Despite promises that car services like Lyft and Uber would lead to less cars on the streets, some studies have suggested the opposite is happening, the Colorado Public News Radio reports. According to studies cities like Denver’s roads are more congested because people are opting to use these services instead of the bus, subway, riding their bike or walking.
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These findings came from a doctoral dissertation that Alejandro Henao, a civil engineer from the University of Colorado Denver, wrote in January 2017. The survey concluded the apps were taking riders away from public transit, walking or biking.
Riders choosing Uber and Lyft instead of public transportation could simply be a timesaving measure. In Denver, a solo drive takes a little more than 26 minutes, compared to approximately 49 minutes on public transit, according to Governing.com’s commute data.
Possibly complicating matters further, Uber now offers a service called Express Pool, a less expensive Uber ride where the user walks to a pre-determined location and is dropped at a convenient spot that Uber selects that’s within walking distance of where the user wants to go. This service is also seen as competing directly with mass transit.
Uber and Lyft have argued these claims however. The companies state that they complement public transit. In Boston for example, the ride-hailing companies connect riders to spots like Logan Airport and South Station. Since the companies haven’t released their own data about rides, the only information about the topic available is that from outside researchers.
And the impact of all those cars is becoming clear, said Christo Wilson, a professor of computer science at Boston’s Northeastern University, who has looked at Uber’s practice of surge pricing during heavy volume.
In late 2017, a study that surveyed 944 ride-hailing users for four weeks in the Boston area revealed about six in 10 people said they would have used public transportation, walked rode their bike or not gone on the trip if Uber or Lyft weren’t available. The report also found many riders do not use their Uber or Lyft ride to connect to a public ride, but as its own mode of transit, according to Alison Felix, one of the reports authors.
“Ride sharing is pulling from and not complementing public transportation,” she said.
Uber founder Travis Kalanick suggested the opposite in 2015 when he stated his company envisioned a world where there’s no traffic in Boston in five years.
Henao’s dissertation came to two other conclusions. First, even when Uber and Lyft cars are empty, they are still taking up space on the road. If an app user needed to go five miles, the driver might have to drive three or four miles just to pick up the rider, which is not an efficient travel mode. The Brookings Institution estimated in 2014 that there were approximately 4,680 Uber and Lyft drivers in the Denver metro area, and Henao said if his calculations could be replicated across the U.S. the ride-hailing companies could be adding 5.5 billion extra miles of use to U.S. roads annually.
Henao believes Uber and Lyft could be more efficient if more passengers choose their carpool options—UberPool and Lyft Line. However, his data suggested many people will chose the carpool options because they’ll save money and it’s unlikely another passenger will join them before their ride is finished.
The other conclusion from Henao’s study was many survey takers said avoiding the parking hassle was on the top reasons they choose to use Uber and Lyft. This means if less people park downtown, cities won’t need as many lots and parking garages.
“Parking is going to change significantly with autonomous vehicle and is starting to change with Uber and Lyft,” Henao told CPR.
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