A transit playbook for the age of Lyft

Personal transit--car, lyft, uber--is valuable. It picks you up where you are and drops you off where you want to go, no walking or transfers required. It's great for people with mobility challenges, and can change bit by bit as people move, get jobs, and switch their transportation needs.

However, personal transit doesn’t solve congestion. At a certain point, to get more people to a desirable destination or through a busy corridor requires something with more capacity. Like a bus, or a train, mass transit. The problem is, all other things equal, mass transit is less convenient than personal transit. The way to address this is to ensure that mass transit is faster than personal transit for congested routes.

The corollary is that mass transit shouldn’t exist if it isn’t faster than individual transit along the same route. In practice, this means fewer lines, dedicated lanes, underground rail, and infrequent stops. This provides the incentive to use this more efficient type of transit.

Unfortunately, mass transit is often seen as the option that should only be chosen when there is no other option. For people too poor to afford something else, and for accessibility needs like wheelchair access. This is the wrong way to think about transit.

It’s crazy to think that someone who is blind, uses a walker, or has other mobility challenges should be forced to take mass transit, the type of transportation that should be designed with speed and efficiency in mind. For this person, personal transit is a great fit, and anyways is probably both faster and easier than mass transit when the walk to the stop is factored in.

A city’s responsibility to provide equitable access to transportation can be fulfilled in other ways. Require every personal transit operator to offer a minimum quality of service for people with mobility challenges so that someone with a wheelchair can get a ride at their door in less than 15 minutes. Subsidize both personal and mass transportation for low-income people. And use mass transit for its strength, adding more capacity to an already congested route.