together in a way that makes sense, that’s a very good thing.”
Cities around the country are working on ways to meet that need, and in some cases turning to collaborations with the ride-hailing companies they once scorned.
“The public is demanding that, because the technology now has enabled us to provide that information,” said Paul Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association. “I think our agencies realize this is an area that we need to weigh in on.”
Lyft also shows potential riders transit prices and times on its app in Denver and six other cities, but it does not currently offer the ability to buy tickets.
“It’s what customers want,” said Carolyn Samponaro, head of bike, scooter and pedestrian policy at Lyft. “People want to be car-free. They want the flexibility and the ability to make a lot of choices about how to get around.”
In about two dozen markets, cities are subsidizing some Uber and Lyft rides in the hopes of boosting transit ridership. They’re paying portions of rides to get people to transit stations either late at night when public transit agencies run less frequently or during the day to help people navigate that “last mile” between the commuter rail station and the office or home.
Uber also announced this week that it made public transportation information available on the Uber app in London. Customers can’t buy tickets there, but they can find out how transit trips compare to Uber rides in terms of time and cost.
Officials in London had kicked out Uber in late 2017 following the company’s failure to report serious criminal offenses and its use of technology to allegedly evade law enforcement officials. A judge granted Uber a provisional license to operate for 15 months last June, and which is due to expire in late October.