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The Need to Balance Ride-Hailing Costs and Benefits

John Gartner
Apr 26, 2018

People who frequently use ride-hailing and carsharing services enjoy the flexibility and freedom that comes from operating or owning a car. Others complain about the perceived shift back to personal car use from public transit and increases in traffic congestion.

Perspectives from Texas

Case in point is the city of Austin, Texas, where Uber and Lyft have returned after a 2-year hiatus. According to Automotive News, not everyone in the city was happy to see the services return, with some residents miffed about the increasing congestion. Adding to the fray in Austin is General Motors, which recently brought in a fleet of all-electric Chevrolet Bolts via its Maven Gig rental program. The Bolts are offered to people without a car who want to work for the ride-hailing and delivery services, with drivers paying weekly rental fees. The Bolts provide the benefits of zero-emissions driving, but still add to the number of vehicles on city streets.

Austin was rated as one of the 26 best US cities to be an Uber driver based on analysis of earnings per trip. All of these cities will likely see more ride-hailing traffic in the coming years. According to Navigant Research’s Mobility as a Service report, the number of drivers working for ride-hailing services in North America will grow by 20% annually and surpass 5 million in 2026. The benefits and costs of these services to the cities where they operate will continue to generate debate.

Are Millennials Killing the Personal Vehicle, Too?

There have been several studies on the impact of ride-hailing, including analysis by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. According to a recent report, ride-hailing customers report using public buses, light rail, and bicycles less, but actually walked and took trains more. While traffic may be increasing, parking is getting easier as people are parking at destinations less, and many cities are seeing declining rates in car ownership. According to UC Davis data, 9% of millennials who use ride-hailing services disposed of one vehicle in their household, and others have delayed car ownership. As the frequency of using ride-hailing services increases, the likelihood of giving up a car rises, while vehicle miles traveled in personally owned vehicles declines.

Sharing Services Continue to Gain Popularity

Between 2010 and 2015, several of the largest US cities saw declines in vehicle ownership among millennials, including Seattle, Detroit, Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco. The decreases in vehicle ownership are likely to continue as ride-hailing and carsharing services rise in the coming years.

There are positive repercussions for urban land use with the reduction of vehicle ownership and personally owned vehicle trips. Eliminating parking spots in the urban core frees up spaces for greening cities and other uses that are more aesthetically pleasing than parking. Reduced vehicle ownership will make more spots available in residential areas for those drivers who retain their cars.

Economic Benefits

Ride-hailing services also are good for the economy as customers can freely travel to areas with limited parking, stay out later, and indulge in drinking alcohol knowing that a safe, reliable ride is available in minutes. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania found a correlation between the presence of Uber and reductions in drunk driving, a safety benefit for all. Another benefit is less costly transportation access for an aging population and people with disabilities. Uber recently announced the UberHealth service, which enables caregivers to book appointments for patients.

Ride-hailing should not be left unchecked to create more traffic problems and reduce use of public transit. That said, the benefits of ride-hailing services for customers and local economies are real.