A new report looking at the travel habits of people in the American city of Boston suggests that the use of ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft are adding to the number of cars on the streets.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council surveyed nearly 1,000 ride-hailing passengers in late 2017 and asked about their demographics, the nature of their trip, and why they chose ridehailing over other modes of transport.
It found that if ride-hailing hadn’t been an option, 12% said they would have walked or biked, and over two-fifths (42%) of respondents said they would have otherwise taken public transport.
The researchers estimate that 12% of all ride-hailing trips are substituting for a transit trip during the morning or afternoon commute periods; an additional 3% of riders during these times would have otherwise walked or biked. Overall, 15% of ride-hailing trips are adding cars to the region’s roadways during the morning or afternoon rush hours.
They also found evidence that found that this “transit substitution” is more frequent among riders with a weekly or monthly transit pass. Those who ride transit more often are more likely to drop it for ride hailing, even while doing so at a huge cost differential, and even when they have already paid for the transit.
The research suggests most ride-hailing users are under the age of 35, that most of them use the service on a weekly basis, and that most don’t own a car. Less predictably, they found that reported rider incomes are similar to the region overall, and a substantial number of trips are made by people from households earning less than $38,000 per year.
“These findings begin to provide a better understanding of this evolving mobility option that will undoubtedly continue to change the way people travel around the region,” the researchers write. “Our results raise concerns about how users are becoming accustomed to on-demand mobility, and what that means for the future of the region’s transportation system. Even if future ride-hailing vehicles were fully electric and autonomous, the region’s roadways could not accommodate unchecked growth in single-occupant vehicle travel. It is essential to ensure that the region has a reliable and effective transit system that—from the rider’s perspective—is competitive with and complementary to on-demand mobility services. For transit to thrive, it must change, perhaps by incorporating the types of on-demand response and real-time information that riders value.
“Meanwhile, there is a great need to understand the effects of ride hailing and to ensure a balance of benefits and costs resulting from these commercial services. Ride hailing is already having substantial impacts on congestion and transit revenue, the costs of which are not recouped by the small surcharge. A higher fee would provide more resources to mitigate the negative effects of ride hailing without substantially affecting rider costs. Even more preferable would be a fee structure proportional to the impacts of each ride on the transportation system. To the extent possible, such fees should also be structured to incentivize shared trips, thereby reducing overall impacts on the transportation system while also accommodating ride-hailing preferences. Of course, effective policy requires better data about when, where, and why ride-hailing trips are taking place. Only by understanding the current adoption of ride-hailing and on-demand mobility can we plan for its successful and sustainable future.”