Uber's 'last minute challenge' allieviates parking burdens in New Jersey city

By Laurie Fullerton | Freelance Writer

October 4, 2016 | 3 min read

Uber announced today that it is partnering with the suburban town of Summit, New Jersey to launch the state's first subsidized commuter program. The program - also known as the “last mile challenge” - will offer free or extremely cheap rides to commuters to and from the Summit train station, which the city says will help free up nearly 100 parking spots at the transit station, according to The Verge.

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Uber's 'last minute challenge' allieviates parking burdens in New Jersey city

Under the deal, Uber will offer free or extremely cheap rides to commuters who have struggled to find parking at Summit’s New Jersey Transit station. In exchange, the city, which is 30 miles from Manhattan, will subsidize the rides, paying Uber directly to cover the costs of the trips.

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There are currently five parking lots around the Summit train station that are consistently over-crowded. The city hopes that cheap Uber rides can help limit the number of park-and-ride customers. To start out, 100 commuters who have purchased parking passes will be eligible for free Uber rides to and from the station, while others can opt-in for $2 trips each way. (Parking passes at the Summit station are $4-a-day.) It is estimated that the deal will cost the city around $167,000 a year, while a new parking lot would have cost the city $10m, according to an earlier report.

“As an alternative transportation option, ridesharing is not new,” said Summit mayor Nora Radest in a statement. “But our program is the first of its kind in the United States to use ridesharing technology as a parking solution. Our innovation has the potential to shape how municipalities think about and implement parking options in the future.”

The deal with Summit stands in stark contrast to the regulatory hurdles Uber has faced in other parts of New Jersey. Earlier this year, the ride-hail company threatened to vacate Newark if the city approved new rules to require drivers to pay annual licensing fees. Later, Newark’s city council voted to forbid ride-hailing companies from operating at one of Newark Liberty Airport’s terminals. Uber later struck a deal with the city to pay a $10m fee to operate at the airport for the next 10 years.

Since last year, Uber has entered into public transit agreements with San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, among other cities. Other towns, like Altamonte Springs, Florida, have gone a step further, totally replacing its public transportation with subsidized Uber rides.

Some have characterized this as an attempt by Uber to replace public buses. But while public buses are accessible to all residents, Uber is only available to people who own a smartphone and a credit card. Nonetheless, Uber has been praised by transit advocates for its potential to help bolster, rather than replace, trains and buses, as well as help reduce the demand for scare parking spots, as it’s doing in Summit, the article notes.

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