The Future of Urban Mobility: A talk by Jason Post from Uber Technologies, Inc.
November 02, 2017
Penn Wharton PPI recently welcomed Jason Post, Director of Public Affairs at Uber Technologies, Inc. to campus for a talk on how modern technology is transforming urban mobility. Post oversees transportation policy and works with elected and appointed officials as well as third-party groups to achieve Uber’s mission to make transportation reliable and efficient. Before his time at Uber, Jason worked in journalism, government and consulting, including service in the Administration of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. He also produced the political news program Inside City Hall on the cable news channel NY1. He is a 2001 graduate of Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences and serves as volunteer wish granter for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“There are over 1 billion cars in the world today,” Post began. “In cities like Los Angeles, 80% of the city’s emissions come from transportation and only 20% come from buildings. In cities like New York, this is flipped – 20% of emissions come from transport and the other 80% come from buildings,” he said. Across the country, however, Post noted that the bulk of emissions come from cars that are, for the most part, idle. Public transport, however, cannot solve this problem on its own. Even in New York City, the city with one of the densest transportation networks in the world, counting subway, bus, bike sharing and other modes, but the subway does not take a passenger right to their front door, nor does the bus. Millions of cars enter New York City and millions of New Yorkers own cars because they do not have access to mass transit in their neighborhood.
Ubers’ Business Model
Fundamentally, Uber is based on a very simple business model. In it’s essence, Uber is an app that connects car owners who want to earn extra income with people who have money and need a ride. This basic concept has developed into other lines of business including connecting restaurants that want to sell food with people who are looking to have a meal delivered via a courier. And shippers who need to move goods with carriers who have excess capacity in their tractor trailers. “These are our core businesses,” Post explained, “and our special sauce is to do that more efficiently than other people and use technology to deliver a better experience, with a better price and more information.”
In Downtown Los Angeles, Uber has grown rapidly over the years. Over the past four years, the area of Uber pickups and wait times under 10 minutes has expanded to new levels, showing that far more of the city has access to transportation and that Uber has helped to provide a new layer of mobility for people. The same trend is occurring in Paris, revealing a pattern where trips start in the urban core and central business district, then expand outward, bringing transportation to underserved neighborhoods and places that do not have access to mass transit. In New York City, an analysis of trip growth shows that it is fastest in the boroughs outside of Manhattan that don’t have access to mass transit.
First-Mile, Last-Mile Problem
Using London as a case example, Post described how Uber is working to complement the existing transportation infrastructure. “Nearly 30% of Uber rides in London are within 300 meters of a tube stop,” Post affirmed. Taking a look at data isolating the night tube stops shows that more and more pickups are happening at these stops outside of the central business district. “This is telling us that people are taking the night tube, then are using Uber to get home, in a first-mile last-mile problem.”
In bedroom communities, residential suburbs that are inhabited largely by people who commute to a nearby city for work, rail-lines are often the preferred form of transportation in and out of the city. A common problem people face is wanting to take the train, but being unable to park their car because the commuter rail parking lots are overflowing. In Summit, New Jersey, for example, the city was considering building a new garage, and incurring additional costs of operation and maintenance. Uber partnered with the city’s government in a program where if a ride originated in Summit and ends at a train station, the city will subsidize the cost to use Uber. “This builds a virtual parking garage, so the city doesn’t need to undergo the capital expense,” Post said. Uber has continued to partner with cities and municipalities to subsidize new use cases such as safe rides to mitigate drunk driving, para transit to provide equivalent service for this disabled, and for non-emergency medical transport.
Car Sharing with UberPOOL
Post then discussed how riders with similar start and end destinations could share resources and save money by taking UberPOOL. The program, which started in San Francisco, has grown to the point where half of all Uber trips are through UberPOOL. The capacity of a roadway network is fixed, and you can’t fit more cars onto roadways than they are built to handle. However, you can put more people in the cars, which is a better solution to mitigate problems in areas where capacity is further restricted by bike lanes, express bus lanes, and more. The ride sharing program has the potential to save millions of vehicle miles traveled, reduce carbon emissions and save fuel.
Data from the company has also shown that the more affordable and reliable the service is; people will not buy or rent cars. Uber does not view itself as competing with mass transit or even Lyft, but rather as a competitor to personal ownership of a vehicle. Studies show that the more people that use ride sharing services, the more they use other modes of transit. Ride sharing today accounts for only 4% of miles driven globally, which is only going to rise in the next few years.
Lastly, Post touched on self-driving technology, which will truly transform transportation. “we think there are three legs to the future of self-driving: autonomous, electric, and shared.” If people are using shared services like Uber that are autonomous, shared, and electric, the policy benefit on emissions and vehicle miles traveled could be substantial. As of now, it is unclear how the technology will develop and what the first commercial applications will be, but Uber’s message to regulators and policy makers is that the technology is nascent and needs to develop, so no regulations should be put in place to hurt the growth of the technology. “Our ultimate view of the future is that rides be shared, and that people take these services not through coercion, but through choice,” Post concluded.