MBTA + Uber Boston: A Love Story

It may come as no surprise that here at Uber Boston, we enjoy our fair share of late night festivities. And until recently, we also endured our fair share of late night transportation struggles. You remember the dark ages of early 2011: 2:00am, the T was closed, and you were more likely to freeze on the sidewalk than find a way home.

So what changed in 2011?

Frequency of Weekend Rides by Time of Day

Percentage of trips spikes after midnight and drops after 2AM on weekends.

Well, Uber Boston launched and brought access to a new option in the marketplace. Unsurprisingly, Friday and Saturday nights were very busy right from the start. Uber helped absorb some of the previously unmet demand during weekend late nights. Check out the graph to the right, showing demand patterns at the Park Street T Station on weekends using data from January to May 2014 (all charts smoothed using local regression).

However, as you can tell from dramatic spike in Uber requests between 1:00am and 2:00am, the T stopped too early to help absorb this excess demand.

Now here’s where things get interesting.

In March 2014, the MBTA introduced late night T service, extending hours until 2:30am. Suddenly, people in areas with easy MBTA access had options.

Frequency of Weekend Rides by Time of Day Before and After Hours Change in Park St and Seaport

Percentage of trips at Park Street spikes at 1-2AM, but spike is lower after the MBTA hours change. In the Seaport, percentage of trips is higher than before the change.

Look at how the distribution of Uber requests in the Park Street area evened out a bit following the introduction of late night MBTA. In contrast, Seaport (with fewer MBTA options) experienced little change in demand patterns.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

In reality, the presence of multiple options has made the entire system work more efficiently. Experienced Uber riders out there may recall what happens on the Uber system when supply can’t satisfy a sudden spike in demand. (Let’s just say it rhymes with “shmurge splicing.”) Following the introduction of late night MBTA service, the T became a viable late night option, Uber demand no longer exceeded supply so dramatically, and Uber’s average late night pricing came down. With multiple reliable transportation options, everyone won.

So what does it all mean??

  • Our data indicates that late night MBTA service should be extended past its initial pilot period of one year. It’s a critical component of late night Boston, and it makes the city – and all of the other transportation options, as well as businesses and residential areas in the Boston ecosystem – that much better.
  • Multiple options – MBTA, Uber and otherwise – help the system work more efficiently and effectively, making late night Boston a more accessible, affordable, happy place to be.

So there you have it. Uber + MBTA = <3. We told you it was going to be a love story.

Help true love last forever!

Did you enjoy geeking out with us on ridership data? If so, the MBTA just released an entire data set on late night MBTA ridership. They’re holding a 4 week data challenge to assess how late night MBTA and other transportation options like Uber are contributing to Boston’s culture shift towards later hours. Check it out here and get involved!

Post script.

ps. For all of you skeptics out there, we also took a look at Uber demand data from a “placebo date” (imagining that an intervention occurred when nothing we know of actually did). This helps us confirm whether the change in demand patterns that we observed actually resulted from MBTA late night hours, or from a broader trend in the market. Indeed, this placebo date (we picked February) suggests that the results we observed were indeed the result of late night MBTA:

Frequency of Weekend Rides by Time of Day Before and After Placebo

Percentage of trips at Park Street before Placebo spike at 2AM, whereas after Placebo the spike is at 1AM.

pps. Extra credit – take a look at this data from the the Kenmore Square T area.  What’s going on weekend nights around 10:00pm after late March? 🙂

Frequency of Weekend Rides by Time of Day Before and After Hours Change

Percentage of trips on weekends increased after the hours change from 8-11PM

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