Last Friday the city of Chicago announced the publication of anonymized trip info from ride-hailing apps for ride-hailing companies, including Uber, Lyft, and Via, on its Data Portal. To protect the privacy of drivers and customers, the starting and ending locations were lumped together by Census tract. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting takeaways from the data that’s currently posted on the portal, covering November and December 2018.
The most common ride-hail trip made during that two-month period was taking a short ride from the Census tract that includes the western part of the River North neighborhood (let’s call it River North West) to the one that includes the west side of the Loop proper (we’ll call it Loop West.) 29,262 such trips were made during the two-month period.
The combined length of these two tracts is only about a mile and a half, and the most frequently occurring trip length was 1.1 miles. That’s a short distance to drive in a car, so many of these trips could have easily been made by walking or biking. On the other hand Chicago weather can get pretty nasty during those months, and the bikeway connections between the two zones aren’t the greatest.
A person tweeting from the @ChicagoBars Twitter feed speculated that many of these trips may be made by hotel, restaurant, and bar patrons and employees who are concerned about personal security while traveling late at night. However, the vast majority of trips – a little over 80 percent – started in River North West between 7:00 a.m. and 7:59 p.m.
The total number of trips originating from River North West was 341,582. So the 29,262 trips made to Loop West represented only 8.6 percent of trips from River North West.
The second most common trip was from the Loop West tract to O’Hare airport, with 27,308 trips. However, the inbound trip from O’Hare to Loop West was only the 15th most popular type of trip, with 20,147 rides.
The third most common trip was from the Census tract that includes the northeast quadrant of the Loop proper (let’s call that Loop Northeast) to Loop West, with 27,151 trips. That also includes some very short trips, with possible starting points and destinations including office buildings, high-rise housing, hotels, and tourist attractions.
Altogether, 645,087 rides were taken into the Loop West. Since November and December is 61 days, that’s an average of 10,575 trips per day.
One negative impact of all these short trips in a transit-rich part of town is that the additional driving causes more congestion and slows down CTA buses. That’s why Chicago should charge an additional tax on trips into and out of the Loop and other dense areas, and invest the revenue in improving CTA service, something mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot has voiced support for.
Looking at weekdays only, 24,596 trips were made from River North West into Loop West during the two-month period. That comes out to an average of 572 trips per weekday. Weekday trips represented 84.1 percent of trips between River North West and the Loop, putting more support behind the hypothesis that paying for a Lyft, Uber, or Via ride is done for workday commuting purposes.
The most common distance of all trips was 1.2 miles. Again, that’s a really short distance to cover on bike or electric scooter (if Chicago had them.) Even on foot, that would only take 24 minutes to walk at a 3 m.p.h. pace.
Of course, ride-hailing use isn’t just confined to toney downtown districts – people in low-income areas also use it. (For our purposes, we’ll use the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning definition of “low-income areas” as ones with an average household income at or below 60 percent of the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area’s median income, currently $35,580 per year for an individual, and $50,760 per year for a family of four.)
However, most low-income Census tracts saw fewer than 5,000 trips start there during the two-month period. The average number of trips started in low-income areas was 3,305. The median is much lower than the average, at 1,281. This means that fifty percent of the low-income Census tracts originated 1,281 trips in November and December.
Comparing to non-low-income Census tracts, the average number of trips started was 24,394. The median number of trips was 3,124, suggesting that a disproportionate number of rides originate in a small number of non-low-income Census tracts.
The low-income Census tract that generated the most ride-hailing trips includes the Illinois Medical District, with 52,659 total rides during the two-month period. Most trips that started in the IMD were headed to the Loop West tract, even though the Blue and Pink lines offer a cheap alternative for making the same trip.
The second most popular destination for rides originating in the IMD was the West Loop Census tract that includes Union Station is. Again, the Blue Line could have been an option for that trip.
The low-income area that generated the second-highest number of riding-hail trips was the tract that includes Chinatown and part of Armour Square. Again, the most common type of trip was to Loop West, with 3,736 rides. That’s despite the the Red Line and bus routes on State Street and Archer Avenue.
Some research has shown that ride hail has increased the number of trips by car in cities. The ride hail data adds to the rich ecosystem of transportation data that the City of Chicago has been developing. This new info could be compared to the taxi info to possibly estimate if some ride hail trips are replacing people’s taxi trips, and how many trips might people have taken on other modes.
The Chicago Transit Authority should use this information as it reveals in a bit more detail where people are traveling. The CTA might be able to get access to the specific pickup and dropoff points and pinpoint where ride hail trips are overwhelmingly taken in areas that aren’t convenient enough by transit – like River North West to Loop West, and vice versa.
Have you checked out the ride-hailing data yet? If so what patterns have you noticed? Let us know in the comments.