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Lyft, Uber increase traffic 180 percent in major cities, says report

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Riders are giving up public transit—not their cars—in favor of ride-hailing trips

Uber Loses Its Private Hire Licence In London Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

Bruce Schaller, a transit consultant who served as deputy commissioner for traffic and planning in New York City, released a new report (“Automobility”) Wednesday examining the effect of transit network companies (TNCs) like Lyft and Uber on city traffic.

While Schaller’s findings highlight some benefits of ride-hailing apps, including increased mobility for riders with disabilities and as a valuable supplement to public transit in areas where bus service is inadequate, “Automobility” draws unflattering conclusions for SF-based TNCs.

A few of Schaller’s findings:

  • Ride-hailing trips are concentrated mainly in a few large cities, including SF: “Seventy percent of Uber and Lyft trips are in nine large, densely populated metropolitan areas: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC.” These nine cities accounted for 1.2 billion rides in 2017.
  • Ride-hailing trips are by far more popular in SF than anywhere else: In 2017, Schaller estimates that San Franciscans took 75 million trips via hide-hailing apps. That’s not only more than almost any other city, it’s also the most in terms of rides per population density, some 86 rides per person. The only city with a higher TNC ride volume is New York, which clocked 159 million; however, New York is also the sole city that still prefers taxis, taking 167 million cab trips the same year.
  • Critically, Schaller alleges that TNCs compete with public transit, not private cars: “[Rider surveys indicate] about 60 percent of TNC users in large, dense cities would have taken public transportation, walked, biked, or not made the trip if TNCs had not been available for the trip.”
  • The report alleges that Lyft and Uber generate more traffic congestion: “Private-ride TNC services (UberX, Lyft) put 2.8 new TNC vehicle miles on the road for each mile of personal driving removed, for an overall 180 percent increase in driving on city streets.”
  • And TNC expansion won’t fix it: The companies often argue that in the long run, if ride-hailing apps become the norm instead of personal driving, it will lead to a net decline in miles. But Schaller estimates that “Lyft’s recently announced goal of 50 percent of rides being shared by 2022 would produce 2.2 TNC miles being added to city streets for each personal auto mile taken off the road.”
  • Self-driving cars would be most useful in the form of shuttle-like group commutes: “A widely-cited travel model for Lisbon, Portugal, for example, found that traffic could increase by approximately 50 percent if travelers favored autonomous ‘regular taxis’ that are not shared. On the other hand, the model showed a 37 percent decline in vehicle kilometers, and total elimination of congestion, under a shared-taxi scenario.” Presently, TNC rides remain primarily single-passenger trips.

For Schaller’s full report, including his list of cited sources, check it out here.

In goop Health Summit Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for goop

In response, Zipcar CEO Robin Chase penned a CityLab op-ed pointing the finger over traffic woes at car culture, not ride-hailing apps:

Cities have been congested and transit has been poorly used for years before these companies set up shop. [...] Taxis plus ride-hailing plus carsharing account for just 1.7 percent of miles traveled by urban dwellers, while travel by personal cars account for 86 percent. [...] Streets are congested and too few people choose mass transit now, like last year and the year before that and the year before that.

Uber spokesperson Matthew Wing told Curbed SF, “We wholeheartedly agree with several of Mr. Schaller’s proposed public policies.” But he called the study “fundamentally flawed in several areas,” arguing that ride-hailing trips increase mobility to areas underserved by public transit like small towns.

Wing also said, “2018 has already dramatically changed the nature of our service,” emphasizing the company’s expansion into bikes and scooters.

Via email, Lyft spokesperson Campbell Matthews dubbed Schaller a “taxi cab consultant” (citing a Curbed SF story as the company’s source) and touted other studies, noting, “According to Inrix, congestion declined five percent in the Bay Area last year, even as Lyft trips increased 49 percent.”