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Uber, Lyft use data to argue that rideshares do not affect local traffic

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

As rideshares such as Uber and Lyft have become more and more a part of urban life, a debate has emerged. Some argue that they have little effect on local traffic and perhaps help ease it, while others claim they add more cars and trips on the road.

Uber and Lyft are adding fuel to the debate, arguing that their influence on traffic is minor. And they’re bringing their data to back that argument up.

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The firm Fehr & Peers was hired by Lyft and Uber (commonly referred to as Transportation Network Companies or TNCs) to gauge their influence on local traffic. They provided a snapshot of their activity in the Seattle area, and five other metropolitan regions. Both companies handed over their private ridership data for September 2018. Fehr & Peers calculated the total vehicle miles traveled by Uber and Lyft during that time.

The report concludes: “TNCs account for an estimated range of 1.0 – 2.9 percent of total (vehicle miles traveled) for the six metropolitan regions, while all other vehicle activity accounts for approximately 97 to 99 percent of total VMT.”

Read a summary of the findings here.

Overall, the firm concluded that all rideshare vehicles only contribute 1 percent of all miles traveled on the road in these six metropolitan areas.

Seattle area rideshares

For King County specifically, they contribute 2 percent. In fact, the study concludes that the Seattle area has the lowest rate of rideshares contributing to vehicle miles traveled. The use of ridshare services is concentrated in the Seattle area. The rate of rideshare miles traveled in surrounding Snohomish, Kitsap, and Pierce Counties is 1.1 percent.

According to the study, two thirds of rideshare vehicle miles are from drivers waiting for a ride request; then a brief amount of time traveling to pick up a passenger. Drivers spend about 30 percent of their miles with passengers in the car.

On the other side of that figure is passenger and freight vehicles (98 percent of vehicle miles in King County).

Rideshare numbers for five other metropolitan areas (share of maximum vehicle miles traveled in core areas):

  • Boston: 7.3 percent
  • Chicago: 3.5 percent
  • Los Angeles: 2.7 percent
  • San Francisco: 13.4 percent
  • Washington DC: 7.2 percent

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Fehr & Peers said that data from September 2018 was selected because it was a non-summer month with minimal holiday traffic.

The recent study on rideshare numbers is the latest PR push from the companies that is targeted at cities like Seattle. Uber and Lyft also have promoted the option of congestion tolling in Seattle. The tolling method would charge people for driving into certain areas of the city, particularly downtown.

According to The Seattle Times, the company even spent about $350,000 in New York on “ads and phone calls” to promote the city’s own push for congestion pricing. Uber has also funded a study by consulting firm ECONorthwest. That report claimed that congestion tolling in Seattle would reduce travel times “up to 30 percent during the morning and afternoon commutes,” while providing upwards of $130 million in total gross revenue.

Uber is spending about $10 million over the coming three years in its effort to push certain transportation policies, such as congestion tolling.

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