OCEAN CITY — There has been a significant jump in the number of users choosing ride-sharing alternatives over the municipal bus, but the takeaway is many are making good choices as opposed to driving.
During a recent transportation committee meeting, it came to light the town’s revenue contributions by ride-sharing companies operating in the resort such as Uber and Lyft had nearly doubled from last year. Through legislation passed in 2016, the town of Ocean City receives 25 cents for every Uber or Lyft ride taken with city limits regardless of the number of passengers.
During the first year in 2017, the town received $36,800 in revenue from the ride-sharing companies. Thus far this year, the town has collected nearly $62,000 in revenue from Uber and Lyft, reflecting an increase approaching 100 percent. In terms of the impact on bus ridership in Ocean City, the proliferation of ride-sharing alternatives is certainly chipping away at the bottom line.
“We’re always looking at ridership and what is out there that can be eroding our numbers somewhat,” said Public Works Director Hal Adkins this week. “Clearly, the ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft, for example, show more and more people are using those alternatives.”
Certainly, Uber and Lyft are also chipping away at the private sector taxi cab industry in the resort, but that impact is not easily quantifiable. Adkins said while Uber and Lyft are hurting bus ridership numbers, they are only one part of a larger equation for determining how many people are riding the bus and why.
“We’re always looking at indicators for why ridership numbers go up or down from year to year,” he said. “A big indicator for us is the weather, especially the weather on peak weekends or during special events, because our transit system is not really a weather-tolerant system. It’s not like we have bus shelters at every stop.”
However, it’s no secret the ride-sharing companies are impacting the resort’s transit system. If the town collected $60,000 in revenue from the ride-shares, at 25 cents a trip, that represents 240,000 trips, Adkins pointed out. If the average number of passengers on a ride-share trip was set at a conservative two per trip, that number doubles to nearly half a million riders.
“When you drill down a little further, you start to see the impact of this,” he said. “I think taking an average of two people per trip is pretty conservative, but even if one was the number, that’s 240,000 trips. When you multiply that number by our $3 ride-all-day price for the bus, that’s $720,000. I’m not suggesting all of those riders who took an Uber would have taken the bus instead, but clearly a decent percentage would have.”
Adkins said the public transit options in Ocean City have evolved over the years. Now, the ride-sharing companies are competing with both the municipal buses and the taxis.
“When the taxi cab industry blossomed, that particularly eroded our ridership numbers,” he said. “Now, at the present time, Uber and Lyft have become the main problem. If you look at the first year’s stats compared to the second year, it has practically doubled.”
Despite the perceived drop in ridership ad the associated loss in revenue, Adkins said any impact on the bottom line is better than the alternative.
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it shows people are choosing to use alternative transportation as opposed to driving, particularly driving while impaired,” he said. “Is it impacting our ridership and the bottom line? Sure, but at least they’re choosing an alternative. We’d like to have them on our buses, but as long as they’re choosing something, it helps with traffic congestion and improves safety.”
The sentiment, at least on the surface, appears to bear out in terms of drunk-driving arrests in the resort. The year-to-date DUI numbers in Ocean City are down a modest 8 percent over 2017, but a trend seems to be manifesting since the proliferation of ride-sharing began a few years back. For example, there were 228 DUI arrests in 2016 and that number jumped to 244 in 2017 before dropping back to 225 this year.
Again, it is difficult to make a statistical conclusion from the DUI arrest numbers and the proliferation of ride-sharing, and it’s important to note the taxi cab industry in the resort is also making a big contribution to the transportation alternatives for would-be drunk drivers, but the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) certainly thinks there is a correlation.
“We’re seeing nearly an 8-percent decrease from last year, but when you average the last five years, we are seeing a 31-percent decrease, so maybe that better shows how it’s affected our numbers since ride-sharing became popular in Ocean City,” said OCPD Public Information Officer Lindsay Richard. “We see any safe mode of transportation available to those who have been drinking alcohol as a positive thing. The more options that our residents and visitors have to get home safely the better.”