While the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the state legislature and ride hailing companies like UberX and Lyft hash out an arrangement to regulate their services in Philadelphia, the service is quietly becoming more and more engrained in how people get from one place to another.
The latest evidence of that is SEPTA's study, initiated Wednesday, to determine how partnering with ride sharing companies could affect SEPTA, said Jeff Knueppel, SEPTA's general manager.
"I think it's exciting," he said. "The taxpayer and the person who lives in the region just want an efficient transportation network."
SEPTA has been talking with one of the major ride sharing companies operating in the area, Knueppel said, though he didn't want to be specific about which one. How exactly SEPTA would collaborate with ride sharing businesses is also uncertain, he said, but he felt it could particularly be useful in suburban communities, where ridership at SEPTA Regional Rail stations exceeds the parking space available.
"We have way less parking than other regional rail systems," he said. "That's just one of the ways we would look."
It's not just SEPTA looking to work with ride sharing. Two New Jersey municipalities, Evesham and Voorhees, began arrangements in October to combat drunk driving by covering the costs of an Uber ride for anyone traveling from a bar and restaurant to a destination within the communities between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards said Wednesday she was meeting with representatives from Uber and Lyft within the month to look into sharing technology and possibly contracting to supplement lightly used state bus services.
Ride sharing has the potential to serve riders in what's called the "first and last mile," the distance between a traveler's home and a public transportation stop. That space can deter people from using public transportation, but ride sharing has the potential to bridge it, bringing public transportation closer for people who live just beyond walking distance.
"It's giving a flexibility that people have never had before," Richards said.
All these initiatives happening locally mirror the findings of a study released this week from the American Public Transportation Association that found ride sharing and public transportation are complementary, not competitive, transportation modes.
"People comment they would like more money and time," said David Plouffe, Uber chief advisor and board member, during a conference call Tuesday. "It's very important that services like Uber and Lyft make it easier to get to a rail or bus station."
The study also found that ride sharing drivers' peak hours were from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., during which public transportation shuts down.
The study, which included more in depth information about how ride sharing can make travel easier for the indigent and disabled, recommended some ways ride sharing and public transportation can complement each other that are already underway in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and some that are being looked at. Among them were:
Find ways to synch services, including by adapting technology
Make it easier for passengers to find out how different modes can complement each other
Integrate fares, possibly through subsidization, as the New Jersey communities are doing
Different modes should share data
"I think they are going to change how we're going to look at transportation in many ways," Richards said.