Rideshare Vehicles Contributing to More Traffic Than Thought

can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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Traffic congestion costs more than your time, which is nerve-fraying enough. In fact, it costs you money. Up to $2,291 per person if you live in Boston, according to the Inrix 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard. That’s huge.

  • Rideshare companies claimed that their services would reduce traffic.
  • In several creditable reports, rideshares are creating more traffic problems where they operate.
  • Though rideshares have been secretive about their data, Uber and Lyft commissioned a study from a reputable firm to show good faith.
  • Congestion pricing could be a possible solution to make rideshares more welcome in cities. 

As cities dive into causes of traffic in order to find solutions, they’ve found that rideshare services are one of the culprits. Instead of decreasing congestion as sold and promised, they are actually responsible for increasing it. That’s bad news for everyone, particularly cities with the worst traffic, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

The idea behind ridesharing looks good on paper. If you can grab an on-demand ride quickly, economically and efficiently, then you might not need a personal car. And with less people owning a car and essentially carpooling with someone else, pollution gets reduced even more. Voila!

Ridesharing doesn’t function as advertised

Except it didn’t play out that way in practice. Rideshares supposedly take cars off the road by picking up passengers who opt to ditch their car at home or altogether. But, that’s not happening. In San Francisco, the birthplace of both Uber and Lyft, traffic has increased by 60% between 2010-2016, and these ridesharing companies are responsible for a whopping 50% of that spike.

Photo: Lyft

Rideshare companies have been notoriously tight-lipped about releasing their data for analysis. However, due to mounting pressure, it seems the reason that Uber and Lyft employed Fehr and Peers to analyze their impact on traffic for 2018. The report analyzed the companies’ contribution to Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)in six metropolitan regions: Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; and Washington, DC.

From the Fehr and Peers study, rideshares in San Francisco account for the highest VMT between 12.2 – 13.4 percent, while Seattle marked the lowest with 1.7 – 2.9 percent. Averaged out between the six cities considered, Uber and Lyft contributed 1.0 – 2.9 percent of the total VMT.

Rideshare companies can’t take all the blame

So, that leaves all the other vehicles holding the bag. They are the true black hats in the traffic congestion story: 87 to 99 percent of VMT in the six metropolitan regions examined. In addition, 75 percent of Americans still drive solo to work.

But, these overall numbers don’t exonerate Uber and Lyft.  When you dig further down into the data, rideshare drivers add an extra car to the road up to 46% of the time. That’s because during that time they don’t have a customer and are increasing traffic looking for one. Another issue plaguing rideshare companies is their impact on public transportation. While supposed to work hand in hand with buses and trains, a study shows they can actually endanger their very existence.

Los Angeles traffic: Image by prvideotv from Pixabay

Congestion pricing as a solution

While most drivers don’t like the idea of congestion pricing, it could hold the answer to some of our traffic problems. Congestion pricing is where drivers pay a fee to drive on streets that cause the most traffic backups. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Commission, it benefits businesses and drivers; improves travel times and reliability of service while increasing ridership; frees up room for emergency vehicles to respond more quickly; and overall improves the quality of transit services. The greatest bonus to cities and states: they don’t have to raise taxes to help streamline traffic.

Rideshare companies are in favor of congestion pricing because it provides an incentive for customers to opt to use their services instead. Manhattan put the model into place and drivers wanting to drive their own cars around the city will pay an extra $10 for the privilege, added to the cost of operating the car. Depending upon where you’re going, that $10 could get you there in an Uber or Lyft—without having to personally fight traffic or pay parking costs.

Although the Fehr and Peers study is far from favorable for rideshares, it does point to areas where Uber and Lyft can improve. And, if they want to stay legal on the streets, they will figure out how to do so quickly. New York City recently extended the rideshare cap another year aw well as put regulations in place.


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can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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