One of the promises of ridesharing applications like Uber and Lyft has been that they will help increase vehicle occupancy levels and reduce congestion. However, it seems like the opposite is happening and they are actually making traffic worse. This from the Boston Globe:

One promise of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft was fewer cars clogging city streets. But studies suggest the opposite: that ride-hailing companies are pulling riders off buses, subways, bicycles and their own feet and putting them in cars instead.

And in what could be a new wrinkle, a service by Uber called Express Pool now is seen as directly competing with mass transit…

…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.

‘‘The emerging consensus is that ride-sharing [is] increasing congestion,’’ Wilson said.

One study included surveys of 944 ride-hailing users over four weeks in late 2017 in the Boston area. Nearly six in 10 said they would have used public transportation, walked, biked or skipped the trip if the ride-hailing apps weren’t available.

The report also found many riders aren’t using hailed rides to connect to a subway or bus line, but instead as a separate mode of transit, said Alison Felix, one of the report’s authors.

‘‘Ride sharing is pulling from and not complementing public transportation,’’ she said.

It’s not really surprising to see these results. After all, ridesharing applications are just another form of taxis, which have to travel a distance to pick you up, then transport you, and then reposition themselves for the next trip. While technically there’s more than one person in the car, potentially you might need many more vehicle kilometres for every actual kilometre the passenger needs to travel. In essence this is a vehicle occupancy rate of below 1.

And the Boston study is not alone:

A study released in December found that large increases in the number of taxis and ride-sharing vehicles are contributing to slow traffic in Manhattan’s central business district. It recommended policies to prevent further increases in ‘‘the number of vacant vehicles occupied only by drivers waiting for their next trip request.’’

In San Francisco, a study released in June found that on a typical weekday, ride-hailing drivers make more than 170,000 vehicle trips, about 12 times the number of taxi trips, and that the trips are concentrated in the densest and most congested parts of the city.

And a survey released in October of more than 4,000 adults in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C., also concluded that 49 to 61 percent of ride-hailing trips would have not been made at all — or instead by walking, biking or public transit — if the option didn’t exist.

Across most of the USA transit ridership is falling, with ridesharing often cited as one of the main reasons for this trend.


So far it seems that Auckland is avoiding this trend, with ridership continuing to grow. I do see more and more Uber vehicles driving around, so they must be having some impact on vehicle volumes and therefore congestion.

It makes me wonder whether a first step towards road pricing might be to have variable pricing for these types of trips, justified by the fact that they do require extra vehicle kilometres to shift each person. This type of pricing system may also encourage ridesharing to be focused in areas where traditional public transport struggled (e.g. low density outer urban areas) rather than in the more congested inner city where streetspace is at such a premium.

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      1. Vehicle occupancy for the purposes of a high occupancy lane rule is not the same as vehicle occupancy as a statistic for use in transport planning.

        For transport planning purposes we’re interested in the resources consumed per useful transport service provided.

        If parent takes child to soccer field then returns home alone, the child’s trip is a useful transport service, while the parent’s time is completely wasted. The vehicle occupancy for transport planning purposes, averaged over the return trip, should be called 0.5.

        It would be silly to say that increasing occupancy of vehicles by non-productive chauffeurs represents an improvement of transport system efficiency.

        1. Yes, and for the soccer example, there is often a sibling in the car having to come along for the ride, too, putting the apparent occupancy up at 3 when the reality is 0.5.

    1. Probably shouldn’t, but highly debatable & probably hard to enforce for Uber type cars not noticeable branded.

      This is also interesting from that link, wonder why the exception for motorcycles there?:
      Vehicles which can use priority lanes are:
      Motorcycles (except at the Grafton Road on-ramp southbound)

      1. good way for homeless people to earn a few extra bucks sitting in strangers vehicles so they can use HOV lanes.

  1. That’s a good suggestion, Matt, but by the time pricing comes in, habits of using these unregulated taxi services will be established. All other modes will all have suffered as a result, probably resulting in substandard decisions around infrastructure spend. I see no reason not to return to only allowing regulated taxi services. The regulations are there for safety and good labour practices.

    1. Most of the regulations are just there to ensure the taxi industry is hard to break into and the existing companies can continue to charge high prices. I’m not sure it really does a lot to enhance safety.

      While Uber has many faults, it has been a welcome challenge to some of the less necessary regulation.

      1. Jezza – You do know that Uber in NZ is on the same level as a taxi operation in NZ under the current NZTA regulations introduced Oct last year. There is no difference between a taxi driver and an Uber driver, except a taxi driver earns a bit more money than an Uber driver.

        1. In NZ, does an Uber driver have insurance for its customers?

          In some countries they are required to, in others it isn’t (Uber obviously prefers the latter and in the fine print, the customer bears the risk).

        2. Yes, I am aware of that, although I disagree they are on exactly the same level.

          The taxi industry did a very good job of lobbying government last year and have managed to protect their nice little money printing industry. One thing that was clear from the select committee hearings was that no MP had ever used Uber and most didn’t have a clue how it works.

          Uber’s solution has been to say we don’t own our cars, they are run by owner operators and if they choose to not follow the law it is their problem. Of course Uber quite like them not following the law as it keeps costs down.

        3. There is no difference between a taxi driver and a Uber driver. Both own their vehicles, are self employed and responsible for their own expenses and taxes. The only difference is, that a taxi driver is part of a ‘branded’ organisation like Co-op, Alert, etc, where an Uber driver is part of a non ‘branded’ organisation meaning an Uber driver’s vehicles have no branding on them.

          If you look an the overall structure of Uber globally, Uber is a technology company providing a ‘Customer to Business’ booking/payment platform like iHail, Airbnb, etc and is not a transport operator. Saying that, Uber in NZ had to be registered as a transport service operator, so NZ based Uber drivers can use Uber booking/payment platform, meaning a taxi driver and an Uber driver are the same.

          By the way, Blue Bubble taxis, NZ’s largest taxi brand, is now using iHail booking/payment platform providing a ‘Customer to Business’ booking/payment service the same as Uber.

  2. These findings should surprise no one.

    All Uber and Lyft are doing is casualising the taxi industry, as they go the usual route of “privatising the profits and socialising the risks”.

    However I do think we need more than a simple “surge price” solution to what is a complex issue of their road space use. But a special “congestion charge” for a few Uber drivers? Not going to do much at all. Too hard to enforce – when is the Uber driver “Ubering” versus being a private motorist? Do you levy them all the time even when they are just acting in their private capacity?

    But theres a wider issue.
    No one who looks at the way these companies work would expect that an Uber or Lyft ridesharing service is going to lower congestion rates.

    Those that don’t use PT now, generally won’t ride share in an Uber either for similar reasons. Expecting that Uber and co will magically make people want to share with other strangers? Extremely wishful thinking.

    Uber markets itself as a cheaper [and supposedly more secure/safer] “point to point” taxi service. the starting and ending “points” are not random street corners or train stations. They are invariably the starting and ending points of your entire journey. Not just a bit in the middle or at the ends.

    But just as the contract drivers that work for courier companies are finding, the cheaper price to the customer comes at a huge cost to many Uber drivers personally, and also with a much bigger societal cost. which is borne by all of us one way or the other. Whether as tax payers, rate payers, or just other road users.

    Whether you agree with the behaviour of Uber’s CEOs or their general corporate f*ck you attitude to the laws and rules of NZ and other countries they operate in or not. The reality is that they [and Lyft] are not the good corporate citizens they make out they are. No matter how much they pretend to be.

    Their moral/social license to operate is really pretty marginal at best. But they do provide an escape mechanism for cities in the US that are struggling with meaningful PT options. As Uber and Lyft “ridesharing” allows these cities to have a fig leaf of respectability to their residents and tax payers – by holding out the like of Lyft and Uber as “saviours” of PT.

    When the evidence has for a long time, indicated its anything but a saviour.

    We should not allow them to dominate either our PT or taxi industries – they can be part of the mix of transport offerings, but they cannot and should not be seen as other than a *small* part of a much bigger PT system.

    Just as we cannot have everyone driving everywhere. We cannot have everyone moving about using Ubers or Lfyts. Even if they all rideshare, the model is not (a) cost effective when all costs are counted and (b) not efficient use of the road space and (c) not sustainable.

    1. Uber and Lyft’s business models are to develop large userbases, running at a loss to undercut incumbents if need be, and then replace human-driven cars with self-driving cars. That’s why:
      – Neither company cares about its drivers since they’re just a temporary solution until self-driving cars become a thing.
      – Both companies run at a loss (cause they have to pay their drivers).
      – Both are heavily involved in the development of self-driving vehicle technology.

      Ridesharing is simply a precursor to self-driving vehicles. That’s why the arguments for/against each are almost exactly the same.

    2. hang on a minute, isn’t it you lot who were actually using the presence of Uber to argue for getting rid of minimum parking limits? how are people supposed to get where they want to go if they don’t have a car/garage?

      1. Good lord, how are people meant to get to where theywant to go if they don’t have a car/garage, indeed? We are born attached to cars and garages, we live attached to cars and garages, and we die attached to cars and garages.

        1. yes, unfortunately, in the real world not everybody is or will ever be near public transport that actually gets you where you want to go

        2. gert your comment is seriously stupid. Well done on making me snort some wine down the wrong way.

          Getting rid of minimum parking requirements has little to do with mode choice and increasing the use of alternatives. At least as it has been argued on this blog.

          Getting rid of minimims is instead about allowing people to use space efficiently. Minimums presume parking is the best way for society to use scarce urban space, when the economic evidence suggests otherwise.

          One consequence (side benefit) of removing minimums *may* be that parking prices rise, and in some cases this *may* drive mode shift, but the latter is not the purpose of the reforms.

          It is true that developments in ride share and autonomous vehicles highlight the stupidity of minimums in the medium to long run. Again however that’s an incidental point rather than the main logical meal.

          Now back to my wine …

        3. Lol Stu. “gert your comment is seriously stupid. Well done on making me snort some wine down the wrong way.”. Ps. Hopefully you are on the side of the world as your comment was posted 6:47am this morning?

  3. I think these ride share services, Uber and Zoomy here in NZ, are playing an important role in Auckland. All these service work in conjunction with other modes to reduce the real problem which is car ownership. If certain trips are not provided for, a multimodal transport system will fail as the personal vehicle will provide more freedom.

    Walking and cycling are very effective for short local trips. Public transport options (buses, trains, ferries) provide for busy routes. Rideshare services provide options for trips in the city when less flexible public transport options do not suffice.

    On top of ride share car share services offer access to a vehicle when it is required and allow users to conduct multistep and out-of-city trips. The fact is many journeys in New Zealand still require access to a vehicle. Our data at Yourdrive show that car share users are also prolific ride share and PT users. these are the people that have foregone car ownership and are driving far less than average.

    There many be some empty trips as driver waits for there next ride but my view is the benefit of easily getting where you need to go with out car ownership outweighs that. Data in Auckland shows a fall VKT per capita since the introduction of uber.

    1. “The fact is many journeys in New Zealand still require access to a vehicle.” = Car dependency. That’s what we’re trying to change. Car share and taxis help fill in the gaps for people without cars. Pseudo-rideshare could have, but we’re finding it undermines PT more than it helps. It’s a blunt tool that we can choose not to use.

      “Data in Auckland shows a fall VKT per capita since the introduction of uber” The article you cite is old, and there was no causal link anyway. VKT between 2016 and 2017 on Auckland Roads increased from 12626203601 to 13321985129. That’s an increase of 5.5%, much more than population growth for one year. On urban roads the increase was 6.4% in the one year.

      Those totals are mind-boggling. We have much work to do, and pseudo-rideshare doesn’t help.

      “these are the people that have foregone car ownership and are driving far less than average.”
      I am a person who has foregone car ownership, and am driving far less than average. I won’t toucher Uber or Lyft, for the social reasons that Greg outlines above, because of the poor displays of dangerous driving I have witnessed drivers when picking up and dropping off (something the general population is also bad at), and because it undermines PT.

      1. I 100% agree we should be aiming to get reduce car dependency but as of today there are trips within Auckland that are literally impossible with public transport (how can you get to the west coast beaches? what happens after midnight when buses stop running?). There are many others journeys that are still extremely inconvenient i.e. 200% longer time wise.

        I’m not claiming a causal link between ride share and falling vkt but there is no evidence in Auckland that it is causing an increase. Since the introduction of uber the largest change in transport habits have been the increases in public transport, walking, and cycling. I fully support working to improve the reliability of these e.g. increased bus priority, more cycle lanes, pedestrian improvements.

        Ride share does fill a gap though. It provides for journeys that PT doesn’t and provides a security that blanket that means you can get where you need to go whenever. To give up car ownership people need confidence they can get where they need to go and today Uber

        I also completely understand the moral reservations against Uber. Taxi apps have improved a lot and Zoomy’s has also made big steps forward in terms of customer experience over the last couple of years.

    2. Eliminating private ownership is good for reclaiming parking spaces. But reducing parking spaces doesn’t reduce the amount of trips on the road. Without taking into account people who used PT before, the trips would be pretty much the same. But now people can drive into the city without worrying about finding parking. Now people who used to take PT have a point-to-point transport they would rather use by themselves. I think the amount of trips would at least double if all cars on the road were rideshare. Or even just in areas that don’t have good PT.

  4. It doesn’t need American studies to tell us that ride sharing services like Uber are glorified ‘Taxi’ service’. Uber in NZ is another taxi service under the current NZTA regulations.

    Ride sharing services need high density compact areas like New York, etc to be successful, so ride sharing drivers can make a good income through high turnover rides. In NZ, Auckland and Wellington CBD and mediate suburbs and Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch CBDs to airport are good for Uber drivers. Uber drivers operating in less denser cities like Hamilton, are struggling to make money resulting a good number of drivers re-joining taxi companies to pay the bills.

    Will Uber, etc take ridership away from PT in NZ, the answer is no. Taxis haven’t and Uber is no exception, as Uber drivers do not want long one way ‘hire’ to where the return leg is dead running. Uber drivers want rapid turnover of customers.

    Do ride sharing services add to vehicle congestion, the answer is yes, as a ride sharing services like Uber, needs alot of drivers/cars on the road to cater for customers who want to go now and to avoid non revenue ‘dead’ legs.

  5. I would have thought the affect would have been relatively neutral – if people ride share instead of using PT, road congestion and travel times will increase, and people will then start to use PT instead of driving or ride sharing.
    The problem would only occur if PT is so bad that it is slower than driving on severely congested roads, or if the PT is subjected to congestion too, or if the PT is more expensive than ride sharing, or PT is really unattractive / unusable / unsafe. I guess all of these could occur in the US (and Auckland)

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head: speed up PT and leave Uber stuck in the slow lane with general traffic. That’ll attract the public back.
      Now we have frequent bus networks in the majority of the city, the focus should be on improving bus lane distances, times, and enforcement.

      1. Except Uber et AL are, all allowed to use bus lanes and by extension T2 and T3 lanes whether carrying passengers or not.

        Makes mockery of your idea of simply prioritizing PT.

        Need a better plan.

        1. Really, I was unaware taxis were allowed to use bus lanes, other than the short an unsuccessful trial on the Grafton Bridge.

        2. T2/T3 yes, bus lanes no. They’re treated like any private car. Private tour and charter buses, on the other hand, can use bus lanes with impunity.

        3. I can see the logic of allowing uber and taxis to use T2 or T3 lanes when they have 2 or 3 occupants. It’s not equitable (the ‘real’ occupancy rate is lower than the apparent occupancy rate) but how on earth would you even start to enforce anything else? But not when it’s just the driver. I understand that to enable the ride to be efficient, the driver has to get to the customer, but you could argue similar reasons for every trip. Having the driver slowed down by the congestion before getting to the customer is just part of the picture of using that mode.

        4. To clarify, rideshare drivers can use T2/T3 lanes only when 1 or 2 passengers are aboard. A lone driver on the way to a pickup doesn’t qualify. Fair enough, if you count the trip as starting at the pickup, which it does.

  6. It’s basic economics really – supply and demand. When the price of something comes down people will use it more.

  7. I observe ridesharing drivers tend to be dangerous drivers around the CBD, particularly running red lights. That’ll be partly because “everyone” runs red lights (lack of enforcement by Police), but may also be desparate to get the next fare quickly to rate 5*

  8. i avoid uber/zoomy as much as possible but being a shift worker sometimes I have no option as public transport doesnt run all night. Here in Wellington our aftermidnight bus services that only run early sat/sun morning can cost more than an uber if theres 2 people.

    1. Pricing of Wellington after midnight buses is a bit strange. Flat fares make it expensive for less than 3 zones, no Snapper discount encourages timewasters with cash, but if you have a 30-day pass then its included (Zone 1-3 routes anyway)…

      Still, its what’s expected from GW as far as ticketing & fares go: inconsistent, disintergrated, needlessly complicated/confusing, etc, etc.

      1. current fares are a joke, i use it on principal but im often one of about 3 people. There has got to be a better maximum revenue point than this.

  9. I don’t know about you, but I’ve used Uber for the so called last mile more than I’ve used it for other journeys. Catch a night bus as far as you can then take an Uber for the next 3 or so km. works out about 1/3 the price of taking Uber the whole way and about 15% of the cost of a taxi!

    1. i get an uber most of the way & walk the last 2-3km, theory being that public transport includes a walk from the station anyway. Saves about $4 i guess.

  10. Getting us to refer to them as “rideshare” services has been the crowning victory of Uber PR. They are most certainly not rideshare services. They are app-based taxi service that occasionally allows you to ride with a stranger to save money.

    Calling them rideshare makes people feel good about taking them because rideshare is a “good” thing that nobody does and knows they should do. Basic psychology. It also allows them to squirm into subsidies, etc that taxis never were able to get. How many times have you heard of a taxi service being subsidised to replace a low-ridership feeder bus route? Right, almost never. With a free phone at the transit station, it could have been done just about as easily as the Uber situations that are now all the rage. It sells because “ridesharing” is good and taxis are looked down upon.

    1. co-op and alert taxis use the same branding and have done long before Uber came on the scene. it all started when the car hater principle and PT evangelists came along.

    2. Just remember, that Uber is a technology company not a transport operator, that operates a ‘Customer to Business’ booking/payment system like Airbnb, etc, allowing a customer to book a ‘point to point’ ride same as a taxi. A taxi can also be classed as ‘ride sharing’ service.

      Super Shuttle is more of a ‘ride sharing’ service, as they pick up 1 or more people from different locations as in Auckland CBD, who are travelling to one destination like Auckland airport.

  11. Sometimes people choose ride-share because the public transport for that trip is poor in comparsion.

    Instead of discouraging ride-share, the public transport itself needs to improve to complement.

    Express pool can be efficient.

    It is in efficient when a empty cab is circling around city centre waiting for orders.

    The congestion can be managed if there is dedicated efficient taxi parking area.

    The ultimate win-win solution is to have taxi waiting area at all major public transport interchanges and major point of interests.

  12. This just shows we need to make PT better instead of complaining about people choosing to use a better service that meets their needs. Though I’m not sure Uber is all that popular in Auckland because of such high car ownership rates.

  13. I think I’m qualified to comment here – I drive Uber around the edges of my day job (I’d hate to call Uber driving a career!) and there are some salient points to raise.

    Firstly, we may have an issue with attachment to the private car but Auckland is not Amsterdam – its foundations were laid after Henry Ford changed the shape of cities and parts that predate the car (like most of Newton) are gone. We’re a different shape, and we all know that’s a challenge for point-to-point journeys other than by car or bicycle. And we have hills.

    At its most basic, Uber is a booking service that provides a paid ride and a map, and prompt payment for drivers in return for a 20% cut without the need to haggle with the drunk and disorderly. Get people home happily in one piece, you’ve done your job.

    Uber uses spare capacity in the vehicle fleet to provide a service also done expensively by dedicated branded taxis that spend much of the day cruising or standing still. Which is why taxis cost what they do. Uber has proven that given a choice between a fleet Holden with a full-time driver and someone else gigging with their late-model private car, price and convenience win.

    Some Uber drivers exhibit driving faults that are inexcusable – the result of total inexperience in urban situations, or idiocy, or the downside aspects of the app. Forget self-driving cars anytime soon – that’s both utopian and unrealistic – Uber’s AI implementation is so flawed that all our jobs are safe.

    Here’s why: despite feedback, Uber doesn’t know that Albert St doesn’t run to Quay St. It thinks you can go all the way down and head to Mission Bay (actually, AT, why can’t you?). It thinks a road runs behind the Bledisloe Building between the Aotea Centre entrance and lower Wellesley St West, and sends drivers through the council carpark. Its mapping shows us driving on the right hand side of the road – for a global app, that’s a ridiculous lack of regional customisation. It thinks you can drive through Burton St between Grafton Rd and Symonds St, which has been an apartment block for years.

    And it knows where you were 20 seconds ago but not where you’re going.

    Which is why drivers are constantly offered rides that are just “back over their shoulder” prompting stupid U-turns and brake slamming. No 5-star rating ever depended on doing that, and anyhow star ratings have no effect on income – they’re just feelgood tools to make underpaid drivers engage, and give a moral incentive to improve the experience for riders.

    Part of Uber’s problem is that it has no cap on the number of drivers it intends to recruit, which means more and more desperate drivers seeking the available rides. I’m sure the same is true of the now-ubitiquitous student swarm of Uber Eats and Delivereasy scooters – they emphasise service responsiveness over income, and driver downtime isn’t their problem. And of course the regional fuel tax is an impost on drivers, not Uber, who’ve failed to adjust their fares even slightly to recoup it, despite public expectations that transport costs may tick up.

    Uber drivers that stick to the rules are bound by exactly the same strictures as cabbies – rest breaks (either every 5.5 or 7 hours), a 14-hour maximum span from start to finish, and 70 hour work limits between whole days off. They require a “P” rating and to legally do airport pickups, must register under an NZTA taxi operator’s aegis – which entails business and character checks. Some, of course, fly under the radar (“Meet me at the Z station”) but good ones don’t.

    But time and again people tell me that they can confidently leave they car at home and bus or train in, knowing they won’t be at they mercy of usurious grumpy cabbies at 10pm. Some may Uber every day to and from work, but that’s getting pretty expensive when you add it up. But as an occasional convenience, it works where public transport doesn’t, and never will.

    Who hates Uber most? The taxi companies that either run dinosaur systems (…please say ‘Ready now’…) or shabby Priuses, indistinguishable from Uber’s own except they’re frequently more than a decade old, and have to cruise waiting for someone to flag them down, or double-park on Ponsonby Rd. No Uber driver needs to do that.

    We all hate Ubers, til we want one now.

      1. Not sure, Heidi – as I said, Uber’s mapping has its flaws but it’s also occasionally insightful – who’d imagine that it’s usually quicker to take someone from Grange Rd, Mt Eden to AUT via Gillies Ave and the motorway, but it is, except after 4pm.

        My understanding is that Uber operates a fork of Google Maps with its own data overlaid – I may be wrong, but I think it makes use of its own data and misses out on some of Google’s updates. Drivers have the option to use Google Maps instead – it opens separately, which means juggling apps on the fly which is fiddly, distracting, and rarely worth the grief. And Uber’s maps generally lack lane suggestions which at complicated intersections can make choices harder, and the risk of someone pulling a surprise lane change greater I guess, especially if they’ve just accepted a ride and are waiting the 5 seconds or so for the app to guide them to the pickup.

  14. In India, the vast majority of Ubers had it written on them in large letters and many were normal cab drivers trying to get more business.

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