News / Calgary

Partnering Uber and Transit? Calgary expert says it's a bad idea

City of Calgary considering a pilot for transportation network companies to offer last-mile service to under-served communities

Willem Klumpenhouwer, a PhD candidate in transportation at the University of Calgary Schulich School of Engineering.

Jennifer Friesen / for Metro

Willem Klumpenhouwer, a PhD candidate in transportation at the University of Calgary Schulich School of Engineering.

What was a far-flung idea, and something to watch another municipality test out, is now a viable option for a transit pilot.

Only months ago, Calgary Transit told Metro they were always looking for cost-effective ways to get service to areas currently without. Chris Jordan, Calgary Transit's planning manager said the Uber-feeder model wasn't in the near term business plans.

Suddenly, that's changed.

As councillors contemplate bus service changes, it seems the turn to a transportation network company (TNC)-subsidized network is coming quick. According to statements made to councillors by Calgary Transit GM Doug Morgan, there's a pilot in the works and it could be launched in early 2018.

"Even in industrial areas where it's low ridership. We need another tool and really we see that as some of the future strategies to help us support these larger capacity networks we’re providing, such as the Green Line and the BRT," said Morgan on Tuesday.

But Willem Klumpenhouwer, a PhD candidate in transportation engineering, said​ leaning on rideshare companies for the last mile of service isn't a silver bullet.

"Transit works because it's all about how many passengers you carry per driver," he said. "The only way to get more passengers per driver is to have a fixed route service, so you're not driving to everyone's house, or driving individuals."

Klumpenhouwer said rideshare companies have begun to adopt a transit-like method of having people meet at a secured point to participate in services like Uber Pool.

"Nobody is asking whether Uber or other companies like that could magically solve this geometry problem," he said. "Why is it something Uber can do that Calgary Transit can't?"

The bigger issue he's identified is that the city's main issue is that planning and policy have made getting people home difficult because of the vast space suburban population transit has to travel through to pick up passengers.

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