Transportation Trends in NYC
New York City’s transportation industry is in the midst of an upheaval. Ridership through app-based services like Uber and Lyft has surged, while subway and bus ridership has declined.
Although there are many theories about the decline of public transit ridership, the data suggest that app-based services account for a growing share of the City’s transit network, and are, under certain circumstances, substituting public transit systems. As New York State explores solutions for challenges that accompany changes in the industry, it is critical to understand how new technologies are transforming how New Yorkers get around.
Between 2012 and 2016, the annual change in subway and bus ridership saw consistent declines. At the same time, the use of ride services (which includes taxis and app-based ride services) rose dramatically. Growth in bike ridership moderately slowed, and ferry ridership moved only slightly over the same time.
New York City subway ridership dropped between 2015 and 2016 for the first time since 2009, falling 0.3% to 1.76 billion in 2016. Transit bus ridership peaked at 678 million riders in 2013 before declining to 638 million riders in 2016. These decreases have continued through the first few months of 2017. Subway ridership saw year-over-year declines in four of the first six months of 2017, and bus ridership fell between 4% and 9% in five of the first six months of 2017 compared to the previous year. In June 2017, twelve-month average ridership on New York City Transit subways and buses was at its lowest level since 2013. Losses in subway ridership have been concentrated on weekends. Between 2015 to 2016, average weekly subway ridership rose 0.1%, while average weekend ridership fell 3.1%. This effect was strongest in Brooklyn and Queens where weekend ridership fell 4.5% and 3.1%, respectively, over that time. Much of this trend is due to weekend construction and station closures.
Growth in subway ridership began to fall as app-based companies took to the streets. This trend is especially apparent after ride sharing services, including Via and UberPool, launched in the City. Uber, Lyft, Via, Juno, and Gett provided roughly 93 million trips in 2016, up from 41 million in 2015. That increase of 52 million rides far surpasses the decrease of nearly 6 million subway rides and more than 12 million bus rides over the same period.
The relative costs of transit modes play a significant role in this shift. Price competition has sustained rapid growth in the app-based ride service industry. Historically, taxi rides cost 4.5 times more than the subway. App-based companies, however, are currently offering fares less than twice that of the subway. In particular, the ride sharing features, including UberPool, Lyft Line, and Via, keep costs down. Given that multiple riders often split fares, the effective prices of these services may approach that of the subway.
Three-quarters of New York City UberPOOL trips happen on nights and weekends. This trend, together with falling weekend public transit ridership, suggests that app-based services act as a substitute for public transit during weekends, likely due to disrupted weekend subway service and greater convenience for New Yorkers moving between boroughs outside Manhattan on weekends. In fact, app-based ridership and weekend subway ridership have converged rapidly in recent years. It is likely that use of app-based services are underrepresented by available data. Because data is only available on number of trips made, we assume each ride carries 1.66 passengers—the average for yellow cabs. Sharing services, which pick multiple parties along a single route, may have consistently high passenger densities.
Of companies revolutionizing the transportation industry, Uber remains dominant. Uber’s market share of app-based ride services far surpasses its rivals, though it has recently lost some of its share to newer companies. Over the last year, the firm’s market share fell from 77% to 71%, with Lyft and Juno increasing their market shares to 16% and 6%, respectively. Much of Uber’s popularity may be attributed to tourists who are more familiar with Uber, which operates more broadly than its New York City competitors. The volume of trips spike in October, December, and April, which are New York City’s top months for tourism.
As these companies compete for market share, the City’s public transit system remains affected by operational challenges. As New Yorkers and visitors to the City divert from public options toward app-based rides, the City’s traffic congestion has intensified. Because of these trends, New York City’s transit network has experienced a profound transformation over the last five years.
 MTA ridership reports
 NYCEDC Economic Snapshot, June 2017
 https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Transportation/FHV-Base-Aggregate-Report/2v9c-2k7f; data last updated August 20, 2017. Data are not seasonally adjusted.
 It is important to note that drivers can work for multiple companies simultaneously and that some of the drivers registered at an Uber base also ride for other services, inflating Uber’s apparent market share; https://rideshareapps.com/drive-for-uber-and-lyft-at-the-same-time/