Uber, the sometimes controversial app which is shaking up the taxi industry has announced a partnership with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) to help solve the challenge of passengers getting to or from the station or bus stop. Uber which allows smartphone owning consumers to connect directly to drivers, instead of through a booking service or just hailing the cab in the street is offering Atlanta residents who are new to the service to sign up with the promotional code “MARTA” to get their first trip free, up to a $20 value. MARTA CEO Keith Parker speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution acknowledged that Uber can help complete journeys for passengers using mass transit in Atlanta; “There are places that don’t make sense for us to add new bus or train service. This Uber partnership is to take care of that last mile of service.”
According to recent MARTA surveys nearly two-thirds of passengers have smartphones and this decision to partner with Uber was announced at the same time as confirmation came that within the next few weeks, Wi-Fi will be available on 50 buses as part of a plan to have internet connectivity on all buses, trains and rail platforms by March 2016. This Wi-Fi will be free for passengers and has been made possible by tapping into the unused band-with from its new 4G surveillance camera system. It’s been a busy few months for MARTA, with this security system being ‘smart’ in that it analyses video using artificial-intelligence that “learns” to distinguish normal behaviour from that it deems suspicious on doing so alerts the authorities to possible issue.
A partnership with Uber will have raised eyebrows in some quarters. Not only for being what is in effect a rival transport system but also for some of the controversies that have dogged its rapid growth. Uber is the subject of ongoing protests and legal action from taxi drivers, taxi companies, and governments around the world. Those who oppose Uber argue that it presents unfair competition to taxis because the company does not pay taxes or licensing fees; that it endangers passengers; that drivers are untrained, unlicensed and uninsured; in general, that the company breaks the law. They’ve also gained a reputation from some for aggressive tactics within their expansion, with their management labelled a “bunch of thugs” by Portland’s Commissioner of the Bureau of Transportation, Steve Novick.
Editor’s Comment: MARTA’s partnership with Uber is an interesting development, and although fairly limited in scope, it will be worth monitoring. And it should be viewed as a wider effort for MARTA to continue to grow in a time of low-petrol prices and when technology like Wi-Fi has moved from a welcome bonus to something expected as standard. An increased focus in creativity and technological innovation is clearly on the rise for public transport agencies around the world, though whether we will see a glut of 'uber to partner with mass transit' stories for the moment seems unlikely.
Keith T. Parker, General Manager / Chief ExecutiveOfficer, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is a Keynote Speaker at SmartRail USA Congress & Expo, Charlotte, North Carolina, 28-29th October 2015 and will be focussing the digtal transport network. It's the only show dedicated to driving innovation in passenger rail in the US. And, the only show of its kind that’s free!