Thu 29 Mar 2018
The prospect of private companies challenging or taking over mass transit has raised other concerns. Last year, Uber was stripped of its licence in London because of its lax approach to reporting serious criminal offences and its failure to carry out background checks on drivers. TfL concluded Uber was not “fit and proper” to offer a private taxi hire service. An appeal is ongoing.
Citymapper’s relationship with London’s authorities initially seemed more harmonious – last year the company described TfL as “the most forward-thinking public transport agency in the world” – but now it’s running its Smart Ride service, relations are fraying. It has complained about having to wait weeks for approval to vary the bus routes, and that it had been blocked from using larger vehicles. “Regulation makes it hard to be smart,” the company said in a recent blog post.
TfL says it wants to embrace technology that complements its public transport network. When Ford launched its commuter ride-sharing service, Chariot, in London this year, it applied to operate six routes; TfL granted licences for four. Citymapper applied to operate two bus routes last year and was granted permission for one. It also needed a private hire taxi licence, of the type recently stripped from Uber, which TfL granted, with limits on the types of vehicles that can be used. TfL’s position is that it is open to innovation – not revolution.
Cautious collaboration between public and private seems to be the most common relationship. In 2016, the US Federal Transit Administration awarded $8m (£5.7m) to a series of new projects aimed at integrating new technology into mass transit networks. They include a partnership between Los Angeles County and Lyft to encourage ride-hailing journeys that start or end at transit stops.
“The mission is to work out how to make it work as a balanced system,” says Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Centre at the University of California, Berkeley, who is helping to evaluate the projects. “Perhaps there is an opportunity to knit this together to create a synergistic relationship, rather than competitive.”
In Helsinki, the city is exploring a possible solution. It’s dubbed mobility-as-a-service and is led by the company MaaS Global, which pitches itself as the Netflix of transportation. Users download an app, Whim, and pay a monthly subscription fee, which grants access to a wide range of transport options. Passengers subscribing to the basic “Urban plan” are offered unlimited use of buses, trains and trams, plus subsidised taxis and car hire. Bike hire is set to be added soon.