Author Topic: Uber And Lyft Are Making Traffic Worse While Claiming To Fix It  (Read 36 times)

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Uber And Lyft Are Making Traffic Worse While Claiming To Fix It
« on: November 01, 2018, 10:56:07 PM »
The ride-hailing companies want you to think they’re reducing congestion and promoting public transit. Their actions tell a different story.

"They’re deliberately redesigning themselves to compete with public transport,” said Bruce Schaller, a former Deputy Commissioner for the New York City Department of Transportation and the author of a series of studies on ride-sharing. “That means millions of people swapping efficient transport for inefficient transport, and a lot more empty seats driving around cities.”


Uber, which did not respond to requests to comment for this article, has made similar public statements. The company’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, said earlier this year that “The great goal is getting rid of car ownership.” Spokeswoman Alix Anfang told USA Today in February that “Uber’s long-term goal is to end the reliance on personal vehicles and allow a mix of public transportation and services like Uber.”

But both companies’ core products and strategies contradict their respective accounts. Earlier this year, Uber launched “Express Pool,” a service that allows users to catch ride-share vehicles along common routes for just $2 — a price and service nearly identical to a bus route. Lyft’s similar “Shuttle” service is only available during commute hours, the time of day when roads are busiest and the company is most likely to compete with public transit.

Both companies describe their relationships with public transit agencies as “partnerships,” but in reality look more like replacements. In Summit, New Jersey, for example, city leaders are providing subsidized Lyft rides to the commuter train station ― funding that could have been spent on a shuttle service, expanded bus routes or other incentives for local residents to walk or bike to the station.  Five cities in central Florida have experimented with giving up on public transit altogether in favor of funding Uber rides, a policy almost certain to put more miles of driving on the road.

“I don’t believe the math that says Lyft can be efficient doing zillions of one- to two-mile trips to transit stops,” Walker said. “Short trips are inefficient and drivers don’t like them. Ever taken a taxi to a transit station and had the driver pitch you on taking you all the way to your destination? What Lyft wants us to imagine just doesn’t align with their profit motive.”

And public transit agencies aren’t the ride-hailing companies’ only partnerships. In nine cities and one state, Uber uses WageWorks to let employees spend their pre-tax income on UberPool rides — a benefit that only applies to commuters and is designed around the destinations and times of day most likely to add to congestion. Uber also works with Getaround, a service that allows car owners to rent out their vehicles when they’re not in use ― and encourages car ownership. Even the company’s marketing undermines mass transit: A 2016 ad depicted a woman on a train platform with the text, “You can’t miss an Uber.”

Other efforts to reduce car dependency have the same superficiality. Earlier this year, Lyft launched the “Ditch Your Car Challenge,” a rewards program for city residents who pledged to give up driving for a month. The company’s founder described it as a “concerted effort to jolt Americans out of their comfort zones and persuade them to give up the convenience of personal car ownership.” Behind the grand rhetoric, however, the program was only available once, to 50 people per city, and appears to have brought back more in earned media than the company spent subsidizing shared rides.

Then there are the numbers. Lyft claims to have enticed 250,000 people to give up their cars in 2017, but that figure is based on a customer survey for which the company has released only a two-sentence methodology. Uber’s claim that it saved more than 315 million global vehicle miles in 2017 is similarly unsupported.   

When pressed on these discrepancies, Uber and Lyft often point to their political advocacy as an example of their efforts to reduce car ownership and urban congestion. Uber recently announced a $10 million effort to promote congestion pricing — a fee for drivers entering cities’ most gridlocked areas. Lyft has supported similar efforts, and Matthews pointed to the company’s campaigns to replace parking spots with driver pickup areas as examples of its advocacy to reduce traffic.

As Schaller pointed out, however, these policies substantially benefit the ride-hailing companies. “It’s a way of getting fewer vehicles on the street and deflecting other forms of regulation,” he said. Congestion pricing would discourage other limits on ride-hailing such as New York’s recently passed cap on Uber and Lyft vehicles. It would also charge drivers to enter cities but not to take short trips within them, a structure that benefits taxi companies (and encourages rides on scooters and e-bikes, another sector both companies are investing in).

Uber and Lyft’s campaigns to replace parking spaces with ride-hailing spots are even more directly beneficial. Neither company appears to have ever advocated for the removal of car lanes in favor of space for pedestrians, cyclists or public transit. While Lyft participated in an effort to improve the flow of traffic on Valencia Street in San Francisco, its contributions appear aimed at expanding loading zones and improving its drop-off and pickup times. While it’s no surprise that ride-hailing companies lobby for their interests, these efforts seem less about reducing car dependency than simply swapping one form of it for another.

Which is why, Schaller said, policymakers need to step in. As ride-sharing grows and traffic continues to worsen, city leaders need to encourage functioning, efficient, sustainable transit systems. Uber and Lyft, as profit-making enterprises, won’t be compatible with those aims.

The most profitable way to operate in cities, Schaller said, is by swarming the neighborhoods and times of day that are already the most congested. “Uber is doing an IPO in 2019,” he said. “It’s unlikely that they’re going to go green and undercut their profits.”

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