Uber Was Supposed to Ease Traffic. We Got the Opposite

Studies suggest ride-sharing makes congestion worse
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2020 11:38 AM CST
Uber, Lyft Were Supposed to Ease Traffic. Didn't Happen
An Uber vehicle waits in traffic in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

In the early days of Uber and Lyft, executives and proponents made bold promises of reducing traffic. "If every car in San Francisco was Ubered, there would be no traffic," then-CEO Travis Kalanick famously said five years ago. The idea was that multiple strangers would be sharing rides downtown and leaving their cars at home. The reality in 2020? Pretty much the opposite, reports the Wall Street Journal. Coverage:

  • Worse congestion: Since these companies came along, traffic has actually become more congested not only in San Fran, but in cities such as Chicago and New York. As a result, all three cities have imposed new fees on ride-sharing as a result, and others are expected to follow suit.
  • The problem: Most riders don't carpool but instead ride alone, and multiple studies suggest that people are now less likely to use public transportation and instead opt for the convenience of an Uber. The bottom line: more cars on the road.

  • Consider Austin: When Uber and Lyft left Austin over new restrictions, daytime travel speeds increased by 3.4%, a study by a UC Berkeley grad student found, per Axios. The study calculates this value to be $61 million a year. However, the study found that in terms of value to drivers, it's a wash. "The consumer surplus enjoyed by [ride-share] passengers is of similar size to the time loss incident on incumbent drivers."
  • In San Fran: A study in Science Advances on the California city found that ride-sharing networks were the biggest cause (60%) of traffic slowdowns.
  • Not just the US: A study out of India also has bad news on the traffic front. "Our results offer strong confirmation for the thesis that ride-hailing services in fact increase levels of traffic congestion," the researchers write in an essay at Fortune. "This finding is evidenced by shorter traffic delays when Ola [another company] and Uber are off the roads during [ride-sharing] strikes." Traffic delays were reduced by almost 7% in Mumbai and close to 5% in Delhi, which the researchers call "highly statistically significant."
  • The response: Uber and Lyft now acknowledge they contribute to congestion, notes the Journal, but they say the effects have been exaggerated in some studies. The companies say they've begun incorporating public transportation into their apps and have added services such as scooters and bikes.
(More Uber stories.)

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