The BBC’s North American technology reporter Dave Lee has written an interesting article about the effect of Uber on transport provision in the USA.
In it, he talks about how one town in New Jersey now offers free Uber rides from home to the railway station as an alternative to expanding the station car park, how another sparsely-populated town decided it was more cost-efficient to subsidise Uber journeys rather than extend a bus route and how another uses Uber instead of ambulances for some non-emergency trips.
“As it stands,” he writes, “all the ideas I’ve outlined above make a great deal of sense. Why run empty buses all day when you can just ferry passengers about in more comfort for less money?
“But with local authorities turning to Uber instead of investing in the city itself, the question becomes: what happens if Uber goes bust?”
The article then looks at some reports about Uber’s finances with Lee noting that, as the firm is still a private company so verified numbers are rare but that one leak at least suggests that in 2015 it made a loss of $2bn on revenues of $1.4bn. “There is a fear that once Uber is in a truly dominant position, it will simply raise prices in order to finally balance the books. It can’t subsidise drivers forever, and while it claims to be able to bring costs down by making its service more efficient, those savings don’t yet seem significant enough to turn things around.” he adds.
Miller Crockart, a director at transport modelling experts PTV Group, discussed this in an interview ahead of the ITS World Congress where he said that local authorities need to consider the “Uberisation” of transport. “Uber is now radically changing the mobility choices of individuals but also the travel patterns in our modern cities,” he said. The question is, who regulates that service? Is it Uber? Is it going to take over a chunk of a city’s public transport network? Who will manage those complex vehicle movements? For someone in a city’s traffic control centre, that is a big topic and one where support is needed to answer it in the form of data and models– I call it a city operating system – to be able to understand the effect this disruptive technology has on the existing and finite infrastructure network. If you are a city government, you need to wake up to this topic now.”
You can read the whole BBC article here and listen to Miller’s comments below.