T board raises competitive threat from Uber

Lang: ‘We need to figure out an aggressive response’

IN THE MIDST OF A PRESENTATION on MBTA revenues, members of the T’s oversight board engaged in a debate about the threat to the transit agency posed by new transportation services such as Uber, Lyft, Bridj, and Zipcar.

The T hiked fares more than 9 percent on July 1. On Monday, Evan Rowe, the T’s director of revenue, said fare revenue at the agency since July 1 was up 4.9 percent compared to the same period a year ago and 0.4 percent below what the T had forecasted. He said revenue from monthly link passes, which provide unlimited bus and subway service, was up 5.6 percent, but unit sales were down 6.6 percent.

Brian Lang, a member of the T’s Fiscal Management and Oversight Board, said the sluggish revenues reminded him of a meeting he held recently with a group of college students who told him it was cheaper and more convenient for them to use the UberPool service than ride the T.

“Uber is encroaching on what we’re doing,” Lang said. “We need to figure out an aggressive response. We’re partnering with our potential enemies here.”

Lang was referring to a pilot project the T is running with Uber and Lyft to provide service to paratransit customers of The Ride.

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the competitive challenge goes beyond students and beyond Uber and Lyft. She said one-way Zipcars, Bridj, and other transportation services are eating into the T’s market. “We really don’t have a great model for point-to-point service for an individual,” she said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Pollack said the changing competitive landscape should constantly inform how the T is managed. She said if a private service fills a transportation niche better than the T, the agency should adjust to that reality. “It is a huge debate,” she said.

Steven Poftak, another member of the T’s oversight board, said many of these new businesses are heavily subsidizing their services to attract riders and may not survive. “Some of these models may not be sustainable,” he said.