Tag Archives: Uber

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Credit: Pixabay.

Uber and Lyft may have actually made traffic worse in San Francisco

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Credit: Pixabay.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Credit: Pixabay.

Because they have the potential to reduce our reliance on private cars, ride-sharing apps such as Uber or Lyft intuitively sound like they could solve traffic congestion problems by removing vehicles from the road. But, in reality, things aren’t that simple. According to a new study, ride-sharing might actually make traffic worse in some cities. In San Francisco, for instance, researchers found that these services increased delays by 62% between 2010 and 2016 compared to 22% in a counterfactual 2016 scenario without such services.

Transportation network companies (TNCs) are on-demand ride services where rides are arranged through a mobile app to connect the passenger with the driver of a personal vehicle. In the future, many believe that TNCs will evolve into fleets of self-driving cars that will ferry passengers around the clock.

TNCs have massively grown in their use, accounting for 15% of all intra-San Francisco vehicle trips in 2016 — that’s 12 times the number of taxi trips. Elsewhere, in New York City, TNC ridership equaled that of yellow cabs and doubled annually between 2014 and 2016.

Ride-sharing is often hailed as a solution to traffic congestion problems that plague virtually all major cities around the globe. TNCs may reduce road traffic by shifting trips from personal vehicle to public transit by providing better connections to regional public transportation. Ride-sharing is also a convenient alternative to owning a car, motivating individuals to shift other trips to transit or non-motorized modes (walking, bike, etc.).

However, there are other mechanisms by which ride-sharing might increase traffic congestion. The most obvious contributor is deadheading or the out-of-service period a vehicle has to spend with no passenger. Studies estimate that deadheading is responsible for 50% of TNC traveled miles in New York and 20% in San Francisco. It is also reasonable to believe that many people who would have used public transportation, walked, traveled by bike, or would have made no movement at all are now contributing to traffic congestion by using TNCs because it is so convenient. Finally, TNCs contribute to congestion during the frequent pickups and drop-offs that they have to make — for instance, this behavior causes similar effects to those seen in areas that traditionally rely heavily on taxis.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority wanted to address this debate by comparing traffic congestion in San Francisco with and without the presence of ride-sharing apps in the city. To this aim, they scraped data from the application programming interfaces of Uber and Lyft, along with observational travel times. This allowed the authors to gauge the effect of TNCs on San Francisco’s traffic between 2010 conditions when TNC activity is negligible and 2016 conditions when it is not.

Daily TNC pickups and drop-offs for an average Wednesday in fall 2016 ( Darker colors represent a higher density of TNC activity). Credit: Science Advances.

Daily TNC pickups and drop-offs for an average Wednesday in fall 2016 (
Darker colors represent a higher density of TNC activity). Credit: Science Advances.

In order to exclude other non-TNC factors that contribute to traffic congestion, the authors turned to San Francisco’s travel demand model (SF-CHAMP), which produces estimates of traffic volumes on all roads in San Francisco and is sensitive to changes in population and demographics, employment, transportation networks, and congestion. The version of the model used in this study was calibrated for 2010 conditions, providing a counterfactual case where ride-sharing doesn’t exist.

The results suggest that Uber and Lyft are helping drive more traffic congestion rather than unclogging it. The researchers found that ride-sharing services made delays 62% worse, compared to a 22% increase in travel delays in the scenario where there are no TNCs. The average speed of on-road vehicles decreased by 13% due to TNCs but only 4% in the counterfactual model. Finally, commuters now have to use a longer buffer time to make sure they arrive at their destination on time because travel duration is less reliable overall. According to the findings, this buffer is now 15% higher compared to the natural 6% increase where Uber and Lyft don’t exist.

“The results show some substitution between TNCs and other car trips, but that most TNC trips are adding new cars to the road. The estimated models show that TNC vehicles stopping at the curb to pick up or drop off passengers have a notable disruptive effect on traffic flow, especially on major arterials,” the authors wrote in Science Advances

The authors say that their findings should be of interest to policy makers and transportation planners who are interested in regulating TNCs in the best interest of the general public of San Francisco. Some solutions include allocating curb spaces and right-of-ways for ride-sharing vehicles and integrating new mobility services.


Parking lot.

Uber-like services can reduce demand for parking — so let’s use the lots for something better

Our increasing appetite for car-sharing and ride-hailing services are driving parking demand into the ground, new research from the University of Colorado Denver reports. I can’t help but feel happy about that.

Parking lot.

Image credits Harut Movsisyan.

Parking lots — a necessary evil, or an evil necessity? Judging by a new paper published in The Journal of Transportation and Land Use, the part about them being a ‘necessity’ is rapidly decreasing — at least in America — as people increasingly leave their cars at home in favor ride sharing and ride-hailing services.

Driving? Gods no!

“We wanted to understand how these new services, Uber and Lyft, are impacting a city in regards to how people shift travel behavior, overall congestion and changes in landscape,” said lead author Alejandro Henao, former CU Denver PhD student and current mobility researcher with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Americans are relying on these services more than ever before, the paper unsurprisingly found. Something most of us probably didn’t expect, however, is that people are willing to pay someone to drive them around even if this would cost more than driving themselves. “Parking stress is a key reason respondents chose not to drive,” the paper explains, and I empathize deeply with that statement.

The study concludes that parking demand is pushing people to opt for ride-hailing services which, in turn, drives down the demand for (and value of) parking spots. This is most evident at restaurants and bars, event venues, and airports. The shift is also reducing our cities’ dependency on cars.

Rethinking parking

The authors say the findings should prompt us to reconsider the current pattern of parking infrastructure. Given its diminished use, and thus value, most of this infrastructure can be replaced with things we actually want and need in our cities — such as parks, plazas, or other elements that make cities vibrant and enjoyable to live in.

One of the authors’ previous papers looked at the impact of ridesharing services on today’s transportation systems. It found that ride-hailing increased deadheading (drivers circulating around without passengers), congestion, and total vehicle miles traveled. At the same time, these services lure passengers away from more sustainable travel options like walking, biking, or public transportation. Not the prettiest picture. However, they also suspected that parking may be one area where ride-hailing had a beneficial effect.

Due to a lack of public data from ride-hailing companies — as well as tenuous cooperation when courts have ordered them to share, the paper notes — the authors had to take matters into their own hands. So, in the fall of 2016, Henao took to the streets of Metro Denver at the wheel of a 2015 Honda Civic, for 14 days, as an Uber and Lyft driver.

“I just don’t want to look for parking space”

City parked cars.

Can’t blame them.
Image via Pixabay.

He logged a few hundred rides during this time and gathered 311 surveys from his passengers. Henao also compiled a “driver dataset,” containing the GPS tracking, date, time of day, travel time, travel distance, the reason for travel of the rides he performed, and whether parking was a reason his passengers left their cars at home. This data, combined with ethnographic research and further customer interviews, allowed the team to assess the shift in parking demand and how much of that was contributed to parking stress.

The team says that 26.4% of Uber/Lyft riders would have driven and needed a parking space if the services did not exist. On the one hand, these services replaced more sustainable forms of transportation by almost a third, roughly 30% of respondents said they enable them to drive less. Parking stress was the second-most cited reason for people not driving their personal car — even if, the researchers estimate, the relative time and cost of parking were negligible compared to the cost of their ride.

“We found that the stress of the uncertainty of finding a parking spot downtown was enough to discourage people from driving themselves and made them willing to pay more to avoid it,” said Wes Marshall, associate professor in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, and the paper’s co-author.

The findings could help cities set parking rates and manage supply and demand. Henao said cities should rethink and better manage curb space by allocating more space to walking, biking, and transit, while monetizing car trips (private cars as well as ride-hailing) to meet sustainable goals. Some airports are already charging a pick-up and drop-off fee for the curb space allotted to ride-hailing companies, allowing them to collect revenue lost to parking, he adds.

“Historically, cities have relied upon parking minimums,” said Marshall. “But too much parking is just as bad as — if not worse than — too little parking. Parking lots don’t make for great places. If you are a city, you’d see more bang for the buck from another land use, and having options like ride-hailing available should make doing so easier.”

“We need to make the technology fit our cities, not the other way around,” said Marshall. “If we focus on the fundamentals of walking and biking, the city will be livable on a human scale, and the technology will adapt to that.”

The paper “The impact of ride hailing on parking (and vice versa)” has been published in The Journal of Transportation and Land Use.