Yet another study says Uber and Lyft are worse for traffic congestion

A new study from MIT found fewer people chose public transportation options and the companies had minimal impact on private car ownership.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
2 min read
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So far, the companies haven't lived up to their goals, according to another study.


It's not the first time we've heard it, but on Monday, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology again pointed to both Uber and Lyft as parts of a problem they wanted to solve. That is, they actually increase road congestion as well as the intensity of the congestion, and have minimal impacts on personal car ownership.

The researchers at MIT looked at the services, which entered the scene with the idea of more people sharing cars to take private vehicles off public roads, with a few variables. They are a time travel index, congested hours, monthly public transportation ridership and the average number of vehicles a household owns. The study pored over these data points with two models, one testing for Uber's and Lyft's impact on an urban area measured by the coefficient of a dummy variable from a generic mobility company. The second looked for an evolution of Uber and Lyft's effects jointly and in an interactive way as the top two companies in their field. To measure, the study used the number of years after the company's entry in a city as a proxy for its market penetration.

Here's the lowdown: Traffic congestion since the companies' introductions in urban areas is up by 0.9% and the duration of a jam increased 4.5%. All the while, individuals relied less on public transportation, with ridership down 8.9%. At the same time, the most urban areas saw personal vehicle ownership fall by just 1%, and it wasn't uniform across all areas. In conclusion, Uber and Lyft have no impact on the number of personal vehicles on US roads. Instead, the companies simply became another option as a form of transit, or replaced public transportation.

The study concludes, "Despite the ideal of providing a sustainable mobility solution by promoting large-scale car sharing, our analysis suggests that [the companies] have intensified urban transport challenges since their debut in the United States."

However, the researchers also admit we're still in the very early days of Uber's and Lyft's potential disruption. Perhaps their business model does eventually create the expected shift. But right now, it isn't, based on this data.

"While we are skeptical about the methodology of this study (and other studies have found conflicting results), we will continue to work hard to create a greener and better future for all, while helping the transition away from using personal cars," Uber said of the report.

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