In one of the first comprehensive research projects on ridesharing and its connection to traffic, a study from the University of Chicago provides data on what mass transit advocates have been speculating for years: Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft have been detrimental toward creating a cleaner, safer and more sustainable form of transit.
As first reported by Streetsblog, rideshare is responsible for a 2 to 3 percent uptick in traffic-related deaths, accounting for roughly 1,100 deaths annually. The types of deaths increased more in cities with higher rideshare use: Pedestrian deaths, traffic deaths at night, traffic deaths on weekends, and traffic deaths overall increased coincidentally with higher rideshare use in each city examined.
Using the the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Value of a Statistical Life in 2015, the study reports that the cost of these deaths range from $5.33 to $13.24 billion each year.
Additionally, the form of transportation (much like its counterpart, single-passenger driving) has prompted increased congestion and road utilization throughout U.S. cities, including the Los Angeles metropolitan area. This includes an increase in vehicle miles traveled, excess gas consumption, and annual hours of delay in traffic while not impacting drunk driving on any significant level.
When it comes to traffic, the logic was that traffic would decrease since folks would opt to not use their car. However, Uber and Lyft are often used by those without vehicles at all, meaning they themselves become a car user; tacked onto this is added value for those who do own vehicles (i.e. getting paid) and the fact that rideshare drivers spend 40 to 60 percent of their time passenger-less, circling around in a term dubbed “deadheading.”
“Rideshare companies often subsidize drivers to stay on the road even when utilization is low, to ensure that supply is quickly available,” wrote author John M. Barrios of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “The advent of ridesharing makes car transportation easier for riders, which should, in turn, lead to a decrease in the marginal cost of making a trip for riders, thus spurring more rides. In the case of potential drivers, the monetary value assigned to driving via the platform also increases the net benefit for individuals with vehicles heading out to give rides. These two forces should lead to overall increases in the number of cars on the roads.”
There are more detriments.
Barrios and his team discovered that car registration in cities with high rideshare use has increased by 3 percent. This is largely due to people, mostly low-income, seeking work as drivers, according to the report.
Also, rideshare’s lack of rules regarding the amount of hours they can work has led to catastrophic costs—specifically deaths and injuries, with one of the more recent examples being an overworked Uber driver who fell asleep at the wheel and killed a pedestrian while traveling at 51 mph, nearly double the speed limit of the area the collision occurred.
The authors conclude that, if indeed there are more crashes and fatalities because of rideshare’s increase in practice, cities should be in discussions on engaging congestion taxes and enhancing safety.
In a public statement, Lyft said: “This study is deeply flawed, from the problematic methodology to its unjustified conclusions. Numerous studies have shown that rideshare has reduced DUIs, provided safe transportation in areas underserved by other options, and dramatically improved mobility in cities. The safety and protection of everyone on the road is our top priority.”
The study, however, isn’t intending to dismiss rideshare as a whole, with Barrios saying that though ridesharing appears to be associated with increased traffic deaths, the form of transportation comes with benefits.
“[There are] benefits that accrue from the presence of ridesharing in a city,” Barrios wrote. “These include improved mobility for the disabled and for minorities, flexible job opportunities that are especially valuable to those otherwise at high risk of unemployment, and customer convenience and resulting consumer surplus. The annual cost in human lives is non-trivial, and it is higher than estimates for annual consumer surplus generated… [This initial research] is a component worth more investigation and discussion.”
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