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Ride-sharing services could be making city traffic worse

A new report finds that the growth of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft could be making traffic congestion worse, especially in large US cities. How can cities find the balance?


Many ride-hail operators claim that they help to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. However, a new report from consultant Bruce Schaller finds that services such as Uber and Lyft put 2.8 new vehicle miles on the road for each mile of personal driving they remove, adding up to an overall 180 percent increase in driving on city streets.

Trading off miles

The analysis suggests that about 60 percent of ride-hail users in large, dense cities would have taken public transportation, walked, biked or not made the trip at all if these services had not been available, while 40 percent would have used their own car or a regular taxi.

Further, shared ride services such as UberPOOL, Uber Express and Lyft Shared Ride are not necessarily helping either because most users switch from ‘non-auto’ modes. There is potentially added mileage between trips as drivers wait for the next dispatch and then drive to a pick-up location, and even in a shared ride, some of the trip involves just one passenger (e.g. between the first and second pick-up).

The report calculates that pool services add 2.6 new miles of driving for each mile of personal driving removed.

Autonomous vehicles

According to Schaller, autonomous vehicles are also on course to create more car use, more traffic and less use of public transportation, if unchecked.

The report concludes: “New mobility has much to offer cities: convenience, flexibility, on-demand technology and a nimbleness to search for the fit between new services and inadequately served markets.”

However, it warns: “Development of ride services must take place within a public policy framework that harnesses their potential to serve the goals of mobility, safety, equity and environmental sustainability. Without public policy intervention, big American cities are likely to be overwhelmed with more automobility, more traffic and less transit.”

Eyes on the prize

Schaller recommends that cities consider trip fees, congestion pricing, bus lanes and traffic signal timing interventions to manage the congestion generated by increasing ride-hailing journeys.

Further, the report urges cities to remain focused on a more far-reaching, overall goal: less traffic.

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