CHICAGO — Lyft Shuttle, a ride-hailing-based carpooling option that functions much like a CTA bus on fixed routes, has been growing steadily it was unveiled in March, but its impact on how Chicagoans get to and from work remains to be seen.
The Lyft Shuttle service has a few key differences from regular ride hailing or carpooling options offered by Lyft and its competitor Uber. Shuttles run for about $3 to $4 a ride, dropping off or picking up people along a specific route during morning or evening rush.
Lyft wouldn't say how many commuters use the Shuttle service, but the company issued a statement saying "rider and driver interest for Shuttle in Chicago is growing" and the service has had steady week-over-week growth.
"It removes a lot of the uncertainty of usual ridesharing," said Ben Cannon, a 34-year-old Uptown resident who regularly uses Shuttle to get to work Downtown.
Referring to the company's ride hailing program Lyft Line, Cannon said, "Sometimes when you are riding, picking up another rider takes you an entire mile in another direction." But with Shuttle, "the forward momentum is constant."
Since the Shuttle's launch, Lyft has doubled the number of routes from three to six. The routes, determined by Lyft's data scientists, connect Downtown with neighborhoods including Uptown, Lakeview and Wicker Park.
The company also has a route connecting Brighton Park on the Southwest Side with Downtown, specifically aimed at helping riders from neighborhoods that have "few efficient options," according to a company blog post.
The impact of Lyft Shuttle program isn't clear yet, according to Kyle Whitehead, government relations director for the Active Transportation Alliance, a Chicago non-profit group that promotes walking, bicycling and public transit.
Whitehead called for more information about how ride hailing services are used in Chicago. Shuttle rides are just more expensive the CTA base fare of $2.25. That could negatively impact road congestion and support for public transit, Whitehead said.
"We're supportive of giving people more transportation options beyond taking their own vehicles," Whitehead said. "We want to see it complementary to public transit and not competition with public transit."
Bus ridership has fallen 13.6 percent in 2016 compared with 2013, the year Uber unveiled its UberX service in Chicago. ("L" ridership was up 4.6 percent during that period.)
The CTA has welcomed transportation companies like Lyft for a role that helps "complement and extend the transit network and increase connectivity," CTA spokeswoman Irene Ferradaz said.
"Choice is good for everyone and shared-mobility services are an important part of the Chicago transportation ecosystem," Ferradaz said.
In the meantime, Lyft drivers — who have a choice to decline any rides at the risk of getting fewer requests — say that Shuttle is just another option that they'll help the company provide.
"I got a call. I answer it," said German Leyte, a Lyft driver living in Humboldt Park who recently gave his first Shuttle ride. "The Shuttle is a benefit for passengers."