Uber bus just round the corner for public transport

Via, which runs services with Mercedes-Benz, has struck transit partnerships with more than 90 agencies around the world. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Uber bus just round the corner for public transport

  • Transit systems are teaming up with ride-hail software for post-pandemic needs

RHODE ISLAND: Urban transportation’s transformation has shifted up a gear as the coronavirus crisis turns travel habits on their head, with Uber making allies of public transit systems by offering to sell them its software expertise.

In the San Francisco Bay area Marin County’s Transportation Authority will next month allow passengers to book a trip through the Uber app, but they will ride wheelchair-accessible public vans rather than a private car.

From the streets of Utah’s Salt Lake City to Missouri’s St. Louis and New Jersey’s Jersey City, more than 120 US transit agencies have launched collaborations with ride-hail firms in the past two years, data analyzed by Reuters shows.

“Providing software is a higher-margin service for us. We’re leveraging technology we’ve been building for years,” David Reich, Uber Technologies Inc’s head of transit, said.

Uber is talking with dozens of worldwide transit agencies to implement software-based projects, Reich added.

Lyft Inc, Uber and other ride hailing companies have previously been competing with public bus and train services for revenue from commuters.

But during the coronavirus crisis they are leaning on each other in an search for cost savings and new business opportunities, with many cities planning to expand or permanently implement services operated by ride-hail companies.

They hope this will save costs and improve access to business districts and convince transit-wary commuters and shoppers to ditch their cars. Replacing low-use routes allows cities to offload insurance costs or move existing buses onto more profitable routes.

As states reopen trip requests are still well below last year’s levels and the companies have had to make massive cost cuts and lay off thousands. Meanwhile, transit officials are struggling with the costs of running largely empty buses.

“There’s a need for us to work together and the flexibility their technology provides really plays a big role,” Carlos Cruz-Casas, assistant director of Miami-Date County’s department of transportation said of Uber and Lyft.

The county began replacing night buses with subsidized ride-hail trips during the pandemic, when ridership dropped as much as 80 percent. Now, Miami-Dade plans to offer the option permanently as part of a larger bus route restructuring program.

Uber has partnerships with more than 30 global transit agencies that use its ride services to connect riders to hubs, replace low-use bus lines or offer wheelchair-accessibility.

Lyft, which only operates in the US and Canada, launched its transit program in 2016 and is partnered with more than 80 cities to provide transit hub connections, night and weekend support, its head of transit and micromobility policy, Caroline Samponaro, said.

Via, a privately-held transportation company, is operating consumer ride-hail services in a joint venture with Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz in six cities and has struck transit partnerships with more than 90 agencies around the world.

Some 80 percent of Via’s transit projects are purely software-based, its chief executive Daniel Ramot said, with transit agencies using its routing technology.

“There’s a recognition that transit budgets will be very thin for a long time and demand much more volatile,” Ramot said.


Lebanese banks to ease limits on dollar transfers

Updated 50 min 27 sec ago

Lebanese banks to ease limits on dollar transfers

  • Shock move comes as PM warns of ‘financial blockade to starve the people’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s banks will ease restrictions on US dollar withdrawals following a surprise announcement on Thursday by the head of the country’s banking association.

Salim Sfeir, chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL), said that US dollars will be supplied by the banks with the support of Lebanon’s central bank.

Lebanese banks last November imposed strict limits on US dollar transfers amid an economic and political crisis that led to the collapse of the Lebanese pound.

The curbs were introduced as the government and central bank struggled to ease the worst economic crisis since country’s civil war.

Sfeir made his announcement after meeting Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari as part of an ABL delegation.

Following the meeting, Sfeir said that he wanted to put the Saudi ambassador “in the picture of the current economic situation in Lebanon.”

He praised the Kingdom’s generosity and said “economic life will be back to normal in Lebanon.”

The US dollar exchange rate reached its highest level on Thursday, scoring between 9,500 and 9,600 Lebanese pounds, while money dealers adopted a rate of between 3,850 and 3,900 Lebanese pounds.

Riad Salame, the central bank governor, told a government session that “the volume of US dollars circulating on the black market does not exceed 5 percent (of the hard currency market) and does not reflect the actual exchange rate of the US dollar.”

Meanwhile, Lebanese political leaders held a series of meetings on Thursday amid growing popular demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government.

Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), met with Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, while Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli visited former leader Saad Hariri.

After the meeting Ferzli said: “We all agree that Hariri is the key to reuniting all Lebanese in order to save the country and put an end to the deterioration of the situation and to the divisions among Lebanese. We must reconsider our stance toward the government. I appeal to Diab to facilitate the process of forming a new government.”

A ministerial source told Arab News: “After 16 sessions, negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are no longer of the same intensity, but that does not mean that talks are no longer an option. There is a political disagreement over the basis of the government plan to negotiate with the IMF. Nobody wants to bear losses.”

The source said: “This government is forbidden from undertaking reforms. It seems there is a tendency to form a government that satisfies all political parties, and that undertakes policies suitable for their own interests and presents them as reforms to the IMF.”

Diab told a Cabinet meeting on Thursday that “for the past few weeks, local and foreign parties have worked on causing a major crisis and huge losses.”

He added: “There is a major effort to lay siege to the country, a political and financial blockade to starve the people. Those who are blocking roads are not necessarily the ones who are hungry.”

Head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt responded to Diab’s claims, saying: “It seems that this government and the angels who are guarding it have lost all contact with the bitter reality. It is imagining conspiracies. It is the government of nothingness, bankruptcy and hunger.”

Lawmaker and FPM member Alain Aoun said: “The speed of the collapse is faster than the pace of the government’s action, and if the government cannot curb or stop the financial meltdown, it is natural that it will collapse.”

Protests continued on Thursday with main roads blocked in Beirut and other Lebanese cities due to the spike in food prices. Protesters intercepted trucks carrying food to Syria, some belonging to international aid groups.

The Lebanese army said that five people were arrested in Tripoli after an army patrol was attacked and five trucks loaded with food seized.

Those arrested had been carrying Kalashnikov machine guns, pistols and hand grenades, the army said.

Lebanon is still experiencing electricity rationing of more than 16 hours per day due to shortage of fuel oil supplies. Energy Minister Raymond GHajjar promised to “secure enough supplies of fuel oil by next week.”