One would think that ferrying people to and from their locations might reduce traffic rather than make it worse. However, in a recent analysis by Fehr & Peers, which was spearheaded by Uber and Lyft, traffic congestion seemed to have gotten worse — at least in six major city centers of the United States.
What does this mean for the two ridesharing giants and their drivers that keep their companies moving? Ultimately, it might mean a traffic congestion tax might be on the horizon.
Traffic since 2008…
To get a clear picture of the impact of both Uber and Lyft, we need to take a look at the not-so-distant past.
Traffic is one of those stats that people would think is always on the rise, particularly in America. Well, after the 2008 collapse and the eventual recession that followed, traffic in most city centers was actually down. Then came Uber and Lyft in the early part of the decade. With their great income-opportunity, many have taken the bait and signed up to become an Uber or Lyft driver.
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Ever since 2013, it appears that traffic has risen steadily. Now, we can’t put that all squarely on the shoulders of Uber and Lyft. As the economy recovered and grew, so too did urban people’s ability to own and operate a vehicle. Additionally, it’s quite easy to acquire a vehicle for rideshare without purchasing one. But, what about the promise that Uber and Lyft would help to reduce traffic?
Did Uber and Lyft actually promise to reduce traffic?
The short answer is no. However, they did advertise fairly heavily along said lines. In reality, it doesn’t matter what they promised, it matters that they actually have perpetuated the problem of traffic. However, what is their share of the blame?
How much of the problem are Uber and Lyft contributing?
Overall the two ridesharing firms are not contributing as much as one might think, as Chris Pangilinan, Uber’s head of global policy for public transportation stated:
“although TNCs are likely contributing to an increase in congestion, its scale is dwarfed by that of private cars and commercial traffic.”
We’ve all been on the road, some of us in the major city centers that are highlighted in the analysis, and we’ve seen the real culprits of traffic congestion. Commercial and personal vehicles are the primary problem.
Boston, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C were the cities highlighted in the analysis. According to the data, which leaves New York City oddly absent, TNCs like Uber and Lyft are only contributing around one to three percent. From an outside perspective that isn’t all that bad, right?
Wrong! In core areas of the city, it’s actually making it worse.
This actually pertains to the core downtown or urban city center.
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In the surrounding areas reflected in the analysis, ride-hailing contributed very little, but inside the city’s downtown region the numbers spiked to anywhere from 7% to 13%. But do the numbers truly reflect ridesharing drivers as the issue? The answer is utterly unclear.
The analysis remains unclear
Variables such as rider preference for ridesharing apps over public transportation or carpooling models may skew certain results. With so many factors piling on data set after data set in a city’s VMT, the metric used to calculate combined mileage contributions within a city. Despite the unclear data regulators are sure to grip their clammy taxing hands on Uber and Lyft, soon.
What does this mean for drivers?
One only has to look at regulations passed in New York City as of late, where a congestion fee is charged to drivers entering downtown. Drivers should be aware that as traffic congestion worsens, there may be a fee for entering certain zones to retrieve or drop off passengers. Is this fair? Not particularly, considering that in most of the cities analyzed in the study, personal vehicles were the primary culprit accumulating up to 90% of the VMT in some cases.
Ultimately, Uber and Lyft want congestion fees, why?
It is yet another way for them to skimp a few coins here and there off both the rider and the driver. Remember when Uber switch from a multiplier surge to a flat rate surge?
Drivers who enter a potential congestion zone would have to pay a premium to accept rides. Lyft and Uber have both admitted that part of the strategy moving forward is to combat traffic congestion with models like the one in New York City.
Will you still drive in downtown areas if they implement a congestion fee?
Will you still want to drive for Uber or Lyft? This is a question that many drivers will have to tackle if they drive in a larger urban center. We want to hear from you! Would congestion fees deter you from accessing the heavy demand centers or would it present an opportunity? Only time will tell us whether or not this will help or hurt the driver.