Public Transit vs. Rideshare Companies – Ridership Numbers at Stake

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

With the growth of rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft, and other market-based transportation options, many transit providers have seen their ridership decrease. However, there is the potential for transit and these other services to complement each other, enhancing transportation access and mobility for all.

Morgane Matthews drives for Safr, a ridesharing company that focuses on providing safe transportation to women and good jobs for its drivers. (WBUR)

In many large, populated urban areas, mass transit has historically thrived. This could be changing with the popularity of other ride options. A New York Times headline in 2017 asked: “Is Uber Helping or Hurting Mass Transit?” A recent research study by three economists examined a similar question: “Is Uber a substitute or complement for public transit?” The answers to these questions are complicated.

A recent analysis by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that transit ridership is falling in many of the top 50 transit markets in the U.S. and that over the decade nationally, excluding the New York metro area where ridership had been continuing to grow, transit ridership fell 7%. The latest news from New York, reported in the New York Times last month, is that transit ridership is now falling there as well, and dropped 2% between 2015 and 2017.

At the national level, the CRS found two main factors that impact ridership trends. The first is access to transit service. Nationally, the amount of transit provided and areas served has been expanding. However, at the same time, average fares have been increasing faster than inflation, deterring riders who are most sensitive to fare changes and limiting their ability to take transit. The second factor impacting ridership levels is the competition from other travel modes, including driving, using rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber, car sharing companies such as Zipcar, and bicycling and walking.  Some people choose these other modes because they find them more convenient and more reliable than taking public transit.

In Boston, the MBTA saw its total number of transit trips fall 6% for bus routes and 2% for rail lines, in fiscal year 2017 compared to the previous year. As discussed in the Boston Globe, these overall decreases masked passenger increases in some parts of the system, such as on the subways during rush hours, and with some buses serving Chelsea and northeast Boston. Most of the ridership decline occurred during off-peak and weekend travel times when service is less frequent and potentially less convenient.

In 2017, the Boston region’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) conducted a survey of 1,000 rideshare company passengers. When survey participants were asked how they would have made their current trip if a rideshare option was not available, 42% say they would have taken transit. Some of this transit substitution takes place during commuter rush hours and the MAPC estimated that 12% of all rideshare trips during the morning or afternoon commute periods are substituting for a transit trip. The MAPC study also found that the highest frequency of rideshare trips occurred during the hours between 7 p.m. and midnight, when transit service runs less frequently.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) oversees TNCs and TNC driver and vehicle requirements in the Commonwealth. A DPU website provides rideshare statistics statewide and for counties, cities, and towns, by starting location. In 2017, TNCs provided 64.8 million rideshare trips starting in Massachusetts (178,000 per day on average). To put TNC use into perspective, there were more than 408 million public transit trips statewide (1.1 million per day) in the same year, and each day, more than 5 million vehicles travel over 154 million miles on all roads across Massachusetts.

The DPU data show that over half (54%) of the TNC trips statewide started in Boston and that TNC services are predominantly utilized by residents in urban areas. In addition to Boston, the communities with the greatest number of TNC trips were Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and Newton.  Cambridge had the most TNC usage per capita, with 64 trips per person per year. Outside of the Boston metro area, Nantucket had the greatest number of trips per person, 18 trips per year. In Western Massachusetts, Amherst and Hadley had the highest trips per person per year with 8 each. These locations have a high percentage of people without their own cars which could help explain these data.

TNCs do impact and take market share from public transit because of transit schedules, and the places and times transit provides service, are not always meeting the demands of the market and transit is not always convenient for riders. At the same time, TNC services have the potential to complement transit. The economic research study mentioned at the start of this article on whether Uber complements transit service examined 196 metropolitan areas with Uber and transit services. The researchers examined transit ridership trends (2004-2015) in those cities and looked at how transit ridership changed from two years before Uber arrived until two years after. The study found that on average, two years after Uber arrived, the metro area’s ridership was 5 to 8% higher than it would have been otherwise. This positive impact was seen predominantly in the cities with the smallest levels of initial ridership, suggesting that the presence of Uber may have made taking transit in those cities more viable, for example, by offering more flexible transportation access as well as connections to locations not directly served by transit. The researchers noted that consistent with this interpretation, after their analysis period, in 2016 and 2017, some cities partnered with Uber to have Uber supplement their smaller transit systems. These cities included Philadelphia, Tampa, Florida, and Dublin, California.

The MBTA is currently conducting a pilot program that allows eligible paratransit customers of the MBTA’s paratransit service, The RIDE, to use taxicabs, Uber, and Lyft for subsidized trips. This option can help these customers reach their destinations more quickly and directly and can also provide them with rides at times when paratransit is not typically available. UMass Amherst Civil Engineering professor Eric Gonzales is working on a MassDOT-funded study evaluating the pilot program.

TNCs and other rideshare options can help provide transportation access to areas for which it is not feasible to provide fixed-route transit service. There is often a geographic gap, referred to as the last mile, between where fixed-route services end and people’s final destinations. One possibility for last-mile service is micro transit, which combines elements from TNCs and transit. Microtransit includes features of traditional demand-response transit, including smaller transit vehicles that serve areas off main transit corridors and can vary based on passenger needs and requests. Microtransit also incorporates TNC features such as mobile smartphone applications to improve passengers’ ease of use, and longer service hours than traditional transit, even up to 24 hours per day. Microtransit can be provided by private companies, though two micro transit companies, Chariot and Bridj, serving the Boston area left due to lack of funding. Some transit systems, including in California and Detroit, are now considering adding micro transit options themselves. With public micro transit and public-private partnerships, one benefit, in addition to better more convenient service, could be fares that are more affordable than market-rate TNC trips, allowing them to be a viable equitable option for a larger range of riders. Such options deserve more exploration as communities and transit agencies look at ways to improve transportation access and mobility.

Listening Session on Transit, and Active Transportation, and Mobility – A Recap

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

UMass Amherst faculty and UMTC Research Affiliates Dr. Song Gao and Dr. Eric Gonzales presented at the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Transportation listening session on transit, active transportation, and mobility.

From left: UMass Amherst Professors Eric Gonzales and Song Gao talk with Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack and members of the Commission on the Future of Transportation at the Commission’s listening session at UMass Lowell. (UMTC)

In June, Governor Baker’s Commission on the Future of Transportation in Massachusetts held a listening session to discuss transit, active transportation, and mobility in Massachusetts. This session, at UMass Lowell, was the third of the Commission’s five listening sessions around the state. Each session focused on different transportation topics as the Commission gathered ideas, information and public comment that it will then incorporate into a report with recommendations for transportation investments and policies in Massachusetts for the 2020-2040 period. The report will be sent to the Governor by December 2018.

As with the other listening sessions, this session included brief presentations by UMass researchers followed by an open comment period during which members of the public could offer their suggestions and feedback on the session topic or on future transportation in Massachusetts more generally. Recording of the listening sessions can be viewed on the Commission’s website (direct link to the third session here).

Two UMTC Research Affiliates, UMass Amherst professors Song Gao and Eric Gonzales, presented at this listening session. Gonzales opened his remarks by discussing that when thinking about transit services, it’s important to not only consider specific routes and schedules, but the larger picture of the benefits individuals and society can receive with transit services, including increased mobility and efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and reduced environmental impacts. He noted too that active transportation modes, such as walking and biking, can also achieve these same benefits. Gonzales then briefly reviewed the history of transportation infrastructure in Massachusetts, including highways and the MBTA subway system, noting how investments in infrastructure can have impacts long beyond the 20-year time horizon on which the Commission is focusing, and should be considered in that context.

Gonzales also spoke about transit’s important role as “a tool for social equity and for inclusion, providing mobility to people across the socioeconomic spectrum, age, and physical ability.” He mentioned challenges for transit, including providing bus access in spread-out rural and suburban areas, but also opportunities. These opportunities could include public-private partnerships, for example, between transit agencies and ridesharing companies such as Lyft and Uber. The MBTA is currently conducting a pilot project under which MBTA paratransit customers can take get rides through Uber or Lyft as an alternative to traditional paratransit vans, to help serve these customers’ needs better; Gonzales led a MassDOT-funded study to evaluate the pilot project. There are also opportunities for more integrated services with the use of technology, where the different travel modes for trips can be better connected and accessed, for example, through a smartphone app that integrates bus, ride-share, and bike-share access and user payments. Gonzales mentioned that Helsinki, Finland has been working on such an integrated transportation service system.  A recent Governing magazine article discussed the push for more seamless urban mobility in Helsinki, and similar efforts underway in the U.S.

Professor Gao’s presentation followed Gonzales’ and focused on the demand for transportation services and how this demand can be better managed. For someone traveling between an origin and a destination, Gao asked questions such as: are there alternatives to making this trip, is there flexibility on when the trip occurs – for example, what time of day – and what different travel modes are feasible for this trip and this particular traveler. Gao discussed how transportation policies and pricing can shape transportation demand and people’s decisions about when and how they travel, and if there are some trips they will not take at all. Some states are using higher pricing, also referred to as congestion pricing, to deter single-occupancy vehicles from traveling during the peak times. Gao said that one concern about congestion pricing is the equity impacts since low-income people are more adversely impacted by travel cost increases than are higher-income people.

Another approach for impacting travel demand is rewarding people who make more energy-efficient travel choices, for example, deciding to use transit or bicycle to work instead of driving, or who commute at off-peak hours. Gao mentioned a study from the Netherlands that provided participants with daily monetary and other (smartphone credits) rewards to encourage them to avoid driving during the morning rush hour. The study found that 30-40% of participants changed their behavior as a result of these incentives. Gao also discussed a study that she, and colleagues at UMass Amherst and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are conducting to develop a smartphone app to provide up-to-date travel information and incentivize people to change their travel choices to conserve energy. The app, for the Boston metro area, will use real and simulated personal travel data to reward people who change their departure times, routes, modes, or vehicles based on the app’s real-time data, and thereby reduce their energy consumption. The rewards based on energy savings will be able to be redeemed at local participating vendors. Data from preliminary testing of the app show positive results in terms of reducing energy use and travel times.

During the comment period following the presentations, a number of the commenters talked about the importance of having good infrastructure for biking and walking and better connections between modes. There was also discussion about the need to provide transportation options for the “last mile” section of trips, between where fixed-route transit services end and people’s final destinations. Ridesharing companies, also known as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) can help with those gaps.  A number of the speakers encouraged the creation of more public-private partnerships to help with last-mile service and for addressing the transportation needs of those populations, such as the elderly, disabled, and low-income, who are often underserved by current transportation options and infrastructure. Professor Gao raised the point that there are great opportunities for partnership between public transit and TNCs, but that the goals of TNCs may not always be aligned with public goals since private companies are usually seeking to maximize their profits.

Safety for Older Drivers

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

AAA has estimated that by 2030, there will be more than 60 million people in the U.S. age 65 & over licensed to drive. (Photo source:, credit

Most people outlive their ability to drive by seven to ten years. This important statistic from the American Automobile Association (AAA) was cited by Michele Ellicks of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) at the April 2018 MassDOT Innovation and Mobility Exchange, at a session on Safe Driving for Seniors and People with Disabilities.

There were more than 40 million drivers age 65 years and older in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This population is expected to increase significantly in coming decades. AAA has estimated that by 2030, there will be more than 70 million people in the U.S. in this age group with approximately 85-90% of them licensed to drive. In 2016, 18% of all traffic-related fatalities in the U.S. involved people age 65 and older. In Massachusetts, 16% (133) of all traffic fatalities in the state involved people age 65 and older. Over half (54%) of those fatalities were for those age 65 to 74; the other 46% were for those age 75 and older.

Nationally, the fatality rates per 100,000 people are higher for males than females and generally higher for people age 80 and over than for those 65-79 (see chart below). The death rates increase with age because older people have more physically frail and are more likely to die from injury, as found in this study from John Hopkins School of Medicine. Older drivers are also more likely to be involved in at-fault crashes as a result of physical or cognitive impairments. The fatality rates for females fall slightly from age 80-84 to age 85 and older because females limit or cease their driving in their upper 80s more often than males.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Analysis of National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) 2016 data, released December 2017. Viewed at

Intersections can be especially difficult for older drivers to navigate. Extensive research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on driving simulators and on-road has shown that older drivers do not look as often as other drivers towards their turning direction or other vehicles when turning at T-intersections or four-way intersections. As a result, older drivers may be more likely to be involved in traffic crashes.

UMass Amherst researchers working under the supervision of Dr. Michael Knodler are currently investigating older drivers’ crashes during left-turns at signalized intersections; using data gathered from their vehicles and the drivers themselves as part of the SHRP2 (Strategic Highway Research Program 2) project to collect naturalistic driving data on over 2,300 drivers at six cities around the country. The researchers hope this study will help with understanding why and how left turns across path crashes at intersections are more likely for older drivers.

In previous older driver research conducted at UMass Amherst, Dr. Matthew Romoser conducted one study on drivers age 72 to 87 and a comparison group of drivers age 25 to 55 for his dissertation, and then a follow-up study with the older drivers as a post-doctoral researcher. Romoser’s first study, conducted with his advisor, Dr. Donald Fisher, UMass Transportation Center (UMTC) Research Affiliate and UMass Amherst Human Performance Laboratory (HPL) Director, found that the older drivers took fewer roadway glances towards potential hazards than younger drivers while turning. Romoser also found that providing active training and customized feedback regarding their driving to the older participants led to significant improvements in their glances both in a driving simulator and on-road, towards potential hazards as they approached and went through intersections. Romoser’s follow-up study, conducted two years after the first study with the same older drivers, found that those drivers who received active training in the first study still made 50% more glances towards potential hazards than they did before training two years earlier.

The benefits of training programs to help older drivers stay safe at intersections was further examined in a study by past HPL researchers Dr. Siby Samuel and Dr. Yusuke Yamani, with Dr. Fisher. This research found that training programs, such as Dr. Romoser’s, which help improve older drivers’ glance behaviors at intersections, can be effective even though they don’t address underlying declines in cognitive, visual, and motor functions for these drivers as they age. The researchers found some evidence that these training programs are effective because, through the training, drivers learn to decouple their hand, foot, and head movements at intersections, and that doing so may help reduce the impacts of cognitive, motor, and visual declines on their driving.

This research is promising and suggests that some types of training may help older adults safely continue to drive longer than they would be able to otherwise. In Massachusetts, various measures have been taken to promote older driver safety. Under state law, for drivers age 75 and over driver license renewals must be done in person and they include an eye exam. The RMV holds free workshops around the state on issues facing older drivers, including if and when an older person should give up driving.

For adults who do stop driving for safety reasons, MassMobility is a state initiative to improve the transportation options for adults who don’t have a car. The options include both traditional transportation providers such as buses and paratransit and also newer alternatives such as Uber, Lyft, and other Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). A number of sessions at this year’s Innovative and Mobility Exchange discussed alternatives for meeting transportation needs for this population. Options included using TNCs to provide rides outside of regular bus service hours and TNCs partnering with senior centers and other agencies to offer rides to people who otherwise might not be able to access (because they don’t have a smartphone or credit card) services from companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Dr. Nina Silverstein, UMTC Affiliate and Professor of Gerontology at UMass-Boston, recently co-authored a book, Introduction to Senior Transportation: Enhancing Community Mobility and Transportation Services (2018). The book provides an overview of the mobility needs of older adults and the “transportation methods that do and do not currently meet the needs and wants of senior passengers.”

MassDOT Research on Commuter Bus Demand, Incentives for Modal Shift and Impact on GHG Emissions

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator


In January 2018, two UMass Transportation Center Research Affiliates, Assistant Professors Eleni Christofa and Eric Gonzales, presented the results of the MassDOT research project Commuter Bus Demand, Incentives for Modal Shift and Impact on GHG Emissions at an Executive Briefing at the MassDOT Office of Transportation Planning (OTP). The meeting was attended by OTP and Rail & Transit Division staff with a variety of transportation expertise. This research aimed to identify corridors in the Boston metropolitan region for which new or expanded express commuter bus service could have the largest impact on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The research objectives of this project centered on:

  • Developing a data-based model to quantify the effect of new commuter bus service on user cost, agency cost, and GHG emissions, by accounting for changing mode shares.
  • Applying models to optimize potential commuter bus services and identify corridors with the greatest potential for GHG reduction.

Preliminary findings discussed at the Executive Briefing include:

  • Existing models and data centered on cost models, GHG emissions models and mode choice models.
  • Status quo mode share and GHG emissions for commuting corridors.
  • Developing a model for new commuter bus service, including user and agency costs for new services.
  • Developing a method to optimize expanded bus service
  • Prioritizing origin-destination pairs with the greatest reduction in GHG and the maximum cost efficiency.

The final report will be available in the spring of 2018.



MassDOT Research on Options for ADA Paratransit Services

by Eric Gonzales, Assistant Professor, UMass Amherst, and Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Governor Baker (right) at the Ride, Uber and Lyft ADA Paratransit partnership press conference (MassLive)

One of MassDOT’s research project titled “Optimizing ADA Paratransit Operations with Taxi and Ride Share Programs”, had its kick-off meeting in December 2017 and is well underway.  This $152k research project began in December with the project kickoff meeting scheduled for December 14th at MassDOT.   This project is Championed by Ben Schutzman, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s (MBTA) and will be aimed at optimizing programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize overall system costs.

Rising ridership on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit services, such as MBTA’s “The Ride”, pose a challenge due to the high costs of operating this required service.  The objective of this project is to optimize programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize system cost. The benefits to MBTA will be to lower the cost of providing service in order to accommodate the anticipated increase in ridership.  The challenge of managing a demand-response transportation service, for people with disabilities, is the system operation depends on the demand of the traveler behavior and supply structure and costs.  As of March 1, 2017, a pilot program now allows eligible ADA paratransit customers on “The Ride” were able to use taxicabs, Uber, or Lyft for a subsidized trip.  The goal is to provide insights about how the operation and use of the system is changing under the pilot program and then to provide guidance about how to manage a multimodal ADA program that provides users with a greater range of choices than they have had in the past.  Although the scope is tied closely to an analysis of the MBTA system, the insights are likely to have implications for the ADA paratransit systems elsewhere in Massachusetts.  A recent Boston Globe article provides an update to March 2017 pilot study, the increase in demand and some initial cost per ride numbers.

Eric Gonzales, UMass Amherst, the project’s Principal Investigator states “the project will allow us to use modeling tools to analyze how coordinating ADA paratransit services with taxis is changing the experience for customers and costs of the agency.  Our goal is to identify ways to provide cost-effective and high-quality service for customers with disabilities as part of an equitable and sustainable transit system for the Boston region.”

Run to Catch the Transit

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

BVG – Design

Walking and transit have always been linked.  For one transit agency in Berlin, Germany, all you need to ride transit, are your Adidas sneakers.  The transit operator BVG has partnered with the Adidas shoe company to have its transit pass imbeded in their sneaker.  This pass is for unlimited rides and will only be available in certain transit zones.

Beginning January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018, the unique pair of sneakers will have an annual BVG season transit imbedded in the tongue of the shoe. This is a limited-edition sneaker, only 500 pairs will be available.

A Big GHG Reduction – An Entire Bus Fleet Goes Electric

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for electric buses stations

Approximately 16,000 diesel buses were replaced with 16,000 electric buses, in the city of Shenchen, China.  This is the single largest replacement for electric buses to-date.  The mass overhaul included not only getting rid of over 16,000 diesel buses, it also included connecting over 500 charging stations and installing over 800 poles to charge the buses.

Not only are the environmental benefits big, with the reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions; the city of Shenchen has become a quieter city, less the bus engine noise.  The city is also on track for long-term cost savings, in the order of not relying on 75% of the bus fuel coming from fossil fuels.

The recently completed MassDOT project Zero Emission Transit Bus and Refueling Technologies and Deployment Status, championed by Lily Oliver, Office of Transportation Planning. This report summarizes the characteristics of three Zero Electric Buses technologies: 1) battery electric buses; 2) fuel cell battery electric buses; and 3) fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric buses, as well as relevant implementations in the U.S., through a comprehensive review of the available literature, an online survey of several transit agencies that have implemented or are planning to implement ZEBs, and interviews with transit agency representatives. The focus is on performance and cost characteristics of these technologies as well as implementation approaches, refueling strategies, and funding mechanisms.

Transit Manufacturing Job Facts

by: Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research

Quantifying transit manufacturing can be relatively simple, when you consider all of the components that are manufactured across the country. T4America  recently published a few facts that make it clear that investing in transit, helps the economy.

  • There are at least 2,763transit component manufacturers in the United States.
  • 91 percent[396 of 435] of congressional districts host at least 1 manufacturer.
  • 98 percent[50 of 51] states + DC are home to at least one manufacturer.

Morning Joe to Help Buses Go

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow


Startup company bio-bean is collecting used coffee grounds from cafes, restaurants, and factories and turning them into a biofuel for powering London’s buses. Bio-bean is partnering with Shell and Argent Energy, the United Kingdom’s largest biodiesel producer, on this project. So far, more than 1,600 gallons of coffee fuel have been produced, enough to help power one city bus for a year.

The collected coffee grounds are dried and then the natural oils in the coffee (also known as caffeol) are extracted and blended with other fuels to create B20 biofuel, containing 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel. This fuel can be used in standard diesel engines. According to the bio-bean web site, “Spent coffee grounds are highly calorific and contain valuable compounds, making them an ideal feedback from which to produce clean fuels.”


The coffee fuel initiative in London, the first in the world, is a demonstration project. Bio-bean is interested in expanding to other markets. One market with great promise: the U.S., where over 400 million cups of coffee are consumed each day.

Article source:  CNN ( This link also contains a brief video interview with bio-bean founder, Arthur Kay.


Portland Maine – Thinking Ahead for Autonomous Shuttles

by Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research




The Town Planner and Legislators are working together to be prepared for a potential autonomous shuttle that connects the Portland Transportation Center with the waterfront and downtown area to assist tourists. New legislation was drafted by Representative Heather Sanborn, which would allow cities and towns to start pilot programs in partnerships with state agencies with autonomous vehicles, as reported in the Portland Press.

The proposed legislation could set up Maine to be a leader in pilot programing for autonomous transit.  Companies such as the global data company Inrix, have been in touch with Town officials about collecting data on the city streets, necessary for autonomous navigation. There are no current companies lobbying for the first pilot in the area, however the legislation, which is slated for a January 2018 review, is a first step in the process of making this a reality.