Uber and Lyft have made San Francisco's traffic much worse, study says
Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are so popular in San Francisco that they have become the single biggest factor behind the city’s increasingly snarled traffic, according to a new report.
Researchers analyzed millions of trips and concluded that the services accounted for more than half of the 62% increase in weekday traffic delays between 2010 and 2016. They also found that many of the cars offering rides via Uber and Lyft did not reduce or replace private vehicles, as originally envisioned. Instead, they often increased the total number of cars on the road.
So much for the claim that ride-hailing would improve traffic — at least in San Francisco.
Uber and Lyft both disputed the findings, saying the analysis did not account for all the factors that may have affected traffic.
In San Francisco, it’s clear traffic has gotten much worse over the last five or six years, as ride-hailing services have caught on.
“We saw a very precipitous rise in congestion,” said Joe Castiglione, the deputy director for technology, data and analysis at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
However, the city underwent a transformation over that same period, as tech companies and their employees flocked to the area. “How do we parse all that out?” said Castiglione, a coauthor of the new report.
The first thing the study authors had to do was figure out where and when Uber and Lyft were operating in San Francisco.
Companies have been reluctant to share such data with city officials, Castiglione said. So has the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the industry.
So analysts at SFCTA got creative. They partnered with researchers at Northeastern University who figured out a way to “scrape” data from Uber’s and Lyft’s application programming interfaces, or APIs. These APIs, which are publicly accessible, allow you to see all the cars in your area when you open up a ride-hailing app on your phone, said Drew Cooper, a modeler at SFCTA.
The Northeastern researchers created a program to mimic the Uber and Lyft apps, so they could collect data on the locations of available drivers and keep track of when they had picked up or dropped off a passenger. Team members downloaded the data every 5 seconds during a 6-week period in the fall of 2016, and Cooper crunched the numbers.
He calculated that Uber and Lyft accounted for about 170,000 trips in San Francisco on an average weekday — representing up to 25% of all trips at peak hours in some neighborhoods.
“The trips are primarily happening in the most congested parts of the city at the most congested times of day,” Castiglione said.
Those results were released in 2017. But they didn’t tell researchers how much ride-hailing activity actually affected traffic. So they turned to a model that simulates how people get around San Francisco. This allowed them to calculate what traffic would have been like in 2016 considering recent changes in population and employment but without Uber and Lyft.