Uber makes traffic worse, not better

Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are part of a worrying transit trend.
Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are part of a worrying transit trend. AP

From an editorial in Friday’s Washington Post:

The disruptive effects of ride-hailing services are apparently not limited to traditional taxi companies. In a new transportation study from the University of California at Davis, researchers confirm what many urban officials already suspected – that bus and rail-system passengers are also being lured away by the ease and convenience of Uber and other such services.

That’s a worrying trend at a time when aging transit infrastructure is in desperate need of upgrades in a growing number of major cities. And it has prompted the nation’s first proposal, by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, D, to impose a fee dedicated to mass transit on ride-hailing trips.

The California researchers surveyed more than 2,000 people, including ride-hailing users and nonusers in those cities as well as their suburbs. They found that the new services are popular with wealthier and younger urban dwellers, and much less so with poorer and suburban ones. Moreover, their data suggested that half or more of all ride-hailing trips would not have been made at all, or would have been undertaken by foot, bicycle or transit, if not for the existence of services such as Uber or Lyft.

That means the car services, rather than alleviating traffic and the pollution it produces, may in fact be adding to it - another reason to ask ride-hailing companies to contribute something to help finance transit improvements.

Ride-hailing firm officials dispute these findings, pointing to previous studies that reached different conclusions; the California survey may not be the last word.

Nonetheless, it’s folly to ignore the growing evidence undercutting the common assumption that ride-hailing apps are an unalloyed boon that alleviates congestion.