Uber appEnlarge Photo
Supporters of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft believe they can do more than simply serve as alternatives to private car ownership.
Both companies and policymakers are experimenting with ways to use ride-sharing to supplement, even replace, dedicated mass-transit infrastructure.
The latest example comes from New Jersey, where officials in the town of Summit hope to use Uber to alleviate congestion at parking lots for the town's train station.
In a pilot program, Uber will offer free or low-cost rides to and from Summit's NJ Transit commuter-rail station, where the availability of parking spaces has long been an issue.
The program is the first of its kind in New Jersey, and will allow the town to avoid spending money on a new parking lot, according to The Verge.
Located just 30 miles from New York City, Summit is home to many commuters, and a large portion of them use NJ Transit trains to get to and from work in the city.
Summit, New Jersey, train station by Flickr user Doug Kerr (Used under CC License)Enlarge Photo
That means the five parking lots around the Summit train station are often filled to capacity.
Officials' solution is a deal with Uber that they hope will free up parking spaces.
Initially, 100 commuters who have purchased parking passes will be eligible for free Uber rides to and from the station.
Others will be able to ride for $2.00 each way, meaning a round trip will cost the same as a daily parking pass at the station.
During the experiment, these rides will be subsidized by the local government.
Summit follows Altamonte Springs, Florida, a suburb of Orlando that is now subsidizing 20 percent of the cost of Uber rides that start and finish within city limits.
Uber driver (photo by Uber)Enlarge Photo
Rides to and from SunRail commuter-train stations get a 25-percent subsidy.
The program was initiated after a scheme involving buses to be hailed with a smartphone app fell through.
The Florida and New Jersey projects seek to use Uber as a solution to the so-called "last mile challenge": the conundrum of how to get mass transit riders from stations to their final destinations.
Addressing that issue could increase the appeal of mass transit—and further decrease commuters' reliance on private cars.