Category Archives: ridesharing

Transit + Ridesharing: Uber partners with Caltrain to create POOLtrain

Ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber are a great complement to high frequency, long distance transit corridors. They provide an affordable, fast last mile option, especially in areas where connecting bus service is infrequent or non-existent.

Even outside of large events, taking an uber to get directly to the Ferry building, or a Lyft as the last mile connection from a BART station is a pretty great way to avoid needing to drive a car to get around the Bay Area.

For Super Bowl 50, Uber has partnered with Caltrain to create what they are calling “POOLtrain”. They have added support for UberPool at all Caltrain stations for riders going to or from each station.


Uber claims that 80,000 Uber trips started or ended within 100 meters of a Caltrain station during a one month period last July. With most of the Peninsula being sprawling single family homes, not particularly walkable and poorly served by local transit, its not surprising that ridesharing is a popular way to access Caltrain, the major regional transit provider. With traffic on the parallel Highway 101 and 280 being increasingly worse, Caltrain represents a great way to avoid hours spent sitting alone in a car moving slowly.

The “POOLtrain” will only be available the week of the Super Bowl, Jan 30 – Feb 7, 2016. Perhaps if it spurs enough interest in UberPool it will become permanently available on the peninsula. If that happens, it would be interesting if Caltrain stations feature signage and designated areas for ridesharing pickups and dropoffs.

The partnership between a transit agency and uber is also interesting. Many transit agencies view ridesharing as a competitive threat. For agencies that provide high-frequency, long distance transit, especially along congested corridors, ridesharing is more of a complement making it easy for people to forgo driving entirely.

Uber experiments with fixed-route service in San Francisco

Uber is trying its hand at operating more like a transit agency with fixed-route services in San Francisco. According to TechCrunch, its new “Smart Routes” service will have vehicles operating on a specified corridor with set pickup/dropoff locations along he route. Riders who choose to be picked up and dropped off on these routes will be charged $1 less than the normal UberPool fare. UberPool fares in much of San Francisco are about $7 per ride, and can accommodate one or two riders on a shared ride.




Currently, there are two Smart Routes in San Francisco: Fillmore between Haight and Bay and Valencia between 15th and 26th.

These Smart Routes aim to make trips more efficient by eliminating the number of turns drivers need to make and choosing pickup/dropoff locations that are easy for drivers to use. It will appeal to riders who are not picky about walking a block or two out of their way to save a dollar and have a potentially shorter wait and travel time. (i.e. those already walking around or those who just want to get to specific neighborhood, not necessarily a particular address).

Smart Routes join Uber’s “Perpetual Rides”, suggested pickup points and Lyft’s Triple Match service as ways to improve the efficiency of ridesharing.

San Francisco Transit Startups Folding due to Regulatory issues

A recent Forbes article highlights the success of Chariot and the failure of other transit startups.

Among the startups that have stopped operating recently:

  • Night School: A late-night transbay bus service
  • Leap: A high-end commuter private transit service that provided many perks and served the Marina
  • Loup: A cross between uber and a bus (The article notes that after suspending operations their website now shows two routes).

Both Night School and Leap hit regulatory hurdles from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Night School posted this:

Though they never raised any substantive objections to the safety or soundness of our plan, the CPUC’s actions have effectively made it impossible for us to launch. We have now decided to shut down the company and refund all memberships. … We are not seeking more money or lobbying for a change in laws. After spending much of the past year banging our heads against a wall of bureaucracy, we have reached a dead end.

The Forbes article noted that Chariot has not had the same regulatory issues due to the fact that they use 17-passenger vans instead of busses.

Because Chariot operates vans rather than buses, it is subject to looser licensing, insurance and parking requirements, despite running essentially the same service as the other companies.

This loophole may mean that high capacity vans are the future of private transit startups, at least in California.

Chariot has continued to expand service in San Francisco and now operates seven routes serving a variety of neighborhoods. Their service offers fixed routes with fixed times and operate weekdays between 5 AM and 8 PM. Their website allows users to suggest new routes and the most popular suggestions have a chance to be implemented.

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 5.51.57 PM

Chariot offers one-off rides for $5, bulk ride packs for about $3.75/ride and monthly passes for $93. This compares to MUNI’s $2.25 per ride and $70/$83 monthly pass (without/with BART).

Lyft, Uber and Sidecar launch real carpooling apps to discourage car ownership

Lyft, Uber and Sidecar all announced new ridesharing options today revolving around carpooling.

Uber launched UberPool in San Francisco. Its a way to request a ride and request to share it with another person heading the same direction.

uberpoolThe key is that if they don’t find a matching rider, Uber will give you a discount on your ride. Initially, until more people start using UberPool, it will be difficult to find two people with roughly the same start location, end location and times. An app that only did ridematching would fail to match most of the time. However, with uberX providing a reliable fallback, using UberPool has no downside.

Uber claims that UberPool is part of their desire for people to ditch car ownership:

Since the early days of Uber, we’ve been excited about the idea of providing transportation so inexpensive and reliable, people can actually sell their cars.

While the UberPool idea is simple, the implications are profound. On average, uberX already costs 40% less than taxi. Imagine reducing that cost by up to another 40%! In San Francisco, how about $6 to Uber from the Castro to the Financial District? Or $10 from Sunset to SOMA? At these price points, Uber really is cost-competitive with owning a car, which is a game-changer for consumers.

UberPool has launched in private beta in San Francisco and will roll out more widely on August 15.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 12.18.49 PMAlso today, Sidecar announced Shareable Sidecars. They have been testing this feature in San Francisco for the last few months. Sharing a sidecar costs up to 50% less than a normal sidecar. Sidecar mentions that in many cases this is very competitive with the costs of public transit:

Now you can take Sidecar for 50% less, or just a little more than you’d pay for the metro or bus.

More than half of Sidecar riders use it for their daily commute, and Sidecar points out their value to cities:

Shared Rides are awesome for cities too. It takes cars off the road, saves space by curbing the need for parking, cuts down on traffic, slows street wear and tear and reduces pollution.

Meanwhile, Lyft launched Lyft Line today. Lyft Line is a new option in San Francisco for sharing rides with multiple people.

lyftline When using Lyft Line, you indicate your start and end points, and then Lyft searches for matching drivers and passengers. Within minutes, Lyft confirms you line and shows the price of your trip. The price is fixed, even if a matching passenger is unavailable.

Lyft claims that routes never add more than a few minutes to your travel time and that sharing a Lyft Line can cost 60% less than a normal Lyft. When using Lyft line, you can have a party of two. Lyft also suggests that if you have lots of luggage, pets or are an unaccompanied minor that you use a traditional Lyft.

UberPool, Lyft Line and Shareable Sidecars all provide lower cost, on-demand ridesharing for trips where the travel time is less important than the cost. In the case of Uber, they explicitly state that they would like to lower the cost to the point where it doesn’t make sense to own a car. These services are perfect for commutes with slightly flexible arrival times, longer distance trips, and trips to social events where travel time does not need to be minimized. Its impressive that they all launched on the same day.

Enterprise Car Rental acquires ride matching service Zimride

Last month, Enterprise Car Rental acquired Zimride – a six-year-old ride matching service. Zimride was founded by the same team that more recently created Lyft, a peer-to-peer ridesharing service.

This is the second time an established, traditional car rental company has purchased a transportation startup: Avis purchased ZipCar earlier this year for $500 million.

This move frees up Zimride founder, John Zimmer, to focus on Lyft which has been growing very rapidly and recently raised $60 million. Lyft offers on-demand ride matching using smartphones connected to drivers, while Zimride was a more traditional ride-matching service targeted at longer trips or routine commutes.

Lyft, sidecar and Uber get a Cease-and-Desist letter from Los Angeles DOT

cease-and-desistPeer-to-peer ridesharing services have already had many legal challenges as they disrupt existing transportation services and work within regulations that were not written with them in mind.

On June 26, Lyft, Sidecar and Uber received cease-and-desist letters from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). (full letters here, here, and here). They already went through a similar situation with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last year. After negotiating with the CPUC, an agreement was reached in January of this year allowing all three companies to operate in the State of California.

LADOT threatened in the cease-and-desist letter that it would arrest drivers and impound their cars for up to 30 days, although this has not happened yet. All three companies continue to operate in Los Angeles. Lyft is asking anyone who enjoys using their service in Los Angeles to contact key city officials to voice support.

In spite of any California setbacks, Lyft announced their San Diego launch on July 3rd. Lyft now operates in three California cities: San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles as well as Boston, New York and Chicago.

A Post-medallion World

SF_medallionThe priceonomics blog has a great post on traditional taxis (medallion-based systems) vs new ridesharing startups (technology-based systems like Sidecar, Lyft, Uber and Instantcab). Its a great read about the current state of ridesharing in cities and the history and economics of the taxi medallion system.

The article talks about why medallions are outdated:

When this medallion system was introduced in New York City in 1937, there were 11,787 issued. That number remained constant unti 2004. Today there are 13,150.

The economics of being a taxi driver:

UCLA professors Gary Blasi and Jacqueline Leavitt found that taxi drivers work on average 72 hours a week for a median take home wage of $8.39 per hour.

The transformation from medallions to free market:

According to publicly available statements from ride-sharing companies, there is strong evidence that there are already more community drivers on the road than regular taxis in San Francisco. In San Francisco, the transformation from a medallion constrained taxi system to a free market is nearly complete. These ride-sharing companies are all rapidly expanding across the country.

The government’s reaction:

“These medallions are public assets. The value belongs to the people of San Francisco for the benefit of the transportation system.”
– Ed Reiskin, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director

“I really hope we keep the medallion system and get rid of ride-sharing apps.”
– No one who uses San Francisco Municipal Transportation, ever

Read more on priceonomics »

Uber expanding into peer-to-peer ride sharing in California

Screenshot_2013-02-14-01-02-12On the same day as the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reached an agreement with peer-to-peer ridesharing service Lyft, it also signed an agreement with on-demand limo provider Uber to allow them operate ridesharing services while the CPUC’s rulemaking process for ridesharing is underway.

The New York Times reports that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said that Uber will start to incorporate ridesharing into its app in California.

Including Uber, there will be four peer-to-peer ridesharing services in San Francisco: Lyft, Sidecar and Tickengo being the other three.

Uber faces yet another fight in Denver

uber_logoUber gets to navigate arcane local, county and state laws and corrupt taxi monopolies in every city where it launches. Denver is no exception.

uberDenverLoveThe Colorado Public Utilities Commission has proposed regulations that will make transportaion services like Uber effectively illegal (or too costly to be viable).

  • Non-taxis can only be chartered by time, not distance (section 6301)
  • Non-taxis can not be located with 200 feet of a hotel, motel, restaurant airport, or bar, effectively excluding non-taxis from dense areas of cities (section 6309)
  • “partnering with local sedan companies will be prohibited” – not exactly sure how this is interpreted, but it sounds bad (section 6001 ff)

It will be interesting to see how this proceed. At this point, Uber has become fairly accepted in most other major US cities, after several other legal battles.

Legal Issues with peer-to-peer Ridesharing

Peer-to-peer ridesharing company Tickengo has retained former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown to serve as their legal council in dealing with the cease-and-desist letters that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has been sending lately. According to Forbes, Brown is suggesting that it be legal for private citizens to offer peer-to-peer rides in their car and collect “donations” for this up to a maximum of the full cost of car ownership. AAA puts this at $8,776/year for an “Average Sedan” in an average location. As soon as drivers earn more than this in a year, they would become illegal under Brown’s proposed rules.
There are a few problems with this approach:

  • Will users with more expensive cars (which cost more to own) be allowed to drive more than users with smaller, less expensive cars?
  • Owning a car in a dense metropolitan area can be significantly more expensive than average, with parking and insurance costs being higher
  • What if a driver owns more than one car? Will they be allowed to use one car up to the $8,776/year and then switch to their second car?
  • Will this maximum apply to the driver or the car? Can the same car be used by someone else to achieve their yearly maximum?

Tickengo competitors Lyft and Sidecar did not follow the CPUC’s cease-and-desist letter (and $20,000 fine) arguing that the they don’t actually operate the cars or employ the drivers. These are just technology companies matching people up for carpooling (much like the government sponsored 511 Ridematch attempts to do). Tickengo removed its “instant ride feature” and the CPUC subsequently dropped the cease-and-desist. Lyft announced today that they have reached an interim agreement with the CPUC that allows them to operate while the CPUC debates rulemaking for ridesharing in California. (see official letter)

The CPUC doesn’t regulate “passenger vehicles carrying passengers on a noncommercial basis” – so the question is whether or not peer-to-peer ridesharing is commercial. If it turns out that matching up drivers and riders is illegal this may also imply that the Bay Area’s casual carpool is also illegal. It may also mean hiring a Task Rabbit or Exec to drive you somewhere isn’t allowed either.

Tickengo currently supports trips in six other non-california cities as well as Los Angeles, so even if ridesharing is declared illegal in California it can stil flourish elsewhere. However, given San Francisco’s compactness and high proportion of tech early-adopters, not allowing innovative transportation to operate in California would make it more difficult for services like Tickengo, Sidecar and Lyft to get off the ground.

If you haven’t yet tried peer-to-peer ridesharing, give it a try. A high-quality ride with reliable pickup, and the suggested donations end up being less-than-taxi prices.

Analysis of 1 year of taxi complaints in San Francisco (all 1700 of them)

The Bay Citizen did an analysis of all 1700 of the recorded complaints about taxis in San Francisco.  Complaints were sent to the city’s 311 compliant line.  The 1700 complaints span from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012 and represent a 13% increase over the previous time period.


The complaint list is an interesting read.

  • 361 complaints about drivers not picking them up because of their appearance
  • 206 complaints about being overcharged
  • 200 complaints about drivers not taking credit cards
  • 130 complaints about drivers not picking them up because of their destination (usually the Sunset or Richmond)
  • 40 complaints about drivers charging illegal fees
  • 35 complaints about drivers using cell phones
  • 25 complaints about drivers smoking
  • 15 complaints about drivers not picking them up because they were African American.

SFMTA has one person in charge of investigating complaints.

Poor quality taxi service is one of the reasons why users seem to be so enthusiastic about new ride-sharing services Sidecar and Lyft as well as taxi-replacement service Uber.  Payment and overcharging are not a problem as all of these services handle it directly via a smartphone app. Users can complain directly to the company if they have any issues.  Lyft, Sidecar and Uber have a lot of incentive to take complaints seriously as users won’t continue to patronize them if drivers are rude, refuse to take them places or drive in an unsafe way.  Because trips on these services are booked via smartphone, every trip is tracked so a user has a record of who the driver was, whereas with a taxi and a cash payment unless you remember the can drivers ID you may not know who to complain about.