All the Bad Things About Uber and Lyft In One Simple List

Photo: Oran Viriyincy/Flickr
Photo: Oran Viriyincy/Flickr

Here’s the latest evidence that Uber and Lyft are destroying our world: Students at the University of California Los Angeles are taking an astonishing 11,000 app-based taxi trips every week that begin and end within the boundaries of the campus.

The report in the Daily Bruin revealed anew that Uber, Lyft, Via and the like are massively increasing car trips in many of the most walkable and transit friendly places in U.S.

It comes after a raft of recent studies have found negative effects from Uber and Lyft, such as increased congestion, higher traffic fatalities, huge declines in transit ridership and other negative impacts. It’s becoming more and more clear that Uber and Lyft having some pretty pernicious effects on public health and the environment, especially in some of the country’s largest cities.

We decided to compile it all into a comprehensive list, and well, you judge for yourself. Here we go:

They increase driving — a lot

The U.C.L.A. trips are an example of what is happening at a much wider scale: A lot more driving.

Uber and Lyft, for example, are providing 90,000 rides a day in Seattle now. That’s more than are carried daily by the city’s light rail system, the Seattle Times reports.

One study estimated that in cities with the highest Uber and Lyft adoption rates, driving has increased about 3 percent compared to the cities with the lowest. That’s an enormous amount of miles.

And transportation consultant Bruce Schaller estimates that the app-based taxis have added 5.7 billion driving miles in the nine major cities they primarily operate. (For comparison, in their first year of deployment across the U.S., e-scooters operated by private tech firms carried between 60-80 million trips.)

By the end of this year, Schaller has estimated all taxi ridership will surpass the number of trips made on buses the U.S.

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The promise of companies such as Uber and Lyft was that they would “free” city dwellers to sell their cars or not acquire them in the first place. And car ownership has declined among higher wage earners.

But a University of Chicago study found the presence of Uber and Lyft in cities actually increases new vehicle registrations. That’s because the companies encourage lower-income people to purchase cars, even advertising in some markets how people should put that new car to use — as an Uber.

They spend half their time ‘deadheading’

For every mile a Uber or Lyft car drives with a passenger, it cruises as many miles — if not more — without a passenger, a practice known in the industry as “deadheading.” Estimates of total deadheading time vary from 30 percent to as much as 60 percent.

Uber and Lyft’s policies make this worse by encouraging drivers to constantly circle to reduce wait times for users, according to John Barrios, the researcher at the University of Chicago, who has studied Uber and Lyft.

They operate in transit-friendly areas

Transit systems around the nation are losing riders to Uber and Lyft, which suggests that the companies are merely showing the need to beef up transit service across the country.

But if you drill down, something else is at work because Uber and Lyft primarily operate in areas that are best served by transit. For example in Seattle, about half the rides taken in Uber and Lyft originate in just four neighborhoods: downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, according to David Gutman at the Seattle Times. These are some of the city’s most walkable and transit-friendly areas.

Graph: Bruce Shaller
Graph: Bruce Shaller

Moreover, according to Schaller, about 70 percent of Uber and Lyft trips take place in just nine American cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, traditional taxi service, Schaller estimates, still serves more total trips in suburban and rural areas than the Ubers and Lyfts.

Why would Uber and Lyft use be so high in dense, transit-rich areas? Studies aren’t conclusive, but on average, Uber and Lyft riders, not surprisingly, skew rich and skew young.

In the top nine cities for Uber and Lyft people with incomes above $200,000 are by far the most likely to use the service. Lower-income people without cars in some less urban markets do use Uber and Lyft, but their use is dwarfed by those with high incomes, Schaller finds.

They mostly replace biking, walking or transit trips

In an ideal world, Uber and Lyft would be making good on their promise to reduce private car ownership because city dwellers would feel more comfortable selling their cars, thanks to the presence of Uber and Lyft.

But the data shows that Uber and Lyft mostly “free” people from walking and transit.

A survey of 944 Uber and Lyft riders by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston last year, found that 42 percent of riders would have taken transit if the services hadn’t been available. Another 12 percent (like those U.C.L.A students and their 11,000 on-campus taxi rides per week) said they would have biked or walked their journey. Another 5 percent would have just avoided the trip altogether.

Only about 17 percent — less than one in five — said they would have made the journey in a private car otherwise. (The remainder said they would have used a traditional taxi.)

Uber and Lyft just aren’t competitive price-wise with private car ownership, Schaller said, except in areas with expensive parking. Even with Uberpool and other shared services — which account for a small share of total business, Schaller says — Uber and Lyft increase car miles on urban streets. For each mile of driving removed, they add about 2.6 miles, he estimates.

They hurt transit 

Uber and Lyft are just crushing transit service in the U.S. A recent study estimated, for example, they had reduced bus ridership in San Francisco, for example, 12 percent since 2010 — or about 1.7 percent annually. And each year the services are offered, the effect grows, researcher Gregory Erhardt found.

Every person lured from a bus or a train into a Lyft or Uber adds congestion to the streets and emissions to the air. Even in cities that have made tremendous investments in transit — like Seattle which is investing another $50 billion in light rail — Uber and Lyft ridership recently surpassed light rail ridership.

Transit agencies simply cannot complete with private chauffeur service which is subsidized at below real costs by venture capitalists. And maybe that’s the point.

Erhardt, for example, estimated that San Francisco would have had to increase transit service 25 percent overall just to neutralize the effect of Uber and Lyft.

Worse is the tale of two cities effect: Relatively well off people in Ubers congesting the streets of Manhattan and San Francisco slow down buses full of relatively low-income people. By giving people who can afford it escape from the subway, Uber and Lyft also reduce social interaction between people of different classes and lead to a more stratified society.

They reduce political support for transit

As an added kick in the shins, Uber and Lyft degrade political support for transit. If relatively well-to-do people can hop in an Uber or a Lyft every time the bus or train is late, the political imperative to address the problem is reduced. The wealthier people substituting Uber and Lyft for transit trips have disproportionate political influence.

Cities are already capitulating. Last week, Denver partnered with Uber in a last-ditch effort to win back some riders who had jumped to the app.

In addition, right-wing ideologues have argued that Uber and Lyft make transit investment unnecessary.

They increase traffic fatalities

The University of Chicago study mentioned earlier estimated that Uber and Lyft increased traffic fatalities last year by an astonishing 1,100 — an enormous human toll. The study also found, surprisingly, that Uber and Lyft have no effect on drunk driving.

In addition, Uber and Lyft require basically no safety training for their drivers at all. In fact, the presence of these companies has motivated cities like Toronto to eliminate safety training requirements the city previous required for taxi drivers, in order to ostensibly level the playing field.

They hoard their data

One qualification with this list: Much of the information we have about Lyft and Uber is imperfect. The two companies make it difficult to study the social impacts of their activities because they jealously guard their data.

Last year, when Barrios released a study showing a lot of negative impacts from Uber and Lyft, Lyft corporate attacked the study calling it “deeply flawed.”

But Barrios had to use Google search numbers to estimate Uber and Lyft penetration in certain markets because even academic researchers don’t have access to Uber and Lyft’s raw trip data. If Uber and Lyft are honest in their denials, releasing their data could help disprove it. But so far, they have mostly refused.

Oh, and one more thing…

These are just the transportation related drawbacks. To say nothing of these companies treatment of their employees, or the behavior of their top management or their huge financial losses.

458 thoughts on All the Bad Things About Uber and Lyft In One Simple List

  1. That article is frequently quoted by bike enthusiasts. However it is a mathmatical mess. It fails basic logic on every level and the first time I read it I thought it was satire.
    It uses studies that have noting to do with bicycling and applies their results to bicycling, while also using the “hours” traveled instead of miles traveled in a convoluted nonsense method to reach his biased conclusion.

  2. Having uber and lyft chauffer you around is way too expensive; I drive on the average 300 miles a week and make over 20 trips altogether – Uber would cost me $510 per week and lyft would cost me $450.

    Only rich people use uber and lyft or people who just need to get from one side of the street to the other. Car ownership is cheaper than uber or lyft. In one year uber would cost me $26,520 and lyft would cost me $23,400 while owning a Honda Civic on a lease would cost me no more than $6,500 with all costs including gas, tax, insurance lease fees, deposits, etc.

    Using a car service, no matter how inexpensive initially, would eventually compound travel costs more than 3 times the cost of car ownership. In highly congested areas like Manhattan or Boston, however, car ownership still is cheaper but for parking costs; parking costs are horrendous! Thankfully 96% of America is not burdened by parking problems nor extortionist parking fees.

  3. the benefit of uber and lyft is that you don’t have to worry how long a bus is going to take to pick you up from a bus stop in the pouring rain, and that you don’t have to be with people whom you have nothing in common with and that you get door-to-door service. The down side of uber and lyft is that they are super expensive – 2 or 3 times more expensive than car ownership.

  4. You are forgetting that the riders may not be decent and that thee commute on public transport is not door-to-door; you still have to walk in bad weather from the bus stop to your work or to the store where you are shopping. By the way, what are you going to do with those 7 or 8 grocery bags of food when climbing onto a crowded bus?

  5. That was before Uber. The cabs are out there now! A little competition in the market place motivated them to try harder!

  6. Sending my daughter off to college in the fall. She’s not taking a car, in part because we know that uber/lyft are available options. We can avoid the cost of a parking permit on campus and the hassle of maintaining the vehicle and paying for insurance. Overall, we should save more than a few dollars by going this route.

  7. I will admit. In San Francisco, there are many times when a local bus would work just fine. But with Uber I am too lazy to look up the bus line and actually use it. Seriously. Even with Google Maps now linking directly to public transit schedules… I just whip out the Uber and off I go. I used to ride my bike everywhere. I was so much healthier and happier. Also. The people on Uber tend to be rather a disappointment. They are always these young impressionable foreign kids who
    seem blinded by the glitz and glamour of “American Life.” They are usually from Brazil or Russia or India. They come into America immediately thinking they belong here as if Uber is some normal respectable / sustainable job. And I am not saying it is wrong to have optimism. What I am saying is it is sad because I just know that in 1 or 2 or 3 years time all of these people are going to be sorely let down. They are too jaded and living “in the moment” to see that it is a game rigged against them and Uber wins. After you factor in the cost of their gas, maintenance, etc… they are making less than a guy at McDonald’s microwaving chicken nuggets. It is just sad to me. And yet they are all the same. Bright young kids who think what they are doing is like some exciting adventure. Terrible. I feel horrible for even using Uber now.

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