Ride-hailing company Lyft recently started beta tests of its newest service, Lyft Shuttle. Lyft Shuttle disrupts the idea of a bus-based transit system by ... replacing the bus with a car. (This is unrelated to New York City's recent unplanned beta test of a driverless city bus.)
Currently available in Chicago and San Francisco, Lyft Shuttle works like this: During "commute hours" (6:30-10:30 a.m. and 4-8 p.m.), a user selects Line mode from the Lyft app, then toggles to Shuttle. After entering a destination, the rider is given walking directions to the nearest shuttle "stop" for their desired route, where they will be picked up at a designated time by a Lyft Shuttle driver in a personal vehicle. From there, the ride commences, only stopping at designated pickup and drop-off points if requested by other riders. At the rider's stop, the rider gets out and walks the remaining distance to the actual destination. It's incredibly weird to write that description instead of "exactly how a city bus works."
Within the Silicon Valley bubble, reactions to this "release" have been mostly positive. Some outlets have praised Shuttle for its convenience and relative cost. Others point out that riding a bus can be a terrible experience and anything that might improve that would be welcome, especially if competition leads to improvements in public transportation.
On the other hand — based on route locations and access to Lyft itself (requiring either a smartphone or web access) — there has been concern that it excludes the less fortunate. Slate is even worried that in an era of declining numbers of bus riders, a service like Shuttle might cause the collapse of bus transit in cities where it exists. Shuttle caused quite a stir on Twitter, and some even managed to mock Lyft Shuttle weeks before they knew about it:
Every 2 or 3 weeks, a tech guy accidentally invents the concept of the city bus.— Stefan (@boring_as_heck) June 6, 2017
Taking a wait-and-see approach seems like the most prudent course. Perhaps this will alleviate bus crowding over the busiest routes as people opt for Shuttle instead of public transit. Perhaps this will reduce the number of vehicles on the road as people choose Shuttle over a personal car or over a single-passenger taxi ride. Perhaps this will prompt city transit authorities to improve and expand bus services.
Or maybe this is just Crystal Pepsi with wheels.