New studies suggest that instead of clearing traffic congestion, ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft are actually causing it.
Ride-hailing companies got popular on the promise they’d eliminate traffic congestion. People wouldn’t need to buy cars if they can just get a ride from a helpful neighbor looking to make an extra buck being an unregulated taxi service. Uber founder Travis Kalanick back in 2015 said, "We envision a world where there's no more traffic in Boston in five years."
But that turns out to not be true. According to recent studies, Uber and Lyft are having the exact opposite effect and actually contributing to urban road congestion. And they’re doing it by taking people off of public transport and into cars.
Uber and Lyft don’t release any data, so other institutions are forced to gather their own. “The emerging consensus is that ride-sharing [is] increasing congestion," said Christo Wilson, a professor of computer science at Boston's Northeastern University and expert on ridesharing apps.
A recent study in Boston surveyed 944 ride-hailing users over a period of four weeks and found that six out of 10 would have walked or used public transportation if ride-hailing apps didn’t exist. It also found that rather than connect ride-hailing users to existing public transportation hubs they bypassed public transportation altogether.
"Ridesharing is pulling from and not complementing public transportation," said Alison Felix, one of the report's authors.
Boston isn’t alone. A similar study released last December found that increased numbers of ride-sharing cars, as well as taxis, contributed to the increase in congestion in Manhattan’s financial district.
A study in San Francisco released last June found that ride-hailing drivers make up over 170,000 vehicle trips—12 times the number of taxi trips—-and those trips took place in the densest and most congested parts of the city.
And another survey from last October found that 49 to 61 percent of ride-hailing trips would have either never been made or done via non-car transport if the app didn't exist. That survey used data from 4000 riders in Boston, Chicago, LA, NY, San Fran Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington DC.
The survey also found that the number one reason people use Uber and Lyft is for speed and convenience, two things that city public transport will have to improve if they want to compete.