Your Next Uber Could Be The Bus
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Your Next Uber Could Be The Bus

The cost of rides might be pushing some to more economical transportation.

By Laura Forman
Mon, May 23, 2022 3:24pmGrey Clock 2 min

People are thinking twice before opening that ride-share app on their smartphones.

The practice isn’t going anywhere, but the slow pace at which ride volumes have recovered from their pandemic depths is the latest sign the industry might not become as pervasive as once hoped. As dreams of world domination fade and investors watch the bottom line, the cost of that ride might be pushing some potential customers to more economical forms of transportation.

Lately, market leader Uber Technologies has moved beyond the service that made its name a verb. According to its 2022 investor day deck, Uber is in 72 countries. It added Eats to deliver food, and then expanded that to include convenience, alcohol, diapers and much more. It is now adding taxi partnerships and travel, among other things. Soon, you will be able to hail your own private party bus.

These additions are outwardly pitched as a way for Uber to aggressively build a super app from a position of strength. They are arguably just as defensive. If investors once wanted quantity, they now want quality. As Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi wrote recently in an internal email: “In times of uncertainty, investors look for safety…we need to show them the money.”

The economics of ride-hailing have changed. Platforms like Uber and Lyft for years grew through subsidizing the cost of rides to win market share from other forms of transportation, as well as from one another. Between 2016 and 2021, Uber burned an average of nearly $3 billion annually.

But with investors now focused on pocketing cash rather than splashing it around, broad subsidies are no longer a winning strategy. And that discipline comes at a time of rising costs. Labour laws, competition and a surge in vehicle and pump prices have meant ride-share drivers need to be paid more. The combination of those costs and investors’ demands for profit and cash flow means postpandemic ride-hailing may never be as affordable as it used to be.

Nationally, average ride-hailing pricing in April was already up nearly 39% from where it was at the same time in 2019, YipitData shows. Some of that has to do with longer rides consumers are now taking. But even on a per kilometre basis, pricing was up over 27%. In sprawling Phoenix and Atlanta, per mile pricing for Uber and Lyft combined was up around 40% and 50% on average, respectively.

The pandemic may be waning, spurring more tourist and commuting demand, but consumers are likely to consider cheaper options amid rising rates and prices for other goods and services. And pricing could get even richer. Facing a driver shortage, Lyft might need to compensate with higher rider rates to compete. Meanwhile, if Uber continues to push for aggressive growth in food delivery and other noncore businesses, then someone has to shoulder that tab.

Ride hailers set out to free us from car ownership and provide us with more convenience and comfort than other available transportation options. What if the future of ride-share is…the bus?


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Capri Coffer socks away $600 a month to help fund her travels. The Atlanta health-insurance account executive and her husband couldn’t justify a family vacation to the Dominican Republic this summer, though, given what she calls “astronomical” plane ticket prices of $800 each.

The price was too high for younger family members, even with Coffer defraying some of the costs.

Instead, the family of six will pile into a rented minivan come August and drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Coffer booked a beach house for $650 a night. Her budget excluding food for the two-night trip is about $1,600, compared with the $6,000 price she was quoted for a three-night trip to Punta Cana.

“That way, everyone can still be together and we can still have that family time,” she says.

With hotel prices and airfares stubbornly high as the 2023 travel rush continues—and overall inflation squeezing household budgets—this summer is shaping up as the season of travel trade-offs for many of us.

Average daily hotel rates in the top 25 U.S. markets topped $180 year-to-date through April, increasing 9.9% from a year ago and 15.6% from 2019, according to hospitality-data firm STR.

Online travel sites report more steep increases for summer ticket prices, with Kayak pegging the increase at 35% based on traveler searches. (Perhaps there is no more solid evidence of higher ticket prices than airline executives’ repeated gushing about strong demand, which gives them pricing power.)

The high prices and economic concerns don’t mean we’ll all be bunking in hostels and flying Spirit Airlines with no luggage. Travellers who aren’t going all-out are compromising in a variety of ways to keep the summer vacation tradition alive, travel agents and analysts say.

“They’re still out there and traveling despite some pretty real economic headwinds,” says Mike Daher, Deloitte’s U.S. transportation, hospitality and services leader. “They’re just being more creative in how they spend their limited dollars.”

For some, that means a cheaper hotel. says global search interest in three-star hotels is up more than 20% globally. Booking app HotelTonight says nearly one in three bookings in the first quarter were for “basic” hotels, compared with 27% in the same period in 2019.

For other travellers, the trade-offs include a shorter trip, a different destination, passing on premium seat upgrades on full-service airlines or switching to no-frills airlines. Budget-airline executives have said on earnings calls that they see evidence of travellers trading down.

Deloitte’s 2023 summer travel survey, released Tuesday, found that average spending on “marquee” trips this year is expected to decline to $2,930 from $3,320 a year ago. Tighter budgets are a factor, he says.

Too much demand

Wendy Marley is no economics teacher, but says she’s spent a lot of time this year refreshing clients on the basics of supply and demand.

The AAA travel adviser, who works in the Boston area, says the lesson comes up every time a traveler with a set budget requests help planning a dreamy summer vacation in Europe.

“They’re just having complete sticker shock,” she says.

Marley has become a pro at Plan B destinations for this summer.

For one client celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary with a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 for a five-star June trip, she switched their attention from the pricey French Riviera or Amalfi Coast to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.

To Yellowstone fans dismayed at ticket prices into Jackson, Wyo., and three-star lodges going for six-star prices, she recommends other national parks within driving distance of Massachusetts, including Acadia National Park in Maine.

For clients who love the all-inclusive nature of cruising but don’t want to shell out for plane tickets to Florida, she’s been booking cruises out of New York and New Jersey.

Not all of Marley’s clients are tweaking their plans this summer.

Michael McParland, a 78-year-old consultant in Needham, Mass., and his wife are treating their family to a luxury three-week Ireland getaway. They are flying business class on Aer Lingus and touring with Adventures by Disney. They initially booked the trip for 2020, so nothing was going to stand in the way this year.

McParland is most excited to take his teen grandsons up the mountain in Northern Ireland where his father tended sheep.

“We decided a number of years ago to give our grandsons memories,” he says. “Money is money. They don’t remember you for that.”

Fare first, then destination

Chima Enwere, a 28-year old piano teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., is also headed to the U.K., but not by design.

Enwere, who fell in love with Europe on trips the past few years, let airline ticket prices dictate his destination this summer to save money.

He was having a hard time finding reasonable flights out of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., so he asked for ideas in a Facebook travel group. One traveler found a round-trip flight on Delta to Scotland for $900 in late July with reasonable connections.

He was budgeting $1,500 for the entire trip—he stays in hostels to save money—but says he will have to spend more given the pricier-than-expected plane ticket.

“I saw that it was less than four digits and I just immediately booked it without even asking questions,” he says.


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