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What We’re Reading: Ride hailing trends – A cause for concern or an area of opportunity?

Uber ride-hailing passenger, Toronto

Over the past five years, transportation network companies (TNCs) have emerged as dominant forces that are drastically changing the transportation landscape. Now that they’ve been around long enough, people are beginning to pull together data on just how much TNCs such as Uber and Lyft affect communities.

A recent working paper from University of California, Davis’ Institute for Transportation Studies paints one of the more comprehensive pictures of the new services’ effects on transportation behaviors. The data collected suggests that TNCs have contributed to increased emissions in communities rather than cut them down. These services are causing there to be more cars on the road and more vehicle miles traveled.

In addition, TNCs have eaten into public transit ridership, with potential passengers electing to hail a car rather than take the bus or train. Research released in an article in Quartz states that “roughly half of ride-hailing trips would have been made by walking, biking, or public transit – or simply not made at all.”  This trend is also shown in a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency survey where commuters have reported marginal growth in active and public transportation, but ride-hailing companies have seen a 20 percent rise in use over the past five years. The lost fare box revenue from increased passenger desertion can impact the amount of money available to fund the system, and could cause a spiral of worsening service.

Public safety and complete streets are also at risk, with recent research by the San Francisco Police Department finding that ride-hailing cars were the cause of a majority of the city’s traffic violations. The research analyzed traffic violations from April 1 through June 30 of this year and discovered that nearly two thirds (1,723/2,656) of citations were for ride-hailing drivers. In response to this, the mayor’s office has discussed a potential pilot program that would designate specific pick up/drop off points in high traffic areas. Washington, DC has recently implemented a year long pilot after facing similar issues that includes a temporary street redesign that removes parking spots in a high volume downtown nightlife area to improve traffic flow and increase pedestrian safety.

As we see the reach of ride hailing continue to expand, we can expect to see even more cities and towns look at ways in which to address and limit their potential negative impacts.

Other side of the coin

In light of these new studies, it is also important to look at what these trends mean for mobility.

On top of their convenience factor, TNCs can fill in mobility gaps where traditional transit doesn’t reach. Ride-hailing services have developed a wide set of partnerships with the health care industry to improve access for people in transportation deserts, and Liberty Mobility Now is developing service to connect communities in rural spaces that lack any options at all.

In some ways, TNCs’ rising popularity can actually help transit. For example, Chicago is considering a tax on ride-hailing that would fund public transit services. Uber and Lyft have come out in support of the measure, and if it works, it could potentially balance out or even integrate the two separate models for the benefit of the community.

Los Angeles is considering adopting the TNC model within its public transit system.  The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority has just released a request for proposals to build a publicly funded microtransit service that connects people to the county’s fixed routes, leveraging the ability of ride-hailing to extend the traditional network’s reach and improve access for residents.

Image Credit: BeyondDC, Flickr, CC

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Alex King

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This post was written by on November 2, 2017 12:30 pm

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