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Ridesharing services add to traffic congestion, new study finds

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Are ridesharing companies like Uber and others driving traffic jams? A new study in America, looking at industry leaders Uber and Lyft, indicates that these transportation network companies (TNCs) have stepped up the challenges of urban transportation since their inception in the United States. Those involved in the study said they looked at three aspects of the impacts of TNCs on urban mobility in the United States – traffic congestion, transit use and private vehicle ownership to reach the conclusion. Although the conclusion may be different in other parts of the world, it is very important that this issue be further investigated.

The research was published in Nature Sustainability in an article titled “Impacts of transport network companies on urban mobility”. The researchers were from the Singapore-MIT Alliance Research and Technology Center, the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT, and the College of Architecture and Urban Planning at Tongji University in China. This study takes into account the two most popular ridesharing companies in the United States – Uber and Lyft.

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The study covered mobility trends, socio-demographic changes and the entry of TNCs at the level of metropolitan statistical areas and found that these companies increased traffic congestion in terms of intensity (by 0.9%) and duration (4.5%), and also led to an 8.9% drop in public transport use.

Contrary to the idea that TNCs can reduce reliance on private vehicles, the researchers said their study indicated “an insignificant role of TNCs” in reducing vehicle ownership. Ownership of private vehicles declined by just 1 percent due to the intervention of TNCs, researchers said.

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The study reveals that when commuters have easy access to carpooling, they are less inclined to take greener alternatives, such as walking or using public transport.

“Our research shows that over time, TNCs have intensified the challenges of urban transportation and road congestion in the United States, mainly due to the extended duration and slightly due to the increase in intensity. With this information, policies can then be introduced that could lead to positive change, ”said Hui Kong, of MIT and one of the lead authors of the study, in an article published on the MIT website.

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Professor Mi Diao of Tongji University said their study could provide useful information for transport planners and policy makers in their decisions about TNCs. The authors noted some limitations of their metropolitan-level study, saying more research with microdata might shed enough light to study the behavioral mechanisms of the TNC effect. “We’re still in the early stages of establishing STN and we’re likely to see a lot of changes in how these ridesharing companies operate,” Hui Kong added in the MIT article.

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