One of Uber’s earliest partnerships was in 2015 with Dallas Area Rapid Transit. That year, DART agreed to temporarily display Uber rides as an option in its app during St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The promotion, intended to give boozy celebrators more choices for getting home safely, became so popular that DART eventually integrated Uber into its app permanently.
DART now subsidizes shared Uber rides within a few miles of several public train stations. The agency estimated that it spent $15 per rider when it ran bus routes in those areas; now it saves money by paying Uber less than $5 a person.
Dallas transit officials were initially cautious about the partnership, they said. “For a while they ignored us. Then they cannibalized us. Now they want to work with us,” Todd Plesko, DART’s vice president of service planning and scheduling, said of Uber and Lyft. “It’s the kind of market for trips they never did before.”
Uber was also hesitant to share data about riders and routes, citing privacy concerns. Mr. Plesko said Uber had mentioned the hunt for Osama bin Laden as an example of how individuals could be identified from their data. (Uber said no one had used a Bin Laden reference.)
But Dallas ultimately decided to work with Uber. Integrating Uber rides into DART’s app could help stem the flow of riders who abandoned public transportation for private ride-hailing services, Mr. Plesko said.
“If we’re going to survive as an agency, we have to be willing to innovate and take risks,” he said.
One place that has used Uber as an alternative to public transportation is Innisfil, Ontario. In 2017, a consultant told Innisfil, a town of more than 37,000, that it would cost about 35 Canadian dollars, or about $26, per ride in subsidies to start a bus route that covered only 5 percent of its geography and provided 16,000 rides a year. Along with costs like buses and bus shelters, the total cost would be 561,000 Canadian dollars, or $422,600, city officials said. They said that seemed too expensive and would not provide enough coverage.