Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Congestion

Uber and Lyft Are Cannibalizing Transit in Major American Cities

The arrival of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft has led to more car traffic and less transit ridership in major American cities, according to a new study from researchers at UC Davis [PDF]. The results of their first-of-its-kind survey strongly suggest that large cities must take steps to prioritize and strengthen transit service in response to the growth of ride-hailing apps.

Unlike previous surveys that attempted to assess the effect of ride-hailing and car-sharing, which tended to be based on self-selected samples of people who use a particular service, Regina Clewlow and Gouri Shankar Mishra of UC Davis sampled the general population. They randomly surveyed 4,094 adults living in both urban and suburban areas of Boston, Chicago, New York, Seattle, DC, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area.

A large share of ride-hailing traffic is substituting for more efficient modes of transportation, they found. Between 49 percent to 61 percent of ride-hailing trips would have been made by transit, biking, or walking, or would not have been made at all, if the services were not available, according to the survey responses. In other words, Uber and Lyft are adding to traffic congestion.

After people start using ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, they are 6 percent less likely to ride the bus and 3 percent less likely to ride light rail. But ride-hailing apps did lead to a net increase in heavy rail trips, which might indicate their use as a last-mile connection to stations beyond walking distance:

Among adults who use ride hailing apps like Uber, bus ridership dropped 6 percent, a recent study found. Graph: UC Davis
Chart: UC Davis
Among adults who use ride hailing apps like Uber, bus ridership dropped 6 percent, a recent study found. Graph: UC Davis

Ride-hailing services also appear to reduce drunk driving, with 38 percent of users saying they regularly hire rides to get to bars and parties.

And they reduce car ownership, with about 9 percent of people who use the services reporting that they've gotten rid of at least one vehicle. Clewlow and Mishra caution that this is a smaller effect than previous research has suggested, however, and that decisions to own a car are primarily influenced by "socio-demographic, attitudinal, and built environment" factors.

Ride-hailing users tend to be younger, college-educated, higher-income people who live in urban areas. The 33 percent usage rate among people making more than $150,000 a year is more than double the 15 percent rate among people making less than $30,000.

The implications for transit riders are troubling. More affluent people are opting for ride-hailing because it's faster and more reliable than transit. This creates a vicious cycle where additional ride-hailing trips cause more congestion, which slows down transit -- a dynamic that has been documented in New York by analyst Bruce Schaller. People who can't afford an Uber fare are left with even worse bus service.

kgf
People say they switch from transit to ride-hailing because transit is slow, unreliable, and unavailable. Chart: UC Davis
kgf

Put it all together and Clewlow and Mishra's research suggests that cities have to strengthen and improve transit service in response to the growth of ride-hailing. They recommend dedicating street space to high-occupancy vehicles like buses and adopting policies like congestion pricing to counteract the rising traffic caused by ride-hailing services in central cities.

Ride-hailing services can be a helpful addition to transportation systems, curbing car ownership, reducing drunk driving, and complementing transit networks. But if cities and transit agencies don't take action to improve the quality of bus and rail service, Uber and Lyft can end up doing more harm than good, clogging streets and cannibalizing transit.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Friday’s Headlines Take Me to the River

Politico reports that the Biden administration is investing $2.5 billion in updating aging Mississippi River locks and dams like this one in Iowa. Transporting freight by barge produces less emissions than trucks or even rail.

July 12, 2024

Friday Video: Take a Spin on Boston’s Electric Cargo Bike Share

Can't afford a $7,000 Urban Arrow cargo e-bike ? In Boston, you can now rent one for just a few bucks.

July 12, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: Electrify the Rails

Adrianna Rizzo of Californians for Electric Rail on California's looming lobbyist-fueled hydrogen train mistake: "We’re locking in low service for potentially decades."

July 11, 2024

Thursday’s Headlines Drive Less

Seems obvious that the more people drive, the more likely they are to die in a crash or kill someone else, but traditional thinking on traffic safety doesn't always follow that logic, according to Planetizen.

July 11, 2024
See all posts