Uber began in 2009, offering what seemed then like a nicer alternative to traditional taxis. The ride sharing service took over cities around the world quickly, with many other ridesharing services springing forth soon after. Most major cities today are served by some app-based rideshare service(s).
With rideshare services now ubiquitous, new developments are beginning to incorporate Uber and Lyft drop-off areas in site planning. Rideshares are now part of the discussion of planners, designers, and policy-makers globally. Recent research has undertaken the task of understanding the impacts of these services on planning, urbanism/urban sociology, and our environment.
Rideshare services differ from traditional ridesharing or carpooling, because the destination for a passenger is not necessarily the destination for the driver. These services don’t aim to get more cars off the road. Instead, Uber, Lyft, and similar services are a convenient alternative form of transportation, each depending upon a driver being mobile, driving within the vicinity of passengers, or making a drop-off nearby. Quite often these drivers spend a certain amount of time driving around without passengers, waiting for a new route to pop-up on their phones.
A recent CityLab post investigated habits of rideshare app users and overall transportation trends in 10 major US cities. The article is based on emerging research from UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies.
‘Ride-hailing’, as the article calls it, has been leading to a “substitutive versus complementary nature of ride-hailing varies greatly based on the type of transit service”. While increases in walking and heavy-rail commuter trains (3%) are noteworthy, so are decreases in the use of light rail (3%) and buses (6%). The study also found that between 49-61% of trips made by “ride-hailing” wouldn’t have been made at all, or made by walking.
The largest takeaway from the CityLab post is these services are likely to contribute to the growth of vehicular miles travelled in major US cities like Los Angeles. Not only are these miles travelled with a passenger, but also the in-between ‘idle miles’.
In addition to added congestion, these added miles contribute to air quality and water quality issues resulting from personal vehicular use. “Avoiding drinking and driving” and “parking difficulties” are often cited as the most important factors for using these rideshare services, but what steps can be taken to eliminate the idle-miles associated with the popularity of ridesharing?
Are micro-transit systems such as Leap Transit or Via – both which are modeled after carpool – the answer? Is it designated parking station electric car sharing services like BlueLA offer a way to eliminate the parking issue surrounding personal vehicle use? Or will it be a new form of ride-hailing incorporating dispatch centers, stations, and autonomous vehicles that will eventually decrease idle miles? The challenge ultimately will be to make transit options more appealing to as many commuters as possible, in turn decreasing user demand for vehicular travel altogether.
Ridesharing and ride-hailing will unlikely go away any time soon. So as technology advances and cities become more congested, we will need to conceive new planning strategies and alternatives to our existing models to incorporate ridesharing into our cities without the negatives associated with a city of idle drivers waiting for their next rider.