Uber’s endorsement of Sound Transit 3 is in line with the company’s sense ride-service companies can complement that public transportation with “first- and last-mile” service.
Uber has endorsed Sound Transit 3, saying its growing fleet would mesh well with future rail stations.
Several tech and retail companies have jumped on the campaign train, donating $3.5 million, including Microsoft, Expedia, and Amazon.
But what makes Uber novel is the disruptive role the app-based ride service has played in transportation and its potential to further shake things up. One question is whether Uber will operate a self-driving fleet by the time the entire $54 billion ST3 system would be built, around 2041.
“We also know that ride-sharing can complement public transportation by providing a reliable and convenient first- and last-mile solution,” said Brooke Steger, Northwest manager for Uber, in a blog post this week. The company hasn’t donated campaign money.
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Two-thirds of trips in Paris start within 200 meters of a transit station, and one-third in London, she said.
Closer to home:
• Pierce Transit was awarded a $205,000 federal grant to subsidize Uber and Lyft rides, at an expected average cost of $11 per trip, in places where gaps exist in bus routes — and sending a mostly empty bus would cost more.
• Uber is offering discounted $3 rides this week, through Friday night, for short trips surrounding UW Station in Seattle and the Eastgate park-and-ride in Bellevue.
• A free ride worth up to $10 is offered by Uber on Halloween weekend through Monday night, to prevent drunken driving. This is for the uberPOOL service where multiple riders are picked up along a route.
This promotion, endorsed by the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) Vision Zero safety program, follows similar events for St. Patrick’s Day and last month’s UW-Stanford football game. SDOT has also promoted these types of programs with Lyft, Uber’s business rival.
Meanwhile, self-driving cars are quickly developing, led in part by Uber’s own road tests in Pittsburgh.
Rail skeptics say self-driving cars, and cars that communicate with each other, will make roads and carpooling more efficient. Therefore, the Puget Sound region shouldn’t embark on a quarter-century of construction to build an obsolete rail system, argues Bryan Mistele, CEO of the Kirkland-based INRIX traffic-data company.
At a campaign debate in Bellevue centered on Sound Transit’s expansion plan, transit-board member Claudia Balducci of Bellevue tried to flip the issue, by saying she looks forward to hailing Uber to reach a light rail.
Along similar lines, Steger predicts fewer people will own cars. “There will be less car ownership and people will come to rely more on a mix of mass transit and other transport options to get where they need to go, even as self-driving vehicles become a bigger part of the picture” she wrote.
ST3 critic Joe Rosmann, also a longtime promoter of autonomous cars, said the endorsement seems like a catalyst for public-private relationships where an Uber app mingles with an iPhone app and a Sound Transit app, to help people book a seamless crosstown trip, for instance from South Bellevue to Interbay.
Rossman said the software can be perfected immediately — based around cheaper bus-rapid transit or express buses rather than rail. “We could have a lot of this stuff in the next three or four years, instead of the next 25 years,” he said.