Ride-Share Programs’ Impact On Buses, Cabs Discussed

OCEAN CITY — It’s no secret emergence of ride-share programs such as Uber and Lyft have impacted the local taxi cab industry and even the resort’s municipal bus system, but the extent to which remains relatively unknown.

During a Transportation Committee meeting this week, Public Works Director Hal Adkins presented an update on the perceived impact of ride-share programs such as Uber and Lyft, for example, on the town’s municipal bus ridership, and perhaps to a larger extent, the city’s privately owned and operated taxi industry. While the impact is not easily quantifiable from a statistics standpoint, it’s clear the ride-share programs are getting the lion’s share of the resort’s public transportation opportunities.

Under the state’s reimbursement formula, licensed ride-share programs return 25 cents to the town of Ocean City for each transaction that originates in the municipality. However, that formula is based on the transaction alone and does not include the number of passengers. For example, Ocean City gets 25-cents per transaction whether an Uber driver picks up a single passenger or six, according to Adkins.

“That 25-cent reimbursement is what the town receives is per trip,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the number of people being transported.”

Adkins took it a step further and asked committee members for their assessment of the average number of passengers on a single Uber or Lyft trip.

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“What’s the average number of riders?” he said. “I know it’s not one. In my opinion, the average is probably close to three, but what’s a good number? If we use three, for example, that’s over 841,000 riders based on our assumption and based on the revenue that was returned to the city.”

While the emergence of ride-share programs has likely impacted municipal bus ridership, perhaps its biggest impact might be on the town’s taxi cab industry.

“We know Uber and Lyft have impacted our bus ridership, although the extent to which is not known, but what about our cab industry,” said Adkins. “It would be a fair statement that for years, this town didn’t have cabs. Then they appeared and thrived for a while, but the appearance of Uber and Lyft has decimated the taxi cab industry here.”

Adkins said a similar situation is unfolding with the town’s municipal bus system.

“I’m not saying those 800,000-plus estimated riders would have used our buses,” he said. “What I am saying is that it has definitely eroded our ridership.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed to some extent, but stopped short of going as far as saying the taxi industry in Ocean City has been decimated, opting instead for “certainly impacted.” Meehan said there were essentially three variables including people choosing Uber or Lyft over traditional cabs, people choosing the app-based ride-share programs instead of taking municipal bus and people using Uber and Lyft instead of getting into their cars. Meehan said all transportation opportunities combined are achieving the desired results and stressed the importance of making sure the town’s bus system remains competitive.

“The good news is, our visitors have options for transportation. We need to continue to enhance our system and encourage ridership,” he said.

Meehan said visitors were likely making their transportation decisions based on efficiency and timing, which is why some of the initiatives Ocean City has employed, such as the tracking app, are so important.

“The most important thing is convenience,” he said. “For people on vacation, the most important thing they have is time.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.