Ridesharing held the promise of reducing traffic congestion. Instead, ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are making traffic worse. It’s a big issue in New York City, so officials there created new rules limiting how ridesharing services can operate. Uber is suing the city to stop those rules, according to a report from Reuters.
- Ridesharing was supposed to decrease congestion and make city life better, but traffic is now worse in major cities.
- New York City isn’t content to sit and wait for a solution, so it’s enacting new rules to reduce traffic now.
- Uber agrees there’s a problem, but doesn’t agree on the solution.
There’s ample evidence that ridesharing services make traffic worse. This is a particular concern for congested cities. In San Francisco, traffic increased 60% from 2010-2016. Ridesharing companies are responsible for a full 50 percent of that increase.
Ridesharing services are convenient, but there’s a price to pay in the form of increased traffic. (Photo: Getty Images)
No new drivers
In the face of public pressure to do something, Uber and Lyft hired Fehr and Peers to research the problem. Results showed the two companies aren’t responsible for the bulk of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). However, they do add an extra car to the road 46 percent of the time. This comes from the downtime in between fares. In response, the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) approved a cap on the number of for-hire vehicles. This cap went into effect in the summer of 2018 and stopped new licenses for 12 months.
Shortly before the cap was imposed, The Verge reported that Uber and Lyft were unable to provide wheelchair accessible vehicles in the city 70 percent of the time. Since there was a clear need for more of these vehicles, they’re the one exception to the cap.
One year later and the TLC doesn’t see a good reason to start issuing licenses again. Instead of lifting the cap, they’ve extended it for another 12 months through the summer of 2020. They even went one step further with a new rule limiting how much time drivers can spend without a passenger.
If you can’t find a driver, it could be because of mandates to cut cruising time. (Photo: Getty Images)
Slow time is no time
Cruising time, or the time when drivers are driving around waiting for a fare, was originally set to 41 percent of the total time a driver is working. The commission decided to lower that number in a two-stage process. First it drops down to 36 percent in February 2020. Then, in August 2020, it drops to 31 percent.
The goal is to reduce congestion and get unnecessary vehicles off the road. The problem in Uber’s view is that it could also reduce driver incomes by keeping them from working at all when business is slow. It wants its drivers available when someone opens the app. If there isn’t a driver close enough, then both the driver and Uber could lose out on a fare.
Raising the cost of rideshares at peak times might discourage people from using the services and alleviate the traffic. (Photo: Getty Images)
Is congestion pricing the fix?
Uber is aware of the problems caused by its success and knows something needs to change. It simply doesn’t agree with New York City’s solutions. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a blog post that Uber has a responsibility to help cities solve their transportation problems. The company then committed $10 million to coming up with those solutions, which include proposed congestion pricing. This is seen as a viable solution not just by Uber, but by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Commission.
Congestion pricing is a fee that applies to personal vehicles, taxis, delivery vehicles, and ridesharing services traveling at peak times. The hope is the fee will encourage people to carpool, use public transportation, or simply alter their driving habits to avoid peak times.
There are multiple solutions to the problem. The challenge is choosing the ones that solve congestion and improve life for city residents without risking the livelihood of rideshare drivers.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Increased vehicle traffic from ridesharing is a challenge for cities where traffic congestion is a perpetual problem. Finding solutions stands to improve quality of life for everyone but requires cooperation between city officials and ridesharing services.