Seattle Transit Winning Back Riders Faster Than Ridehailing

Ride­hail­ing com­pa­nies in Seat­tle are see­ing a slow­er recov­ery than in oth­er cities, reports Doug Trumm for The Urban­ist. While oth­er parts of the coun­try saw ride­hail­ing grow as an alter­na­tive to pub­lic tran­sit dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, Seat­tle rid­er­ship con­tin­ues to lag com­pared to pre-pan­dem­ic ride vol­umes. While Seat­tle rid­er­ship for Uber and Lyft hov­ers at 39 per­cent com­pared to 2019, “The com­pa­nies claim to be at about 70% of nor­mal rid­er­ship in most oth­er met­ro­pol­i­tan regions.” By con­trast, pub­lic tran­sit rid­er­ship is recov­er­ing more quick­ly. “In April, [King Coun­ty] Metro rid­er­ship clocked in at 49% of its 2019 lev­el.”

Experts attribute the lack­lus­ter per­for­mance of ride­hail­ing com­pa­nies to reduced demand and wages that are still too low in a labor mar­ket where work­ers wield more pow­er. “Uber and Lyft have jacked up prices sig­nif­i­cant­ly, but most of that is not being passed along to dri­vers. Instead, the com­pa­nies are keep­ing more for them­selves in an increas­ing­ly des­per­ate attempt to final­ly turn a prof­it after a decade of loss-lead­ing growth with lit­tle aban­don.”

Trumm points to pre­vi­ous argu­ments made in The Urban­ist that “the ride­hail­ing busi­ness mod­el appears flawed on a fun­da­men­tal lev­el for a num­ber of rea­sons,” includ­ing the high cost of car own­er­ship and the fail­ure of the busi­ness mod­el to turn a prof­it as it scaled up. Now, with remote work avail­able to a large per­cent­age of Seat­tle-area work­ers, the demand for high-priced ride­hail­ing is even low­er.

The arti­cle express­es opti­mism that the slow revi­tal­iza­tion of the ride­hail­ing indus­try may shift more trav­el­ers to pub­lic tran­sit, but that depends on the abil­i­ty of pub­lic tran­sit to effec­tive­ly serve Seat­tleites. “Things like faster and more reli­able tran­sit come to mind,” writes Trumm, but notes that tran­sit improve­ments in the region took a hit from the pan­dem­ic as well.

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