back to article Uber, Lyft rides among the biggest reasons why you're probably sitting in traffic right now – study

Ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft are the biggest contributor to traffic congestion in San Francisco, according to a study published in Science Advances today. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority teamed up with researchers from the University of Kentucky to study the Californian city’s transport habits. It is …

  1. RichardB

    Easy solution...

    Free Parking :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy solution...

      The way some taxi drivers park in Edinburgh you'd think there already was free parking.

    2. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: Easy solution...

      easy solution is cheap public transport. I needed to get to Manchester last month for a training day. I was given the training date 3 weeks before I was to travel. I live in rural Lake District so that bit is on me, that being said, to get from Carlisle to Manchester for a meeting starting at 9.30AM involved a change at Preston (no biggie) but was going to cost £60. Or I could drive £20 in diesel and park for £14 all day, which is what I did.

      Fast forward to 2 months time and 2 of us are going to a conference in London. Plenty of time so far but train tickets will be 160 return each. Righto. Or we can spend £60 on diesel, £whatever on congestion charge and £20 to park all day at a managed car park, since we both have oysters I could probably park somewhere more sensible and tube outside the congestion zone if need be. Utterly insane pricing.

  2. LDS Silver badge
    Devil

    Shouldn't the congestion charge hit Uber and Lyft first?

    After all cars continuously on the road do increase congestion and pollution.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Shouldn't the congestion charge hit Uber and Lyft first?

      And black cabs and any other hire cars equally.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shouldn't the congestion charge hit Uber and Lyft first?

      So, I've already paid for the infrastructure via my taxes and now they want to tax me again to use it? The council (or whichever part of government) has known that congestion would get worse, it's fairly easy to predict what was coming and they've done nothing.

      In some cities they've actually closed roads, or narrowed them and then complain about they congestion they've caused! At the same time they allow new office blocks to be built with no regard to how people will get their but of course their happy to collect the taxes of those businesses occupying the buildings.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did they model how users would have travelled?

    When they claim 22% of congestion is due to user trips, does this take allowance for the likely extra cars that would be on the road if the services were not available?

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Did they model how users would have travelled?

      Yes, because if you order an Über, it almost certainly hasn't just dropped off a passenger outside your door. It is wandering around waiting for the next booking, and it has to get to you.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Did they model how users would have travelled?

      The article you're commenting on went into some depth on dead-heading and the proportion of trips which could and would otherwise have been taken on foot, bike, or public transport. It's a really quite interesting read - you should give it a try.

  4. david 12

    "reasons for congestion are complex"

    Like the reasons for lung cancer were "complex". Nothing to do with cigarettes: just very "complex".

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

    Sure, one could just count the number of vehicles on the street, and then blame the drivers and their companies for the congestion. A more sensible question to ask is probably "why are these vehicles there in the first place?"

    Without the demand from the paying customers lacking a sensible alternative, Ubers and Lyfts won't be there. Same with the private commuters - if they had a sensible alternative, a significant fraction (though obviously not all) would have used it. So the question becomes "why is there no sensible alternative for the commuters?" Are there sufficient mass-transit services? Are they safe? Are they fast? Do they have a routing convenient for the majority of the ridership? Are they competitively priced? Is there a social stigma attached to being a transit user?

    But, of course, it is easier to just blame Uber and Lyft, and the people who have to take the rides and to drive and to be stuck in traffic because they have no alternative.

    1. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

      "if they had a sensible alternative, a significant fraction (though obviously not all) would have used it."

      Not necessarily. As the article notes, simply walking was a perfectly good alternative in many cases. You don't need to even get into discussions about cycling safety, reliability of public transport, or anything like that; far too many people (especially in America) are just conditioned to take a car whenever the opportunity presents itself. Maybe it's a tiny bit faster or more convenient, but often it's probably not even that, it's just a habit - I can't be the only one with experience of having managed to walk home from the pub before the uber (or real taxi for that matter) others ordered has even shown up.

      The question is not "Why are there no sensible alternatives?" but rather, "Why do people go for cars even when the alternatives are more sensible?".

      "Are they competitively priced?"

      It's very well established that Uber are absolutely not competitively priced, which is why they are constantly losing billions of other people's money while failing to pay their employees a reasonable wage. This is one of the main points made against them - of course it's easy to set up things like taxis and hotels if you don't bother to follow regulations, pay your employees, or worry about making any profit.

      1. Dr. Mouse

        Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

        This may be the case at times, but most of the time (in my experience) cars are more convenient and reliable for the vast majority of journeys I make, and while not large I do live in a city.

        There is only one regular journey I make which could be done sensibly by walking, and that's to the supermarket. It's about 30-45 mins walk, which is doable. The journey there is up a fairly steep hill, also doable.

        However, when I have walked there and done my weekly shop, how do I get half a dozen bags of shopping home? I could try to walk it, but even half an hour downhill lugging a week's worth of shopping is no longer sensible. I could get the bus, but they are unreliable and I would have to change part way, as well as taking as long as walking and costing a fair bit. I could get a taxi, and pay way more than the cost of fuel while my car sits at home doing nothing.

        The alternatives are things like doing a more frequent, smaller shop, but that would then take even more of my time walking to and from the supermarket. I could use a small, local shop, but they charge a significant amount more for everything. They also don't sell much of what I want, so I would still have to make trips to the supermarket. I could do online shopping, but I'm rarely at home when they would want to deliver (and the substitutions!).

        Every other journey I make would be at least an hour's walk, normally more than that. The car is the only realistic option (except for the occasional taxi or train for a night out drinking, which are so rare I can put up with the inconvenience or cost in exchange for an enjoyable night out).

        People who say "walking is an option" often don't consider the downsides, and that people value their time and convenience. Walking or using public transport can be an option in some circumstances, but (in my experience) is less convenient, less comfortable and more time consuming 99% of the time.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

          I can't believe that in a city you live two miles from the nearest supermarket (assuming a reasonable 4mph walking pace)

          I can count 6 within that radius of me without breaking a sweat, and that excludes the 'express' versions of the bigger shops.

          There are also things called wheels - 2 miles is far enough that it makes sense to jump on a bike and pop all that shopping in a couple of panniers and a basket.

          When at uni I used to do the weekly+ shop, took a rucksack and skated along cromwell road, then back again with a heavy pack. At the time it was quite reasonable, since I was capable of significantly faster travel than the traffic allowed, so I filtered to the lights, then got to the next queue and filtered past that as well...

          1. Dr. Mouse

            Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

            Did I mention the steep hill? It's just under 2 miles, but the hill makes quite a big difference. It's also the reason a bike isn't a practical option: even when I was fairly into mountain biking, a hill like that would only have been for a "fun" ride: as part of a journey to the supermarket, turning up knackered and sweaty as hell would be highly unpleasant for both me and the other shoppers.

            There are smaller shops closer, but none which do a decent selection for a main shop, and all of which charge a good premium over the supermarket. I think I'll drive, thanks.

            1. Chris Parsons Bronze badge

              Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

              I live in Cornwall, the definitive home of the steep hill. I cycle everywhere. I am 70. It can be done if you have the will to do it.

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

                "It can be done if you have the will to do it."

                There are a few other factors to think about. Your fitness. Not everyone matches it. Your ability to ride a bike - not everyone can manage it without falling off (SWMBO tells me she's never managed it).

                So yet another example of "works for me so must work for everyone else.".

            2. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

              Did I mention the steep hill?

              You did, but you also said it was about 2 miles (my guess).

              If you don’t go all out to climb the hill like Froome then you can do two miles on a bike pretty easily, or you can cycle as far up as you can first time and push the rest of the way.

              Next time you’ll get further.

              You don’t have to get fit to cycle, you can get fit by cycling.

              And when you have stuff to carry it’s all downhill - making life even easier.

              For those who can’t balance (myself included since an illness induced disability) there are trikes.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

            "When at uni I used to do the weekly+ shop, took a rucksack and skated along cromwell road, then back again with a heavy pack."

            Probably persuading a number of other people that walking in a city wasn't safe.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

              "When at uni I used to do the weekly+ shop, took a rucksack and skated along cromwell road, then back again with a heavy pack."

              Probably persuading a number of other people that walking in a city wasn't safe.

              Don’t know why my skating on the road would have put people off walking...

              Stopped for the red traffic lights, outpaced the motor vehicles (not hard)

      2. Doctor Evil

        Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

        "The question is not "Why are there no sensible alternatives?" but rather, "Why do people go for cars even when the alternatives are more sensible?"."

        Because they're lazy? (Just a WAG)

      3. Citizens untied

        Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

        Funny how the consequences of such behavior confuse those who seem to equate "paying customers want it" with "it needs to happen".

        I can't wait for the driverless future when all cars will have just one occupant.

    2. devTrail

      Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

      "why is there no sensible alternative for the commuters?" Are there sufficient mass-transit services? Are they safe? Are they fast? Do they have a routing convenient for the majority of the ridership? Are they competitively priced? Is there a social stigma attached to being a transit user?

      You forgot the most important question. I don't live there, but I can easily guess that as in my home city the mass-transit services are not properly sized for the current population because as the planning goes on the population keeps increasing and it happens because the corporations are piling up their premises forcing a mass migration. So the first question is why they keep blaming the young ones claiming that "talent" want to be all in the same place and then forcing so many people to relocate? I suspect that uprooted people are easier to exploit, but as you can see this policy has a huge impact on the quality of life, not only for the traffic.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: But are Uber and Lyft the root cause?

      "Same with the private commuters - if they had a sensible alternative"

      Walking is seldom a sensible alternative and hasn't been for decades or even more for cities.

      When I was growing up in an industrial valley in Yorkshire walking was a sensible means of commuting. There were mills within walking distance of houses. For some their nearest mill was even closer than their nearest bus stop and buses were a practical alternative to those choosing to work at a more distant employer. Now those mills have closed and largely been replaced by housing: more people, fewer places to work. The people are now commuting to towns and cities maybe tens of miles away. Not only is walking impractical, so is public transport as a journey is likely to involve several changes of conveyance and very unlikely to go by any reasonable approximation to the direct route.

      Those changes happened here in my lifetime. In major cities they happened much earlier. I don't know about the US but for more or less the whole of my lifetime making this mess worse have been planning policy here in the UK. It's not described like that, of course; it's all to do with separating living and working into separate zones to get away from those old images of mill towns where the slums were huddled round the mills. The towns where it was possible to walk to work.

  6. Kez
    Big Brother

    Public transport?

    "ride-sharing trips could have been swapped for walking, public transport, or cycling."

    I was led to believe that these things were tantamount to communism in the land of the free

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Public transport?

      I've heard it said that in some parts of the USA, walking in certain areas is enough to attract the attention of the cops who will ask you why you are walking there. Or in some cases, get householders so afraid they will even call the cops because of your suspicious behaviour.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    See uber, think shark.

    Get rid of Uber and it's like. They take up road space and remove income from mass transit systems that work.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: See uber, think shark.

      "mass transit systems that work"

      Mass transit systems work in the case where the places where you live and work are adjacent to the same route. Anything else and they eat up your life with meandering journeys punctuated by long waits to change bus or train.

      You may ask why not move to live near a suitable route? Because multiple household members may need different routes and places to live are often determined by other factors such as children's schools or proximity to other family.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        mass transit systems that work

        Mass transit systems work in the case where the places where you live and work are adjacent to the same route. Anything else and they eat up your life with meandering journeys punctuated by long waits to change bus or train.

        Not in a properly designed, integrated transit system. Where I live, I can get within 400 meters of any point within the entire metropolitan area (population 3+ million) within 30 to 90 minutes using public transit, at any time between 5 am and 1 am next day. Most of the time, this travel will involve multiple changes - from a feeder route (typically a bus or a streetcar) to the backbone route (some sort of rail) then back to a feeder route at the destination.

        For some destinations and times of day, driving is faster. For others, taking the transit is faster. Sometimes, walking or biking is faster than either - especially in the city core.

        And yes, a transit system like this is expensive to establish, maintain, and operate. It also needs to be publicly subsidized, at least for the lower-income users. However, it is still cheaper in terms of public expenditure than the cost of proving the road and parking infrastructure which would be needed to allow everybody a similar level of mobility with private and hire cars.

        1. Dr. Mouse

          Re: mass transit systems that work

          There is only one place I have been where this is accomplished well and I would be happy to use public transport: Hong Kong.

          Their underground system is excellent: fast and frequent, with interchange platforms so you can walk straight off one train onto the next. It's also cheap, and the other public transport is reasonable to use, too.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: mass transit systems that work

          "Where I live, I can get within 400 meters of any point within the entire metropolitan area (population 3+ million) within 30 to 90 minutes using public transit, at any time between 5 am and 1 am next day."

          Another case of "works for me so it must work for everyone". It doesn't.

          A little while after I retired I had to go back to my former client to sign off some paperwork. I tried working out how long it would take me by public transport. It turned out that the best effort to get there as close to 9 am. as possible would involve starting out just before 6.30 to catch a bus. The bus trip to town takes 40 mins. (used to be 30 when I was growing up but they re-routed it). There was them a long wait until the next bus was due. That leg went by a frequently blocked motorway route to the next bus station which had about 4 minutes to change to the final bus; any delay on the motorway would have added at minimum another 12 minutes. The best effort as still a few minutes late assuming a 9 am. target. The journey by car was about 40 - 45 mins setting off in diametrically the opposite direction which is a good indication of why the public transport route was so inefficient.

          Even with a straightforward radial route option travel isn't always that good. I used to live in High Wycombe and work in London. The best train option was 35mins (only one of those a day each way), most were IIRC up to 50mins (allegedly). Add on getting to the station and then a choice of longish walks or a few changes of tube to get to the final destination and the best case would be nearer 90 minutes. One of the worst cases would be getting to Paddington hoping to get the fast train, finding that I'd missed and then having to waste more time shlepping back to Marylebone to wait for BR to find enough working DMUs to make up a train.

          But let's look again at that 90 min each way. That's 3 hours a day. 15 hours a week. About 2 additional working days each week unpaid. You might find that acceptable; in my book that's getting one's life eaten up.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: mass transit systems that work

            Another case of "works for me so it must work for everyone". It doesn't.

            Actually, it is a case of "works great for me so it may very well work for a sufficient number of other people". I fully understand why in your situation driving is the only option. When I lived in an area with a similar level of transit mis-"service", I did exactly the same.

            Regardless, the point of a well-designed transit system is not to convince everybody to use it, all the time - building a transit system like this would be impossible expensive. The point is to take a sufficient number of commuters off the roads, especially at the times of peak load. There will always be journeys where private or hire vehicles are more appropriate - e.g because one lives in a low-density rural area, or because no good transit connexion exist, or because one needs to carry or move something, or because one goes to a swell party, and wants to keep their fancy clothers all spiffy, or just because one wants to drive - and that's absolutely fine and dandy. The problem begins if all trips are like this, because building a road system to accommodate them is expensive and in high-density areas also physically impossible.

            At least in larger cities, the only way to keep the ability to use personal vehicles is to promote strong public transit - as strange as it sounds.

  8. DontFeedTheTrolls
    Headmaster

    Maybe I'm missing something here in the UK, but does *anyone* actually car share their Uber of Lyft? I don't actually use either (I use my local cab companies app), but any time I see hire cars (some branded Uber) it is either a single person or a connected group, not a share.

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Flame

      You are "sharing" the ride with the driver, which is a legal fiction created to try to get around taxi licencing laws.

      But no, you are not really sharing the ride. The Oxford Bus Company has a service called PickMeUp, which is an actual ride-sharing service, and supplements their regular traditional scheduled bus routes in the city.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      car sharing vs ride sharing

      ... does *anyone* actually car share their Uber of Lyft ...

      Putting on a pedant's cap, any car-for-hire service is based on the premise that multiple customers will share the same vehicle over a period of time - so they can be through of as car sharing. This is not the same as ride-sharing, where multiple, unrelated customers are using the vehicle at the same time.

      And no, I haven't seen anyone ride-sharing their Uber ride either :o)

    3. Dr. Mouse

      IIRC the "ride-sharing" bit was initially supposed to be private individuals sharing the car journey they were going to make anyway, rather than multiple unconnected people sharing a taxi journey. So, you would have signed up with Uber and then, before you set off for work, check if there was anyone you could pick up and drop off on your way.

      That's gone out of the window (if it ever happened) and now they are just taxis.

    4. STOP_FORTH

      Norn Iron

      In Ulster people share Black Cabs which can be hailed from the roadside even if they already have passengers on board.

  9. Nifty Silver badge

    In SF and LA I used Uber quite a lot. In every busy location I either saw another passenger using the arriving/departing journey or if unsure I asked the driver and sure enough, driver had done a nearby drop off minutes earlier. So far, so much more efficient than conventional taxis In terms of passenger occupancy per road space. My hire car usually stayed at the hotel unless I was taking self, partner and luggage across the state.

    One reason I used Uber a lot was to avoid wasting time, fuel and road space hunting for parking at popular locations.

    All in all I find the scientists findings highly suspect. Did they have a parallel universe control city to compare how congested it would've been if Uber didn't exist?

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      You can look at for example London before Über vs London after Über. Number of registered private hire vehicles - way up, journeys taken by public transport - down, delays on bus journeys due to congestion - way up.

  10. Dvon of Edzore

    No surprise the public transit agency and a private-vehicle-hating university would combine to claim the solution is fewer private vehicles, especially those engaged in <gasp> commerce. Of course that only applies to the cattle. The enlightened rulers are too important to waste standing around or getting smelly in public transport.

  11. A. Coatsworth
    Mushroom

    But this happened in San Francisco, not in the real world. Everybody knows that normal laws of logic and reason don't apply to Silly-con Valley and surrounds.

    The Reality Distortion Fields and massive egos of the companies and persons there provoke an alternate reality, not unlike an Event Horizon of idiocy.

    Those outside of it shouldn't worry too much

  12. Joseba4242

    Self Driving Cars

    Self driving cars will have a similar but even stronger effect.

    People largely talk about effects improving traffic. Driving coordinated between cars, closer distances, smoother traffic.

    However I believe that many people will move from public transport to self driving cars, just because it's so much more convenient and you can make good productive use of the time. I know I would and most people I've spoken to would too.

    So there net effect is less public transport use and much more congestion.

  13. Loatesy

    I don't drive.

    Never Have.

    I commute from Rotherham to sheffield and back (@7 miles each way) 5 days a week.

    Easy . . . . . yes the roads are congested, yes the trains are packed, yes the buses get stuck at junctions. yes sometimes the TramTrain is late.

    But . . . I can have a nap while being driven to and from my work place.

    And . . . it means i have one of the smallest carbon footprints in the country.

    Jus'saying . . .

  14. Doctor Evil

    Of course you do!

    "An Uber spokesperson told The Register that the reasons for congestion are complex: “[...]That’s one reason we believe in comprehensive congestion pricing, which would provide millions to invest in cities’ public transportation systems.”"

    Because, if you're the root cause of the congestion in the first place, then of course you believe in congestion pricing. Why wouldn't you? You've been a prime contributor to the problem -- and that way, the worse it gets, the more you benefit.

    Until they catch on, that is -- which it appears they now may have.

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