Uber and Lyft have long argued that they are a complement to mass transit, and that with the growth of their pooled-ride services they are reducing individual car use, congestion and pollution in this city and others.
Not so, according to a report released Wednesday.
Ride-hail services are more likely to be undermining mass transit than helping it, by providing a convenient option for travelers who otherwise might have taken the subway. And the companies’ heavily promoted pooled rides are not, in fact, cutting the number of miles that people travel in cars, but adding to them.
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About 60% of ride-hail company users “in large, dense cities would have taken public transportation, walked, biked or not made the trip” if those services had not been available, writes transportation consultant Bruce Schaller in “The New Automobility: Lyft, Uber and the Future of American Cities.” The other 40% of users would have taken their own car or a taxi.
As a result of rides replacing mass-transit trips, services such as UberX and Lyft put 2.8 new vehicle-miles on the road for each mile of personal driving they take away. It amounts to a 180% increase in driving on city streets, Schaller concludes.
Taking into consideration shared-ride services like UberPool and Lyft Line results in a slightly lower mileage increase: 2.6 new miles for every personal-vehicle mile that is lost.
Schaller arrives at that figure based on an estimated 20% of ride-hail trips being shared, and the fact that drivers have to travel to the pick-up locations. In addition, for the first leg of a pooled trip, the vehicle is usually carrying only one passenger.
The report cites survey data from multiple big cities, including New York, as well as Schaller's analysis of published data on pooled rides to back up his findings.
“There has been a great deal of hope that shared rides will undo the damage of UberX and Lyft,” Schaller said in an interview. “And the answer is they slightly reduce the amount of damage.”
The report also looks at the benefits that have come with the growth of transportation network companies, or TNCs, as ride-hail companies are called. In addition to keeping people from driving drunk, and filling in transit gaps in the outer boroughs, they can provide extensions of public transit if properly managed.
But Schaller says the report is meant to measure the companies’ impact on cities like New York in an effort to form an appropriate policy response, which he believes would include congestion pricing to reduce traffic, and dedicated bus lanes to attract more riders. He also sees a need for greater regulation of the companies, especially in light of the influence that ride-hail operations will have on the development of autonomous vehicles and whether they will be allowed to overwhelm streets in the future.
“Are these companies contributing to the kind of city we want to live in?” he asked. “Some of what they do is good—they make it easier to get around town. But when they undermine the transportation system and clog traffic, that’s not good.”
A spokeswoman for Uber said the company agreed with Schaller on the need for congestion pricing and dedicated bus lanes, but that his analysis was “fundamentally flawed” when it came to pooled rides. She said that UberPool is most likely to be used by riders in low-income communities, not the affluent, and that the service has saved “230 million miles” of driving globally since it was introduced.
Lyft also took issue with Schaller’s analysis of its shared rides. “Just last year, over 250,000 Lyft passengers gave up their personal cars because of the availability of rideshare,” a spokeswoman said.
Both companies stressed that they are also now including bike share as part of the offerings on their app. Uber recently purchased Jump Bike, a pedal-assist e-bike service, while Lyft owns Motivate, the parent of Citi Bike.
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