Went to Las Vegas but lost everything at the craps table? There’s now a cheaper way to get from the Strip to the airport. Uber is making a big bet on public transit in Las Vegas. The ride-hailing company’s new Transit feature is going live in Sin City where residents and gamblers alike can use their Uber app to buy tickets for the city’s bus system.
Last May, Uber announced that it would begin selling train and bus tickets through its app for customers in Denver, Colorado. It was the first step in the ride-hailing giant’s high-stakes quest to become the de facto smartphone app for all modes of transportation.
Since then, the company has integrated public transportation schedules and directions into its app for over a dozen other cities: Boston, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Dehli, London, Mexico City, Paris, Santiago, São Paulo, Seattle, and Sydney. But Las Vegas is only the second city after Denver for which Uber is including the ability to purchase transit tickets directly from its app.
Following a staggered rollout, residents of Las Vegas will be able to use Uber’s app to purchase tickets for the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada, which operates the city’s buses. Purchasing transit tickets via Uber will cost the same amount as through existing options, the company said.
Uber’s menu bar will let users purchase and redeem a range of tickets available on RTC services, including Strip and All Access passes, hourly and monthly passes. Users activate tickets, which are stored in the “Transit tickets” section of the Uber app, when boarding transit services and scan the tickets on the onboard validation devices. Once purchased, tickets are available even when riders are offline.
Uber’s head of transit, David Reich, said that the company wanted to time the rollout in Las Vegas with the Consumer Electronic Show because public transportation will play a big role in the company’s future.
“By doing this on that global stage of CES, we’re really showing where we’re heading and what Uber’s view of the future is when it comes to partnering public transportation,” Reich said.
The new transit feature is powered by Masabi, a London-based tech company that builds mobile ticketing software for public transportation. The two companies struck a deal in 2018 to integrate the latter’s mobile ticketing platform into the former’s app. Masabi already has a pre-existing relationship with RTC, which enabled Uber to integrate ticketing and scheduling at a quicker pace than usual.
If Uber offering ticketing in Las Vegas drives more customers to use the bus system, the city could use the help. Revenue from bus trips on the Las Vegas Strip is down 29 percent over the past five years, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last year. If that trend continues, RTC may have to eliminate some bus routes or change the frequency of service.
“This should have a positive impact on how people are able to interact with public transportation,” Reich said, “but there’s a lot of factors that affect ridership in public transportation in any city around the world. We’re really trying to do our part and making it more accessible.”
For years, Uber has faced criticism for its negative effects on public transportation in the US. Declining bus and subway ridership has been pegged to the rise of Uber’s popularity in dozens of cities. The company hopes to blunt that criticism by giving transit equal footing in its app.
Many experts see Uber as being in direct competition with public transportation. The company admitted as much in its S-1 filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which is required as part of its IPO. Uber described public transportation as part of its “total addressable market,” a term it defined as how it can make money over the long term. Under the section listing “risk factors,” Uber outlines its many competitors, including “public transportation, which typically provides the lowest-cost transportation option in many cities.”
The language was a shift from how Uber had talked publicly for years about being a complement to public transit. After an uproar among transit advocates, Uber updated its filing to largely eliminate references to competing with public transportation.