We need to talk about Uber

Tue, October 24th, 2017

What public transport operators need to learn from the controversial travel app

As Uber fights for its licence to operate in the UK capital, digital transport specialist Glow New Media says public transport operators can still learn a lot from its approach to the market.

Earlier this year a UK property developer signed a deal with transport app Uber which will give its city centre tenants monthly credits for minicabs in exchange for what would have been their parking space. The idea is that tenants will to dump their cars in favour of using alternative (Uber) forms of transport.

The deal means that the developer – Moda Living – will build its 466-apartment complex in central Manchester with just 149 car parking spaces. Space that would have been used for parking will instead be filled with home cinemas, gyms, meeting spaces and swimming pools.

According to transport technology specialist Glow New Media, it’s a deal that should sound as a warning shot for public transport operators everywhere.

Phil Blything, managing director at Glow New Media said:

“With space at a premium and ever-increasing pollution, it makes sense that cities around the world are encouraging residents to seek alternative means to get around.

“Improving mobility and reducing traffic congestion are some of the biggest challenges facing urban communities today. But if Uber starts to win the battle on cost and convenience, the future of public transport starts to look perilous, with potentially disastrous consequences for public wellbeing and health.”

According to UK Government statistics, there were 5 million passenger journeys on local bus services in 2016 –just 7% of the total journeys made and 60% fewer than in 1950. Two percent of the total journeys we made in 2016 were by rail. Cars – either privately owned or taxis – are still the nation’s favourite way to roll, accounting for 64% of all journeys.

Meanwhile the UK’s ‘air pollution crisis’ continues to generate headlines.

“What Uber got right is its approach to the market. It identified the problems that put people off taking mini cabs – their unreliability, variable charging, the need for the passenger to carry cash – and developed a real solution. An app that does it all for you”, said Blything.

“To get more people onto our public transport networks we need to consider what the perceived problems are, and what the solutions might be.

“What makes our networks off-putting? How can we improve cost, flexibility and ticketing? How can we better integrate with other transport networks and providers in our cities?

“Transport apps have the potential to do for personal mobility what Airbnb and Spotify have done for accommodation and music: turn it into a service which is accessed and paid for on demand. But only if public transport operators invest in it right across the board.”

In 2007 half the world’s population lived in cities; by 2050 that figure is expected to increase to two-thirds. According to a recent report published by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Air pollution kills in the region of 40,000 people in the UK every year.

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