Do ride-sharing companies like Uber and others lead to traffic jams? A new study carried out in America, looking at the industry leaders Uber and Lyft, says that these transport network companies (TNCs) have intensified urban transport challenges since their debut in the US. Those involved in the study said that they examined three aspects of the impacts of TNCs on urban mobility in the US — road congestion, transit ridership, and private vehicle ownership to reach the conclusion. Although the conclusion might be different in other parts of the world, it is very important that this question be studied more.

The research has been published in Nature Sustainability in a paper titled, ‘Impacts of transportation network companies on urban mobility’. The researchers were from Singapore–MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT, and College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University in China. This study takes into account the two most popular ridesharing companies in the US — Uber and Lyft.

The study covered mobility trends, socio-demographic change, and TNC entry at the metropolitan statistical areas level and found that these companies increased road congestion in terms of both intensity (by 0.9 percent) and duration (by 4.5 percent), and also led to an 8.9 percent decline in public transit ridership.

Contrary to the vision that TNCs can reduce the reliance on private vehicles, the researchers said their study indicates “an insignificant role of TNCs” in reducing vehicle ownership. According to the researchers, private vehicle ownership decreased by only 1 percent because of TNC intervention.

The study finds that when commuters get easy access to ride-sharing, they show less inclination to taking greener alternatives, such as walking or public transportation.

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

Professor Mi Diao of Tongji University said their study can provide useful insights for transportation planners and policymakers in their decisions with regard to TNCs. The authors noted some limitations of their study conducted at the metropolitan level, saying more research with microdata could shed enough light to investigate the behaviour mechanisms of the TNC effect. “We are still in the early stages of TNCs and we are likely to see many changes in how these ride-sharing businesses operate,” added Hui Kong, in the MIT article.


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