As U.S. public transit ridership plunged during the pandemic and cities reduced service, some transit agencies struck partnerships with Uber Technologies Inc. to subsidize rides for residents affected by the cuts.
Data provided exclusively to Reuters shows that the majority of passengers using the Uber service were lower-income residents in city outskirts.
The findings highlight the dependence on public transit by many essential workers, who could not stay home and had no other means to get around.
Uber analyzed hundreds of thousands of on-demand transit trips in seven U.S. cities and one Canadian city between April and December 2020.
The data showed that some 75 percent of the rides began or ended in lower-density neighborhoods with fewer than 15,000 jobs and people per square mile, according to U.S. census data.
More than half of the trips originated or finished in low-income areas, based on metrics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Chris Pangilinan, head of global policy for Uber's public transportation team, said the findings emphasized the need for transit agencies to shift their focus away from serving mainly downtown business centers.
"I think there's going to be a lot more emphasis on ... serving people who are commuting elsewhere," Pangilinan said.
Uber is also offering routing software to plan on-demand and fixed-route trips, a service it hopes to sell to more transit agencies.
While Uber and Lyft Inc. have worked with some cities for years, partnerships increased during the pandemic, when many mass-transit providers turned to ride-hailing companies to offer options for essential workers.
Some gave monthly bus pass holders a limited number of rides; others covered the cost for regular trips to and from essential workplaces.
Florida's Miami-Dade County, which replaced several night bus lines with fully subsidized Uber and Lyft rides, said some 13,000 trips are provided through the county's Go Nightly program every month.
"It has allowed us to continue serving our community, mostly essential employee riders who depend on Miami-Dade transit," said Carlos Cruz-Casas, assistant director of the county's department of transportation.
The program also has allowed the county to save costs, which at $14 per hour per rider are well below the $40 needed to run the overnight bus routes.
While ridership has increased back to around 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels, the department is considering expanding on-demand services during the daytime to serve remote areas previously not connected to the transit network, Cruz-Casas said.