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While ride-sharing has been credited with being more environmentally friendly than taxis and private vehicles, a new study reportedly found that the cars driven by contractors from companies like Uber and Lyft actually increase congestion and reduce transit use. Researchers at the Future Urban Mobility (FM) Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) at Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT, and Tongji University conducted the first-of-its-kind study.
In the U.S., Uber accounts for 69% of the ride-hailing market, while Lyft accounts for a significant 29%.
In a paper titled “Impacts of transportation network companies on urban mobility,” the researchers assessed three aspects of how ride-sharing impacts urban mobility in the U.S.: road congestion, public transport ridership, and private vehicle ownership — and how they have evolved over time.
“While public transportation provides high-efficiency shared services, it can only accommodate a small portion of commuters, as their coverage is limited in most places,” Jinhua Zhao, SMART FM principal investigator and associate professor at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, reportedly explained. “While mathematical models in prior studies showed that the potential benefit of on-demand shared mobility could be tremendous, our study suggests that translating this potential into actual gains is much more complicated in the real world.”
In their results, the researchers found the entrance of both Lyft and Uber’s ride-hailing services led to increased road congestion in terms of both intensity and duration. Specifically, they noted that congestion increased by almost 1%, while the duration of congestion rose by 4.5%. They also found a 8.9% drop in public transport ridership and an insignificant decrease of only 1% in private vehicle ownership.
The study also found that easy access to ride-sharing discourages commuters from taking “greener alternatives,” like walking or public transportation. The survey data from various cities throughout the country actually reportedly showed that approximately half of ride-hailing trips would otherwise have been made by walking, cycling, public transport, or would not have been made at all.
As explained by Hui Kong, SMART-FM alumna and postdoc at the MIT Urban Mobility Lab, and an author of the paper: “Our research shows that over time [Transport network companies] TNC’s have intensified urban transport challenges and road congestion in the United States, mainly through the extended duration and slightly through the increased intensity.”
The researchers think that the substantial miles traveled without a passenger, known as deadheading miles, by TNC’s could contribute to their negative impact on road congestion. According to some other studies, approximately 40.8% of TNC miles are deadheading miles.
Though the ridesharing side of the aforementioned app companies’ business was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber’s began rebounding at the start of 2021. The company’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said Uber was recovering more quickly than taxis and transit, and is gaining new riders. “As markets come back, we’re seeing social-use cases come back, up 100% year over year,” he said.
As vaccination rates increase and different parts of the U.S. start to reopen, customer spending on Uber and Lyft increased 30% from Feb. to Mar. Uber reportedly said that total monthly bookings, including food delivery and passenger service, reached an all-time high in Mar. This is a sign that demand is increasing again, but drivers haven’t returned in the same numbers. Both Uber and Lyft are facing severe driver shortages as the demand for rides has started to rise again.
Because of this, Uber announced it will distribute a $250 million “stimulus” fund over the next few months to both new and returning drivers in the form of temporary incentives and guarantees. Lyft, on the other hand, is offering bonuses of up to $800 for referring former drivers back to the app. The company is also reportedly covering the cost of rental cars and offering extra cash to drivers when a trip lasts longer than nine minutes