Transportation

Study: Ride-Sharing Decreases Public Transit Use

A university study illustrated a 6 percent decrease in Chicago’s public transit ridership due to ride-sharing.

by Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Tribune / October 19, 2017
A Chicago Transit Authority train. Shutterstock

(TNS) -- Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are cutting into public transit use in cities like Chicago, according to a new study.

The study by the University of California-Davis Institute of Transportation Studies found that after adopting ride-sharing services, there was a net 6 percent decline in transit based on survey respondents’ changes in travel behavior.

“Data across the country has made it pretty clear that there are aspects of ride-hailing that are directly competitive with transit,” said Kyle Whitehead, government relations director with the Active Transportation Alliance, which advocates for transit, bicyclists and pedestrians.

The study concluded that ride-sharing is likely to contribute to growth in vehicle miles traveled in major cities, which means more traffic on the streets.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said that both historically low gas prices and ride-sharing services have been factors contributing to the CTA’s recent ridership declines.

To help the CTA, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed to the City Council on Wednesday a fee of 15 cents in 2018 and an additional fee of 5 cents in 2019 on ride-sharing trips, in addition to an existing 52-cent fee. The fee, if approved, would make Chicago the first city in the nation to institute a fee on the ride-sharing industry dedicated specifically to mass transit, the administration said.

The Emanuel administration maintains that the ride-sharing industry has drained $40 million from city and other local government coffers, in part by shifting some commuters away from the CTA.

While the UC Davis study reported a net drop in transit use, survey respondents who had adopted ride-sharing reported being 3 percent more likely to use commuter rail, such as Metra, indicating that they might be using ride-sharing services to go to and from train stations.

Ian Savage, a transportation expert at Northwestern University, said that Uber and other ride-sharing services initially caused a loss of business for taxis, and now are causing some negative effect on public transit. He said that ride-sharing services can serve as a complement to public transit as well as a competitor — encouraging some people to do without a second car.

“A combination of Uber and Divvy and CTA can make it more practical to live a car-free lifestyle,” said Savage. But he noted that ride-sharing vehicles clogging major arterials like Halsted Street could cause problems for other traffic, including buses.

The UC Davis report, released this month, also found that about 9 percent of ride-sharing users had disposed of one or more household vehicles.

The study found that a larger portion of “transit-only” travelers have no household vehicle, at 41 percent, compared with those who use both transit and hail rides, at 30 percent. College-educated, affluent Americans have adopted ride-sharing services at double the rate of less educated, lower-income populations, the study reported.

Ride-sharing users in big cities say the top reason they opt for the service is to avoid the hassle of parking if they drive themselves, according to the report. Another major reason was that respondents wanted to avoid drinking while driving.

The study also found that if ride-sharing had not been available, up to 61 percent of trips would not have been made, or would have been by walking, biking or transit.

“If you make it available and affordable and reduce the pain of traveling, then people travel more,” said Regina Clewlow, a researcher at UC Davis and the author of the study. “The beauty of Lyft and Uber is that they’re so convenient.”

The report surveyed 4,094 residents from seven major metropolitan areas, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, in two phases, between fall and spring of 2014 and 2015 and again between August 2015 and January 2016.

Representatives for Uber and Lyft disputed the results of the study and cited other studies with different conclusions.

An Uber spokesperson said that there is no research in the report that conclusively supports the claim that ride-sharing can contribute to congestion. The spokesperson also noted that the timing of the report fails to take into account Uber’s growth in the suburbs and the partnerships Uber has launched with local governments and transit agencies.

Uber also pointed to research by the American Public Transportation Association showing that the more people use ride-sharing services like Uber, the more likely they are to use public transit.

A Lyft spokesman pointed to a Lyft survey of passengers that found that 22 percent used Lyft to connect with public transit, and 56 percent said they use their cars less because of Lyft.

“We believe our cities need more efficient, affordable transportation options to make car ownership a thing of the past and look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with transit agencies to achieve this goal,” Lyft said in a statement.

Both Lyft and Uber offer shared-ride services, known as UberPool and Lyft Line, which are cheaper than regular ride-sharing services but more expensive than transit. With these services, a driver may pick up more than one rider going in the same direction.

Clewlow said there is an opportunity to reduce vehicle ownership and miles traveled through ride-sharing, especially through services like UberPool and Lyft Line. However, research suggests that without more coordination between the public and private sectors, this “idealistic outcome” might not happen, said Clewlow.

Whitehead said that if too many people are using hired cars, it can affect urban quality of life.

“We know it’s much more efficient to move people in buses than vehicles that carry one or two people,” said Whitehead. “It makes our city less safe, it makes our city less environmentally friendly.”

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