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A bus by any other name…

When ride-hailing company Lyft began testing a service called Shuttle this spring, people (and this blog) were quick to point out its similarity to a bus. It’s easy to see why. Here’s how Lyft describes Shuttle on its website:

  • Find your route
  • Walk to your pickup stop
  • Ride along the designated route
  • Walk to your destination

Sounds like a bus.  But in a post on Medium, Lyft director of transportation policy Emily Castor writes that Shuttle is not, in fact, a bus but something new:

You might have noticed that Shuttle sounds like some hybrid mashup of ridesharing and transit. You’re not wrong. It fits into a new category experts call “micro transit,” and it’s designed to do things buses can’t do and reach people buses don’t reach, helping attract a broad spectrum of riders who haven’t used transit before.

Castor correctly observes that there are some things that conventional transit does not do well. But critics say that services like Shuttle are not complementing public transportation.  Instead, they run the risk of creating a two-tier system of mobility. “If Shuttle were to become a resounding success, it could siphon more affluent riders who take mass transit, leaving behind lower-income, elderly, or immigrant riders who may not have access to the Lyft app, which requires both a smartphone and bank account,” Danielle Muoio writes in Business Insider.

And in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Ann Friedman writes: “Lyft, for its part, has carefully avoided the word ‘bus.’ But whatever we call it, Lyft Shuttle is just another way that wealthier Americans are paying for reliable and convenient services rather than demanding improvements to existing public goods. Services like Lyft are also giving customers the ability to live insulated from those who have less money.”

Image source: Lyft

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