Sun, Mar 04, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Ride-hailing might be replacing public transport in US cities

One study found that San Francisco ride-hailing drivers made about 12 times as many trips as taxis, raising concerns that they are not taking cars off the road

By Steve LeBlanc  /  AP, BOSTON, Massachusetts

One promise of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft was that fewer cars would clog city streets, but studies suggest the opposite: Ride-hailing companies are pulling riders off buses, subways, bicycles and their own feet, and putting them in cars instead. In what could be a new wrinkle, a service by Uber called Express Pool now is seen as directly competing with mass transit.

Uber and Lyft argue that in Boston, for instance, they complement public transit by connecting riders to hubs like Logan Airport and South Station. However, they have not released their own specific data about rides, leaving studies up to outside researchers.

The impact of all those cars is now becoming clear, said Christo Wilson, a Northeastern University professor of computer science who has looked at Uber’s practice of “surge pricing” during heavy traffic.

“The emerging consensus is that ride-sharing [is] increasing congestion,” Wilson said.

One study included surveys of 944 ride-hailing users over the span of four weeks late last year in the Boston area.

Nearly six in 10 said that they would have used public transportation, walked, biked or skipped the trip if the ride-hailing apps were not available.

The report also found that many riders are not using hailed rides to connect to a subway or bus line, but instead as a separate mode of transit, coauthor Alison Felix said.

“Ride sharing is pulling from and not complementing public transportation,” she said.

That is not quite what Uber founder Travis Kalanick suggested in 2015, when he said: “We envision a world where there’s no more traffic in Boston in five years.”

A study released in December said that large increases in the number of taxis and ride-sharing vehicles are contributing to slow traffic in Manhattan’s central business district.

It recommended policies to prevent further increases in “the number of vacant vehicles occupied only by drivers waiting for their next trip request.”

In San Francisco, a study released in June found that on a typical weekday, ride-hailing drivers make more than 170,000 vehicle trips, about 12 times the number of taxi trips, and that the trips are concentrated in the densest and most congested parts of the city.

A survey released in October of more than 4,000 adults in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington also said that 49 to 61 percent of ride-hailing trips would not have been made at all — or instead would have been made walking, biking or using public transit — if the option did not exist.

The Boston study said that the main reason people opt for ride-hailing is speed and even those with a public transit pass would drop it for ride-hailing, despite the higher cost.

Boston University graduate student Sarah Wu uses Uber less than once a week, but more often if she has guests. She lives near a metro line, but will opt for Uber if it looks like public transit will be a hassle.

“I would prefer to have the Uber take me there directly, rather than having to transfer several times and wait at a bus stop,” said Wu, who does not own a car.

A spokesman for Lyft said that ride-hailing could reduce the number of personally-owned cars on the roads.

“Lyft is focused on making personal car ownership optional by getting more people to share a ride, helping to reduce car ownership and partnering with public transportation,” company spokesman Adrian Durbin said in a statement.

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