Uber claims it's helping — not hurting — transit in LA by closing last mile gap

FILE: A passenger gets into a car marked as participating in both Uber and Lyft.
FILE: A passenger gets into a car marked as participating in both Uber and Lyft.
Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

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New research from ride-hailing company Uber purports to show that the service is working in tandem with, not against, transit ridership in the Los Angeles area.

There's been an ongoing debate in the transportation world about whether ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft are competing with public transit or complementing it.

Transit ridership has declined both nationally and in L.A. County in recent years, while ride-hailing has gained in popularity.

But the results of a new study conducted by Uber seem to support the idea that the service can encourage transit use by bridging the so-called last mile gap between transit and a destination.

To determine this, Uber looked at pick-up data in two areas that got new train lines last year – the Expo Line to Santa Monica and the Gold Line to Azusa.

The study compared the number of Uber pick-ups from within 300 feet of the new stations before the train line opened and one month after, and found that pickups increased when the train started running.

The author suggested that passengers were using the train to get part way to their destinations and then hailing an Uber to complete the trip.

A survey released last year by the American Public Transit Association seems to complement Uber’s findings. The transit-supporting think tank found ride-hailing customers in seven U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, were also likely to use trains and buses and owned fewer cars per household, suggesting to researchers that ride-hailing services are helpful in reducing reliance on private car ownership and promoting alternative transportation choices.

In its post, Uber does not quantify how much pick-ups increased at the locations, but the research does show a higher volume of pick-ups along the more-traveled Expo Line than the Gold Line extension, which has lower ridership and runs through less densely populated areas.

The report also notes that pick-ups decreased at station locations that had been the end points of the respective train lines: Culver City on Expo and Sierra Madre Villa on the Gold Line both saw decreases in Uber pick-ups after the rail extensions opened. The report concludes that train riders were getting closer to their destinations with the rail extension before hailing an Uber car.