What Does “On Demand” Mean, Anyway?

One of the tech industry’s buzzwords for transportation is “on demand” – that is, available to the passenger immediately, without fixed schedules. When I said something about schedules at my Hyperloop One interview, the interviewers gently told me that actually, they intend their system to be on-demand; I forget what I said afterward, but I do remember I didn’t press the point. More commonly, people who insist on using ride-hailing apps rather than public transit talk about how great it is that they don’t have to follow fixed schedules.

But what does this really mean? Calling a cab, or hailing one via a TNC app, does not mean it comes immediately. There’s a wait time of several minutes. How many minutes depends on time of day and which city one is in. A Dallas air travel blog describes wait times of around 10 minutes. In and around Boston, Patreon supporter Alexander Rapp says “2-7 minutes is the typical range” with New York waits slightly longer. In Los Angeles, a dissertation studying racial bias finds that the average predicted wait times are 6-7 minutes for black people and 5-6 minutes for others (PDF-p. 147); both the absolute numbers and the difference are much higher for street-hailed cabs. In 2014, the median wait time in New York was 3 minutes.

On an urban transit line, an average wait of 10 minutes is equivalent to a 20-minute frequency, and an average wait of 5 minutes is equivalent to a 10-minute frequency. At the lower end, the fixed schedule is actually better – a well-run transit system with 20-minute frequencies publicly posts clockface schedules and sticks to them, so people know in advance how to time themselves to the bus or train’s arrival time.

Even the wait times of 2014’s New York, not since achieved in the city or elsewhere, are only equivalent to a subway train that comes every 6 minutes, which is decidedly mediocre. The outer subway branches in New York get a train every 8-10 minutes off-peak, but they are not what TNCs compete with. Bruce Schaller’s report alleging that TNCs are responsible for the decline in subway ridership uses data from mid-2016, when 56% of TNC trips in New York were in Manhattan south of West 110th and East 96th Streets and another 22% were in inner-ring neighborhoods, mostly before the subway branch points. And subway frequency in New York is not good for how busy the system is; during the daytime, longer headways than 5 minutes are rare on the Paris Metro and on the trunks in London and Stockholm. Milan, hardly a transit city, runs its driverless metro line every 4 minutes off-peak.

All of the comparable waits get longer outside the city. Stockholm’s highly-branched metro system runs every 10 minutes on some branches off-peak, and Tube waits go up to 10 minutes on some branches as well. Commuter rail waits start from 10 minutes on the busiest branches, like those of the RER A, and go up from there, sometimes even to a train every half hour off-peak in suburbs of respectable European transit cities. But the branches are not where people ride TNCs. Just as in New York the vast majority of TNC trips are downstream of the branch points, in London as of 2013, 74% of taxi trips were within Inner London; if New York’s subsequent evolution is any indication, TNC traffic is somewhat less dominated by the center, but has only differed from street-hailed cab traffic patterns in degree rather than kind.

This calculation does not mean that transit is better than TNCs on out-of-vehicle times. It is not. Walk times to stations are considerable. Trips that require transfers have extra wait time. In New York, there appear to be about 1.6 unlinked trips per linked trip, but most likely multiple-seat rides have shorter waits on average, because they include local-express transfers, which passengers make preferentially if the waits are short. In London, judging by the origin-destination matrix, 61% of trips do not require any interchange, and another 34% require just one. So even with transfers, frequent subways are still a little bit ahead, but then the walk time to the station makes a big difference in favor of TNCs.

But here’s the thing: tech workers who talk about the greatness of on-demand transportation do not talk about station access time. Evidently, Hyperloop One, which has to use stations, talks about on-demand service. The company did try to think about how to branch in the cities in order to reduce station access time, but reduce does not mean eliminate. Moreover, the same kind of branching is already available to trains and even more so to intercity buses, and yet they rarely make use of it: intercity buses do not make milk runs within cities, leading to awkward situations in which a person in Upper Manhattan traveling to Boston has to take the subway to Midtown and then get on a bus that slogs through Manhattan streets going toward Upper Manhattan on its way to the freeways to Boston.

So what’s going on here? There’s a legitimate advantage to cars over transit in that they don’t require you to travel to a subway station or transfer, but that’s not the argument that opponents of transit who talk about TNCs and app-hailed services and on-demand travel make. They talk about wait times, never mind that well-run urban transit offers shorter wait times than app-hailed TNCs.

My suspicion is that this involves business culture. Urban transit is extremely Fordist: it has interchangeable vehicles and workers, relentlessly regular schedules, and central allocation of resources based on network effects. The tech industry has corners that work like this as well, like Amazon’s monitoring its warehouse workers’ bathroom breaks, but for the most part the industry comes from a post-Fordist world. The idea that there should be people writing down precise schedules for service is alien, as is any coordinated planning; order should be emergent, and if it doesn’t work at the scale of a startup, then it’s not worth pursuing.

There have been positive examples of using better software technology to improve public transportation. The Internet itself has been amazing at improving access to information; the single most important technology for transit reform in lagging regions like North America is Google search, followed by Wikipedia, and even in places with healthy transit these tools are valuable. Within schedule planning, new software tools make it easier to track delays. Tech is a tool, and as such it has been very useful for transit, as for many other industries.

However, all of this occurs within the usual culture of transportation planning. In contrast with this culture, most companies that produce software use a culture of startups, which have to work at a small scale to get anywhere. Where network effects are required, as with social media, it’s necessary to find a small, high-prestige network of early adopters, e.g. Harvard students for Facebook. Anything that requires more initial capital than a VC is willing to risk on a single firm is out; thus Hyperloop One views itself as a consultancy developing a technology rather than as a railroad actually building its own Hyperloop infrastructure.

A corollary of this is that people within the tech industry dismiss schedules out of hand. Thus they insist that transportation be on-demand, even when in practice the wait is longer than on a competing mode of travel that is scheduled. The idea of on-demand travel is reassuring, and because Swiss scheduling precision is alien to the American tech entrepreneur, it’s not a big deal if on-demand means a promised 5-minute wait and an actual 10-minute wait.

But what reassures the tech entrepreneur does not reassure the average rider. By overwhelming numbers, people who have a choice between even mediocre public transportation and TNCs slog through 9-minute bus and train frequencies; people who have access to good public transportation keep taking it where available. In New York, where transit isn’t even that great by the standard of large European cities, there is an ongoing panic about a 2% decline in annual subway ridership, which Schaller wrongly attributes to TNCs rather than to internal decline in subway service quality. Ultimately, the experience of waiting a few minutes for a train is annoying and passengers try to avoid it, but over time they don’t find it any more annoying than the experience of waiting for the app-hailed car driver to show up. Rhetoric about on-demand service aside, passengers do notice how long they’re actually waiting.

51 comments

  1. JJJ

    “leading to awkward situations in which a person in Upper Manhattan traveling to Boston has to take the subway to Midtown and then get on a bus that slogs through Manhattan streets going toward Upper Manhattan on its way to the freeways to Boston.”

    Im convinced this is a massive conspiracy of some sort.

    Surely of the 12 companies crawling their way up the Manhattan avenues towards Boston, one of them has realized that customers exist north of 40th?

    I get it, you dont want to use the GW Terminal, but please let us get off at 125th 😦

        • threestationsquare

          I took it a few days ago. My ticket had no indication of where it would board, I went to the third floor and there was no sign of a departure to Boston, I asked somebody and they told me it generally left from outside at the curb. The Greyhound towards Philadelphia/DC does leave from the third floor but the ramps point the wrong way for Boston. (This incidentally also means that it has to travel a few blocks on surface streets before joining I-95 in the Bronx.)

    • Ian Mitchell

      Coach run operates buses from Quincy and Boston to flushing and Pelham bay park.

  2. JJJ

    I would like to add that on-demand does make sense at terminals where you change modes, like the Airport. The cab line is on demand, and works pretty well. It doesnt make sense to dispatch an empty cab just because, especially when 100 people are about to exit baggage claim. So maybe theres a 20 minute gap where zero cabs depart, and then a 20 minute period where 72 cabs leave as bags get loaded and theyre ready to go.

    That gets us back to the elite issue. These DISRUPTION folks have only experienced transit and ride hail in the airport environment. A train every 30 minutes sucks when theres a cab line “on demand”. So theyre taking their airport experience and trying to apply it to everything else in life.

      • JJJ

        Isnt that only an issue at very specific times, like Boston terminal E at 1am (ie, after MBTA closes)? Sometimes you can’t get on the subway because it’s full. Nothing is perfect.

          • Art Lewellan

            Alon Levy, if you would please, review the essay following. Thank you.

            “The Walking Communities of 2040”
            The original essay with this title was penned in 1997 to grace the back cover of a transit proposal submitted to “a big” City Council where it received a formal review and was awarded merit. Twenty years later with significant progress achieved in light rail projects nationally, mass transit still fails to address ever growing traffic woes nor soothe environmental nightmares predicted with global warming. As today’s divestment in fossil fuel movement builds momentum, I remain certain that mass transit must receive redirected investment dollars. I am just as certain that self-driving car technology is a fraudulent ruse meant to distract public attention from actual solutions that include truly modern mass transit as a fundamental travel mode with the most potential to direct development beyond car dependency and traffic havoc.
            The transit proposal is based on a design concept dubbed LOTi (Loop Oriented Transit Intermodal). Sometimes I refer to it as sort of missing link. Its closest model is Denver’s 16th Street Shuttle. The design application writ broadly is meant to reduce the cost and impact of light rail and transit centers; streamline both light rail and peripheral bus lines by avoiding circuitous routing; provide convenient transfers rail to bus and between bus lines with the least number of any suitable transit vehicle; and, to offer much more potential for transit-oriented infill mixed-use development.
            The basic flaws of self-driving cars are simple enough: Their technological hurdles are plainly unsurmountable, they will never be completely safe. They won’t decrease traffic congestion, fuel/energy consumption nor emissions sufficient to prevent worst harm from catastrophic climate change. They are most unlikely to reduce travel-related cost of living. They won’t take full advantage of the benefits EVs offer, and the technology is supported for all the wrong reasons; to bust transit operator and teamster unions; to give freeway planners an excuse to predict worsening traffic can be managed with reckless tailgating; to maintain most profitable but least resilient regional utility grids despite how decentralized EV+PV household backup power systems are proven complementary.
            The most telling aspect of self-driving car folly is eliminating ownership whereupon all cars are kept in central garage locations and dispatched on demand. Never mind that in a grid failure, every household with an EV in the garage gains a backup power supply. Never mind any emergency where a car is needed immediately, not one that may arrive too late. Self-driving car tech completely denies those safety features and pretends “mass tailgating” won’t produce horrific multi-car pileups. Self-driving tech in many ways puts safety dead last.
            A household EV offers the means to more closely monitor and reduce energy consumption overall, both for driving and household use. Rooftop PV solar arrays are thee perfect match to EV battery packs. Perhaps most important, a household EV is an incentive to drive less, whereby more trips become possible without having to drive, whereby local economies grow and alternate modes of travel – mass transit, walking and bicycling – all more energy efficient than EVs alone – may serve more travel needs in this vision of walking communities in 2040. It’s last line, “Look, there’s a gas station. You don’t see too many them no more.” Art Lewellan.
            Should GM & Ford be dragged to court to produce the best paratransit van? Don’t seniors, disabled deserve low-emission, easy-boarding low floor entrance ramps and comfortably stable rides as don’t all transit patrons?

        • Ross Bleakney

          Yeah, but the point is a subway car can carry a lot more people and get them moving well before the “on demand” car service. Imagine a stadium after a game. Half the people drive, the other half wait for their train. The half that drive have “on demand” service — they immediately get into their car. But there isn’t enough room on the street for all those cars. Even if folks drive bumper to bumper, the cars just take up too much space. On the other hand, people are packed into the subway. They fill up the first train. They wait and fill up the second. The third train arrives and now people are comfortable. It took a little while, but they are cruising along, while most of the drivers are still stuck in the parking lot. In short, mass transit scales. Cars don’t.

          • JJJ

            Ive taken the train from Giants stadium after a game. Took about an hour waiting in line to get on a train. There isn’t enough room on the tracks for all those trains. Even if trains drive bumper to bumper, the trains just take up too much space.

          • adirondacker12800

            The Sports and Exposition Authority has to spend the money to turn the terminal into a station on a loop. They don’t want to. You don’t want to pay a fare that would finance it. Wait.

          • Jhonny

            A rail line of the same width as a road can carry orders of magnitude more people than single occupancy vehicles

    • adirondacker12800

      And they ignore that the selfdrivingwunderkar takes up as much space as any other car. You’ll run out of street very very quickly. I’m sure what they have in mind is that everybody else will wait for the bus and they can hail a self driving cab.

      • Jhonny

        I think the whole “everybody owns a car” mindset could only ever develop in the minds of people who don’t include the vast majority of humanity in their concept of “everybody”

      • Michael James

        Or like Musk is trying to do with his wundertunel under Hawthorne: recreate the Stalinist roads that had a lane reserved exclusively for the nomenclatura. Only today it is money that buys you the exclusivity; and considering its low thru-put, it is going to have to be pretty damned exclusive just to operate.

        • adirondacker12800

          It looks good if you want to get from the BatCave to the Commisioner’s office. Try to give everybody a batcave it gets 20 levels deep and rather complex. And when you come to the surface it doesn’t solve the problem of all those people up there already using the street. And the parking.

          • Michael James

            Oops, misplaced this comment in the wilds further below:

            Exactly. That’s why I said it could only work for a select Nomencultura. Not even the one-percent, not even the 0.1%. I wonder what the Soviet Nomenclatura represented? Probably not even 0.01% (one in ten thousand), and if you took 0.01% of LA’s cars on freeways at any moment it would still be too many for Musk’s fantasies to work.
            Instead, think of São Paulo where the roads are so congested, and public transit is minimal, the only way to get around efficiently is by helicopter, with most hi-rise having a helipad. Helpful too, because it keeps them well away from the petty gangsters on the surface (the serious gangsters of course are in the helicopters, as always).

          • Jhonny

            Mexico city also has an insane amount if helicopters.

            Some people living there went years without realizing metro prices had been hiked from three to five pesos. Others meanwhile saw that hike as an existential economic threat

    • Jhonny

      An airport line that doesn’t terminate there gas no reason not to offer five or ten minute headways

  3. Ross Bleakney

    As a software engineer, I think this idea is coming from my fellow nerds. It is all to easy to simply assume that these problems are similar to software problems. When I started college, I used a typewriter to submit my essays, and used a keypunch system to submit my programs. I would then have to wait a day to see the results. With PCs, that changed to an “on demand” system. It wasn’t that long ago that it took a while to download a picture, let alone a song or movie. Now we don’t even think about pictures on a webpage, and everything else just streams.

    But it isn’t so easy to overcome the physical barriers that exist with transportation. One of the first things you hear from auto-taxi proponents is that things will get better as the system gets smarter. In effect the network will understand that you (or someone like you) wants a car, right then, right there. That way, when you order it, it will be there immediately. Likewise, a “smart” system will solve all of the other problems inherit with a point to point transportation system. Cars will run bumper to bumper, or magically merge, or manage to pick up several people along the way, without any one of them being delayed by the process.

    I don’t buy it. The smartest system in the world can’t make up for the inherit disadvantages of cars. In short, they don’t scale. Any software engineer understands this concept. There are plenty of wonderful technologies that simply don’t work as you use them for bigger and bigger tasks. That is the story with cars. They take up too much space, they are costly if you only have one rider, and if you have more than one, others have to wait. What does scale is mass transit. Buses scale, until the buses run so often and so well that you need trains. Those scale as well. In Toronto the trains run every two minutes during rush hour. Can you imagine cars doing that? Of course not. Walking also scales. Sure, it takes a while to get to the stop. But the time that you, personally walk from a side street to that stop is time that the system doesn’t spend deviating to pick you up. Likewise, building a grid and forcing people to transfer scales. It is really bad when no one uses the system. But as things grow, the transfer wait time diminishes, and you appreciate the fact that your vehicle — every vehicle — just goes straight down that road, instead of deviating to drop everyone off at their house like an airport shuttle.

    The automated taxi proponents are quick to point out how cheap they will be once they eliminate the driver. What they forget is that the same thing will happen with transit. Suddenly routes that are too expensive to run in the middle of the day become affordable. Maybe you run a van, instead of a big bus, but it still works the same, and it still provides frequent, fast service connecting to other frequent, fast service. The fundamentals don’t change, you just move the bar lower for an effective transit system. Cities that couldn’t possibly afford that in the past now can, which in turn leads to a much higher percentage of people using it.

    • Alon Levy

      The same thing not only can happen with transit but is already happening, it’s just slow because unlike Uber, the transit industry doesn’t rush safety-critical technology. A few years ago I read on SkyscraperPage that in a budget cut, TransLink found that reducing SkyTrain service would only save C$11 per marginal service-hour removed. Trains on the trunk of the Expo Line run every 5-6 minutes near midnight, in a city that’s neither especially big nor especially transit-oriented.

      By the way: your comments keep going to moderation, and I’m not sure why – WordPress is supposed to autoclear everyone’s comments past the first one, and it works that way with everything else.

      • Jhonny

        Can you explain why the automated U2/U3 in Nuremberg shuts down at night?

        Even on weekends and even though there are flights from the airport at night and U2 serves the airport…

        • Alon Levy

          Maintenance. SkyTrain shuts down overnight too, even though it’s embedded in a North American transit culture that tries to run 24/7.

          In Copenhagen they do run 24/7, using overnight single-tracking. It helps that the Copenhagen Metro was bored, so you can do maintenance in one tube without disturbing the other. How easy is it to single-track on U2/U3? Asking because for example in New York you can’t do maintenance on one track and run normal service on an adjacent track, the tracks are too close together.

          • Jhonny

            The U2 was built pre-automation, so I guess they never considered the issue. But the entire corridor with both branches at both ends is entirely underground.

            The section to the airport is single track, which in the one hand shows that the technology can handle single track operation but on the other also provides obstacles…

            Apparently some “checking whether the concrete crumbles” is done during regular service hours as seen in this YouTube video:

      • Brendan Dawe

        Which is one of the reasons I find late-night service on the canada line to be surprising in it’s badness. Evenings are 12 minute branch headways and late nights are 20 minutes.

    • adirondacker12800

      …and we will only need 10 percent of the cars! because people will go to work in nice tidy 15 minute increments 24 hours a day….. they won’t be the one working from 02:15 it will be someone else….

  4. Jhonny

    On the U2 / U3 trunk, where the two lines overlap, of the Nuremberg subway, nominal peak headway is 100 seconds. On the U1 (arguably the more important and certainly the longer line) peak headway is 3 minutes.

    Of course outside the U-Bahn lines the sort story changes, but on official schedules for peak times it just says “one train every x minutes”. An actual schedule with published departure times only exists for off peak service.

    So in essence the U-Bahn people have a “show up and go” service but in line with Nuremberg public transit being bad at marketing, they don’t sell it as such.

  5. myb6

    US-based TNCs aren’t using “On Demand” buzz in reference to the best Euro/NEAsian transit. They’re comparing themselves to long waits for cabs or transit that the vast majority of the US deals with. Also, TNCs are usually willing to wait a minute or five for the passenger, who hail the ride while they’re still [doing whatever], so if the car isn’t coming for a few minutes they don’t care. Contrast (potentially multiple) 10-20 minute waits at stations/stops that even I, a transit-geek young able-bodied man, can acknowledge are pretty uncomfortable.

    • Alon Levy

      But per a different Schaller study (link), 70% of American TNC trips are in metro areas with at least existing if not-good transit, and these are usually in cores with decent subway frequency. The places where TNCs exist mostly have subways every 5-8 minutes, not buses every 15-20.

      • adirondacker12800

        That’s where the rich people who are carfree or left the car someplace else, are. And there’s a lot of them. I’m sure they eat a lot more restaurant meals, use more cell phone, flush… too. …go through subway turnstiles.. though most of the people going through subway turnstiles are a different group. .. If you are someplace that doesn’t have any transit you drove there as did almost everybody else and there isn’t going to much demand for cabs.

        • Michael James

          Exactly. That’s why I said it could only work for a select Nomencultura. Not even the one-percent, not even the 0.1%. I wonder what the Soviet Nomenclatura represented? Probably not even 0.01% (one in ten thousand), and if you took 0.01% of LA’s cars on freeways at any moment it would still be too many for Musk’s fantasies to work.
          Instead, think of São Paulo where the roads are so congested, and public transit is minimal, the only way to get around efficiently is by helicopter, with most hi-rise having a helipad. Helpful too, because it keeps them well away from the petty gangsters on the surface (the serious gangsters of course are in the helicopters, as always).

      • JJJ

        ‘The places where TNCs exist mostly have subways every 5-8 minutes, not buses every 15-20.”

        Sure, at peak. DC has a great subway network at peak.

        Off peak, trains come as infrequently as every 24 minutes. Throw in a transfer, and you’re doomed.

        So it’s not surprising that people go ahead and call that Uber.

          • Alon Levy

            Very few places in the world have timed transfers on subways. Washington Metro service was conceived as a subway, frequency has just degraded over time due to poor management so that it’s on a par with regional rail lines where timed transfers are more appropriate.

      • myb6

        Love your blog, your work on regional rail, etc, but just can’t agree here. For high-frequency transit to really be the basis of comparison with “On Demand”, both origin and destination need to be in-range of high-frequency transit at the time of the trip (+1 to JJJ and notice your link’s data on trip purpose). Sadly in the US today such a circumstance is quite rare, even within the 9 metros referenced. Legitimate gratitude for your efforts to combat that circumstance.

        • myb6

          My own far-fetched hope for the end-game here is that we end up with a system of three tiers based on ROW scarcity: low-scarcity -> SOVs dominate, medium-scarcity -> high-frequency autonomous buses with strong priority dominate (SOVs will have to get taxed or long lights), high-scarcity -> grade-separated transit.

          Private companies will probably operate the buses. They might not call them buses. There will be public regulation and taxation in exchange for the ROW priority. Maybe? Guessing the future is hard.

          • Jhonny

            What do the vehicles do when nobody needs them at that moment?

  6. Gok (@Gok)

    The “wait times” referenced here are totally incomparable.

    Waiting for a TNC ride means continuing whatever you were already doing at your origin. If you were working, you keep working. If you were hanging out with a group, you keep hanging out. Once the ride shows up, you then do ~20 seconds of transit to the vehicle and go.

    Waiting for a subway means walking to the station, standing in a crowd waiting for a train to show up, then doing more walking from the terminal station to your actual destination. At rush hour, you may also be waiting for several trains to show up because the first few are full. Even ignoring that (let’s assume a magical subway with zero headways), the walking at the ends is time waiting that you don’t spend with point-to-point transit.

    • Alon Levy

      First of all, I’m specifically noting that station access time is significant; this is not what people say when they say “on demand,” because evidently they use this expression with me when I talk about scheduling, even at companies that do intend to have stations rather than door-to-door service (not just Hyperloop One but also Bridj).

      Second of all, an activity you can do at home while waiting for a TNC can’t be so sensitive that you can’t immediately drop it when the ride comes. You can check your phone, but you can do that outside as well. You can socialize, but you can do that while waiting for a train. It’s not productive time.

      • Gok (@Gok)

        > can’t be so sensitive that you can’t immediately drop it when the ride comes

        But you also have an accurate ETA, and you can just spend some more money and/or social credit to get them to wait a bit longer without wasting more time.

        >You can socialize, but you can do that while waiting for a train

        Talking with friends and family is equivalent to talking to strangers at a train station? Both are people, after all. 🙂

        • Alon Levy

          The ETAs are a lot less accurate than train schedules where they are reliable.

          And people talk to friends at train stations while waiting for different trains.

          • threestationsquare

            Your friends probably don’t all leave the party/gathering at the same time as you. The hosts certainly don’t.

            That said I think real time transit arrival predictions mostly put transit on par with TNCs in this particular respect.

  7. Michael

    Two thoughts:
    1. I wonder what the portion of TNC trips are from non-residents? I’m a daily bus rider & enjoy trying out new systems when I travel, but honestly TNCs are a game changer for a lot of the USA. Going to Atlanta, not dealing with the rental car counter, & still having decent mobility within the Perimeter… it’s a huge improvement over 5 years ago. But it’s very easy to spend to $60/day on TNC trips. I imagine a lot of the app developers live or come from places like Atlanta & Silicon Valley, where the TNC is revolutionary versus the existing transit (but at 10X the price… which they can afford).

    2. There’s a compounding land use aspects that gets frequent TNC users euphoric. The urbanism of dense, automobile-oriented places like much of Orange County or Silicon Valley or Tysons Corner …. it’s terrible. But so long as everything had to be accessed by car, it needed to be accompanied by a huge parking lot or structure effectively killing any walkability. The TNC allows for more human-scaled development in these places – which I see unleashing pockets of huge untapped consumer demand around many of major cities. So we’re seeing an emergent car-lite, TNC-oriented development pattern. Huge new buildings where all the residents use TNCs every Friday night. But it’s high cost, so I don’t think it’s scalable. We’ll see.

    • Ian Mitchell

      You can throw Austin into that too. Big tech culture, jelly-jam density level.

      We don’t have enough parking for everyone to drive their own cars, we don’t have the transit for everyone to get there on the only train or buses that come every 10-15 minutes.

      TNCs (and to an extent bicycles and now dockless mobility) are what make it livable. And you can spend $30 a day for transportation rather than the cost of paying the rent in any desirable USA metro with a Subway system.

  8. dljiii

    Alon, I appreciate the contributions of you and other transit advocates very much but sometimes I think there is a bit of a blind spot for cycling as a form of mass transportation. Just wanted to point out that cycling is 100% on-demand but with an order of magnitude greater capacity/space efficiency than cars. Speeds of 15-20 km/h are not difficult to achieve (comparable to urban busses but with no waiting or walking time). Personally almost every time I take the subway in NYC I find myself chafing as how faster cycling would have been when accounting for station access + waiting times, even given the subway’s higher speed.

    I hope this comment doesn’t sound obnoxious but I just found it strange that this discussion didn’t mention the mode that combines the on-demand nature of cars/TNCs with the space efficiency and environmental benefits of transit. I think these virtues are reflected in ~50% cycling mode shares in cities with high-quality networks of cycle infrastructure – not a niche pursuit but a heavy-duty form of mass transit!

    • IAN! Mitchell

      Transit-advocates seem to prefer pretending bicycles don’t exist.
      I’m not entirely certain why this is.

      I will add that all of the benefits you mention also apply to dockless e-scooters.

  9. IAN! Mitchell

    Not even remotely.

    Austin instituted mandatory fingerprinting of TNC drivers (the taxi lobby pushed this, rent-seeking behavior).

    A practically useless mandate, but one that Houston had passed months (years?) earlier.

    Austin being smaller (and more visible, especially to techies) than Houston, Uber/Lyft decided to stop operating in the city whatsoever.

    Some time later, the State of Texas stepped in and made municipal laws mandating fingerprinting of TNC drivers themselves illegal. Uber & Lyft returned.

    In the absence of national TNCs, a few complaint TNCs popped up.
    Fasten, which has since stopped operating here (I think they’re in Boston still?), and non-profit RideAustin, which is my preferred TNC.

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