Public transportation’s days are numbered.
The Los Angeles International Airport announced last week it would reduce hours for its FlyAway bus services in Westwood due to low ridership numbers. But all signs of blame point to the service itself. The FlyAway service has hourly rides from Westwood to LAX with set locations for riders to get picked up and dropped off.
A great number of UCLA students choose to call on ride-hailing services, such as Uber or Lyft, to get to LAX when traveling home for the holidays, largely due to a lack of clarity about how the FlyAway service works and the inconveniences that come with using it. Although the FlyAway shuttle boasts an enticing price, students find the complicated nature of the times and places to be too confusing, and are discouraged by the prospect of having to carry their luggage to specified locations to use the service. The added headaches that come with public transportation make the convenience of ride-hailing and ride-sharing services extremely attractive, which many justify despite the added cost.
Ride-sharing services’ willingness to adapt to suit the needs of consumers will always prevail in the long term. LAX and other city wings that provide public transport need to work harder to spread knowledge and information about their services, as well as compete with ride-hailing companies in the categories of convenience and pricing to avoid growing obsolete among younger Angelenos. Students in college towns like Westwood are more likely to use alternative methods to get around, and public transportation needs to be shown as a worthwhile option.
Students have positively voiced their preference for ride-hailing apps over public transportation because everything is confined to an app. All the information about the driver, the route and the estimated time of arrival is clearly indicated. Nothing about the experience is left up to question. Most city- or state-provided bus service apps, however, are painfully outdated and don’t have the live route-tracking that ride-hailing apps use, making people unfamiliar with the area unsure of where to get off.
Allen Wang, a first-year electrical engineering student, flew home for winter break and said the FlyAway bus service was too confusing to figure out.
“I considered taking the FlyAway bus, but I was pressed for time, and it looked complicated to figure out the timing of the pickup, so I just called a Lyft,” Wang said.
Uber and Lyft both hold top-ten spots in CNBC’s 2018 Disruptor 50, an annual list highlighting private companies that disrupt and transform traditional industries for interfering with public transportation. Both companies have seen steady growth in ridership while also directly competing with each other for market shares, but the healthy competition has only benefited them by increasing their brand awareness and availability throughout the country.
For example, Archi Bhattacharyaa, a first-year physics student, said he prefers the convenience of being dropped off exactly where he needs to be.
“For places like Santa Monica, which are offered on the BruinBus routes, I’d take the bus, but if it’s some place more specific, then an Uber is more convenient for me,” Bhattacharyaa said.
People are constantly on the move and don’t have the time to navigate convoluted bus schedules and times. LAX had to reduce the hours of its FlyAway bus services because people didn’t know how to access it. A better understanding of how the system works could prevent any further cutbacks.
A significantly discounted price can’t be public transportation’s only claim to fame anymore – it needs to coexist alongside adaptations and improvements that fit consumer needs. If services like the FlyAway bus want to continue operating, they need to take consumer concerns into account by providing clear information, better advertisement and more convenient stops.
For example, UCLA’s BruinBus transit service has shown fight in light of the rising competition from ride-hailing services, adding new routes and stops in 2018 in response to consumer demands and complaints. This kind of attitude toward fulfilling consumer needs will keep public transportation services alive and useful to consumers – accommodating them rather than remaining stagnant and wondering why ridership numbers are so low. City services like the FlyAway bus should tap into the reach universities like UCLA have and make students aware of – and interested in – the more affordable services available to them.
Some might say public transportation is on its way out and trying to improve it isn’t necessary, but many students still use it as their way of getting around. It’s a very affordable option and is increasingly reliable in traffic-laden Los Angeles. City officials should work to improve the messaging surrounding these services so students don’t feel they have to sacrifice a quality experience just to save a few dollars. There’s room for both ride-hailing and public transportation services to exist, and both should be dedicated to providing consumers with the best experience possible.
But every day that passes by is another win for ride-hailing services and another day closer to bringing out the casket for public transportation.