Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft can do a great job of reducing the number of cars on the road, cutting both emissions and congestion, right? Maybe not so much, according to some of the most detailed research ever on the subject, conducted by investigators at the University of California Davis.
“Ride-hailing companies promised they would help people shed their income-sucking, space-wasting private autos and generally lower each person’s VMT, or vehicle miles traveled,” CityLab writes. The sobering reality: “The likes of Uber and Lyft are adding car trips to city and suburban streets, and in many cases, cannibalizing transit.”
The researchers surveyed 4,000 urban and suburban users of such services in seven U.S. cities—Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC—between 2014 and 2016.
They found, CityLab notes, that “the demographics of ride-hailing are pretty much what you’d expect: ‘College-educated, affluent Americans have adopted ride-hailing services at double the rate of less-educated, lower-income populations.’” The main plus to ride-hailing, cited by 37% of respondents: not having to find parking space. Closely followed by, they had been drinking.
“But arguably the most important finding in the study,” the urban-focused blog writes, “is that, absent a ride-hailing option, between 49% and 61% of trips either wouldn’t have been made at all, or would have been accomplished via transit, bike, or foot.”
Those findings buttress others reported earlier this year by researchers at the University of Colorado, suggesting car-hailing services succeed in large part by cannibalizing more efficient modes like transit, biking, and walking.
Throw in the number of “deadheading” miles that Uber and Lyft drivers stack up between passengers on top of such “mode substitution,” and, the UC Davis researchers conclude, “ride-hailing is likely adding vehicle miles traveled to transportation systems in major cities.”