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Ride-sharing Popularity Surge Could Derail CTA Business

Owen Ruggiero | The PHOENIXLoyola students can ride the CTA Red Line as part of the U-Pass program, a flat rate incorporated into the university’s tuition that gives students who are enrolled full-time unlimited rides on trains and buses every semester.

As ride services Uber and Lyft overtake taxi cabs, the ride-sharing programs offered by these companies could also provide competition for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Metra, especially with students.

Ride-sharing costs continue to drop around Chicago. Uber’s UberPool and Lyft’s LyftLine — which allow customers to split the cost of trips equally with passengers nearby who are traveling in the same direction — began operating in the city last year.

In 2015, the number of taxi rides across the city dropped 23 percent from 2014 as Uber and Lyft gained popularity, according to city taxi data. Now, the growth of ride-sharing has the potential to make commuters rethink taking the train or the bus.

UberPool took customers to their destinations between neighborhoods in Chicago faster than the CTA Red Line would, 78 percent of the time, one DePaul Chaddick Institute of Metropolitan Development study found in 50 trials.

In that same DePaul study, however, the CTA beat out ride-sharing services for a lower average cost. A CTA train fare cost $2.29, while an average UberPool fare cost $9.66 in the study. That $9.66 would be split equally between the number of passengers who shared the ride.

For Loyola students who travel throughout the city on a daily basis, it’s tricky to decide whether cost or speed is more important, considering the wide selection of transportation options.

Loyola senior Eleanor Novak said she recognizes the different benefits of UberPool and the CTA, so her choices between them vary.

“I … use the train because it’s free [with a U-Pass included in tuition] but [I also use] UberPool because it’s faster,” said Novak, a 21-year-old psychology major.

Novak said she ultimately values the ability to quickly catch an UberPool with friends over the lower cost of taking the train.

For John Michael, a 21-year-old junior finance major, the question of whether to take an Uber or ride the CTA when he needs to get home late at night takes some thought.

“If it’s late … I would rather take an Uber, but I’ll usually end up taking the train,” Michael said, “Because I don’t have a whole lot of money to spend.”

CTA spokeswoman Irene Ferradaz said she thinks the DePaul study wasn’t extensive enough to show that ride-sharing services outpace the CTA system.

“The study, while interesting, is limited to just 50 trips and doesn’t include morning rush service, when the majority of people are commuting and where CTA service excels,” wrote Ferradaz in an email statement to The PHOENIX.

She also said that while ride-sharing services could be cheaper than the El, those services often contend with construction, car accidents and rush hour traffic, while the train does not. The DePaul study does mention Red Line delays, transfers and stops as reasons for lagging behind some UberPool trips.

Uber had not returned The PHOENIX’s inquiries by the time of publication.

Mary Caroline Pruitt, a spokesperson for Lyft, said in an email statement to The PHOENIX, “Cook County residents have made it clear that ride-sharing services like Lyft provide them with reliable and affordable transportation options.”

Another CTA advantage is the reliability of CTA prices, according to Ferradaz. She said the cost of public transit is more consistent than that of ride-sharing, which sometimes includes “surge” pricing — a system in which fares can rise based on increased demand. CTA prices are more affordable for most Chicagoans, Ferradaz said.

Loyola students are able to ride CTA trains and buses an unlimited number of times for a flat rate — $135 per semester while enrolled as a full time Loyola student — with the U-Pass program.

While it’s unclear what effect ride-sharing has had on CTA ridership, recent numbers do show a decline. The most recent CTA monthly ridership report from July 2016 showed a total drop in ridership of 6 percent compared with July 2015 — bus ridership decreased by 8.4 percent and train ridership decreased by 2.9 percent.

Nick Memisovski, the manager of Campus Transportation at Loyola, said he thinks ride-sharing services impacting 8-RIDE vans and the CTA won’t happen in the near future, but said he believes partnering with such services could be beneficial.

“I’m hoping we can do a partnership … in the future for the students, as long as they’d be able to get a discount over [Uber and Lyft’s] current rates,” said Memisovski.

For now, Memisovski said Uber and Lyft aren’t looking for that type of partnership, based on previous conversations he’s had with the companies. However, Memisovski said he is interested in how other schools have integrated ride-sharing into their campus transportation systems.

“I’ve seen other universities where they subsidized [ride-sharing trips], where a student will pay half and the university will pay half,” said Memisovski. “So, we’ve seen it at other universities, but it’s still in very, very infant stages.”

Memisovski said he thinks the scarcity of available Uber and Lyft drivers at certain times makes meaningful competition with 8-RIDE distant. But he thinks that ride-sharing services help when students are beyond 8-RIDE’s boundary or far from a CTA stop.

“I think it has its place in the market,” said Memisovski. “We do know students use Uber … late at night, or even during the day, to places and destinations where regular normal transit services wouldn’t take them.”

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Closer Look Editor

Michael McDevitt is a senior journalism major from Quincy, Massachusetts and the Closer Look editor for The PHOENIX. He started out as a news writer for The PHOENIX in 2015, worked as an assistant news editor in 2016 and as news editor in 2017-18. When he's not editing stories, Michael's probably watching “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

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