Uber and Lyft Carrying More Trips Than Light Rail in Seattle

Photo:  Flickr/Raido Kaldma
Photo: Flickr/Raido Kaldma

Uber and Lyft are subverting transit in Seattle, too.

The two app-based taxi services are carrying more trips per day than the region’s entire light rail system, according to David Gutman at the Seattle Times. During the fourth quarter of this year, Uber and Lyft handled a combined 91,000 trips on an average weekday in King County. Sound Transit’s 22-mile Link Light Rail, meanwhile, carries just around 80,000.

That might be acceptable if riders were coming overwhelmingly from areas poorly served by transit. But it turns out the opposite it true. About half the rides — 40,000 — start in downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill — some of Seattle’s densest and best-connected neighborhoods.

That means Uber and Lyft are almost certainly increasing congestion and hurting transit in Seattle. It’s a pattern well documented in New York City, too.

In Seattle, the ride-hailing ridership is growing quickly, Gutman reports. Uber and Lyft daily trips have increased five-fold in the region since just 2015, he reports.

Seattle, unlike many other regions, has managed to continue growing transit ridership thanks to strong investment. But in other regions, there is growing evidence that Uber and Lyft are worsening traffic congestion, hurting transit ridership and even increasing traffic deaths.

Even as we start to become increasingly aware of the negative impacts of ride-hailing, we haven’t had much raw data about the volume of service, because the companies withhold their data, claiming it is “proprietary.” But this data from Seattle shows it is staggering.

Uber and Lyft now account for about 1.5 percent of trips in Seattle — many, many times what taxis carried, according to an Uber spokesperson. Uber and Lyft have essentially made it much easier to travel by car in some of the most transit-friendly and congested areas of the country. People are taking advantage, with a slew of consequences, many of them negative.

  • TakeFive

    Whether ride hailing is a more of a beneficiary or cause would be an interesting question. Yes, I’m aware that some Uber/Lyft riders were happy to leave their bus ride behind.

    I can think of a couple of things leading to falling bus ridership in addition to the stereotypical complaints. One is gentrification and the other is increasing number of homeless transit riders.

    With respect to Seattle light rail they only have one line that serves a limited area; the ridership (per mile) though is very impressive.

  • Kelsey

    Was talking about this with a friend yesterday. It was simple math for her. If you’re taking a short trip, a couple friends can hop in a lyft for about the same price as everyone buying an individual bus ticket.

  • Riley Warton

    I’ve posted this comment in Thursday’s headlines already, and although I’m sure it’s immature I don’t care.

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! God damn it, uber and lyft, stop. Just stop. Stop killing public transit and congesting our roads. When will there be a limit on them?
    Never, never ever. Democrats love them too much, so even with the blue wave they will never ever ever get limited as the monopolies that they have become. What the hell am I supposed to do about that?

  • Eli

    Hey Angie,

    I know you mean well, but it feels you’re not writing from an on-the-ground, lived experience in Seattle.

    People aren’t taking Uber/Lyft from Capitol Hill, Belltown, downtown and SLU to job centers because these companies are bad — it’s because the City of Seattle is doing a nonexistent job on active transit in these core neighborhoods, and a mediocre job on speedy, central city bus service.

    It should be faster, easier and more fun to bike or scoot from any of these neighborhoods to downtown — except the handful of miles of protected bike infrastructure to enable it has been all talk and no action for 8 years now — rendering it unsafe and unpleasant for all but a tiny minority.

    It should be more convenient to take the bus (which every major tech company provides for free), except the buses are stuck in traffic and the city still has not sufficiently prioritized buses. The “8” bus from Amazon to Capitol Hill literally goes slower than walking some days and is standing room only. I used to spend roughly an hour to go less than 2 miles.

    I moved out of Seattle a year ago because I finally got tired of the “all talk, no action” attitude of our/their elected officials.

    Yes, finite street space needs to be managed and likely monetized, but it’s not Uber and Lyft’s fault that SDOT simply doesn’t do their job very well — leaving an opening for entities that actually do.

  • jcwconsult

    Transit proponents often discount the value to people of privacy, ability to carry work product, ability to actually work undisturbed on their computers, and the door-to-door convenience of Uber/Lyft service. These elements have real value to many people.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Newtonmarunner

    Eli, I think you’re picking up on a larger urban trend — not just one in Seattle. The reality is that cities across the country — from Seattle to Minneapolis to NYC — aren’t sufficiently upping their transit/mobility game in order to stay competitive with Uber/Lyft/etc. [Fwiw, I’ve never taken Uber/Lyft/etc.] 15-20 minute headways off-peak, for example, are tough to deal with when a good percentage of people have to either (a) transfer, or (b) walk over a km in access and/or egress. People who have greater resources will be willing to shell out the extra dough more often for TNCs. A more useful/efficient transit/mobility system combined with more funding will make transit/biking/walking/etc. more competitive against driving/TNCs, having transit ridership/biking/walking/etc. grow at a much faster rate than driving/TNCs.

  • Andres Salomon

    Don’t worry Eli, Seattle’s doubling down on its adaptive signal program. We’re expanding it to UDistrict soon, ensuring that pedestrian delays to cross the street would double in order to shave a few seconds off the commute of the average motorist. Scooter companies that wish to operate in Seattle (but aren’t allowed) are instead planning to operate smartcars. And under the new Mayor we’re continuing to put transit projects on hold or scale them back, while also “stepping back” from plans for bike lanes. This strategy cannot fail!

  • Eli

    Exactly! I would argue the lack of realistic headways in a medium-density environment make SDOT’s failure to deliver a connected network of all-ages active transit infrastructure around the core neighborhoods all the more significant.

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