Ride-hailing companies really ARE making traffic worse, study confirms

The same companies making it easier to hail a cab are making it harder for riders to arrive at their destinations on time, says a new study on the traffic effects of major ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

In an analysis published in Science Advances, researchers looked at millions of rides in the city of San Francisco that took place between 2010 and 2016 — pre and post Uber and Lyft — paying close attention to traffic factors like the number of vehicle miles traveled and how many of those trips experienced delays.

To rule out other influences, the researchers also accounted for other factors known to affect traffic and congestion like construction, population, employment, and car ownership. 

What they found was that even with those factors accounted for, the introduction of companies like Uber and its kin not only increase the number of vehicles on the road, but also correlated to significant delays for motorists.

Specifically, they say the without the introduction of the companies, the number of delayed travel hours would have risen 22 percent over the six years analyzed. With their introduction, however, that increase jumped to 62 percent.

Likewise, an increase in the amount of mile traveled jumped from 12 percent projected in their absence to 30 percent. 

While Uber and Lyft have been less-than-forthcoming with data regarding travel times and other key driving metrics, researchers were able to analyze rides be developing their own software.

The program uses Uber and Lyft’s publicly available API’s to look at car’s in the city and scrape travel data, including when a passenger is picked up and dropped off.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Uber and Lyft were involved in about 170,000 trips in San Francisco on an average weekday, accounting for as much as 25 percent of the rides during peak hours in some neighborhoods. 

For denizens of San Francisco, the findings may seem to corroborate the obvious — last year a study named San Francisco in the top five worst commutes in the world — but when compared next to Uber and Lyft’s  rhetoric regarding their role in urban traffic, the results run counter.

By introducing options like UberPool and LyftPool, which group together multiple riders in one trip, companies have often claimed that their platforms will help to mitigate congestion by taking drivers off the road.

In a statement following the roll out of Uber Pool in New Jersey, Ana Mahony, general manager for the companies operations in the state, said the move will ease congestion.

‘Over time, we believe uberPOOL will mean less traffic congestion for New Jersey and help reduce the need for private car ownership,’ said Mahony in a statement from 2016.

An analysis of Uber and Lyft’s impact focused on New Jersey’s neighbors in New York City, however, show that the companies entrance into the city has caused a significant increase in the amount of vehicles on the road between 2013 and 2016. 

Last year, a host of other studies on major urban centers like Boston and Chicago also corroborated those results. 

As a result of the popularity of Uber and Lyft regulators have been forced to grapple with new means of mitigating congestion.

In a recent move, New York City became the first-ever American city to pass a congestion pricing law that will charge motorists for traveling during peak hours. The law aims to reduce traffic and raise money that can fund public transit.  

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