Report: Ride-Hailing Drastically Increases Vehicle Miles Traveled

New research published in Transport Policy finds that ride-hailing companies increase vehicle miles traveled of users by 97 percent in Chicago, 114 percent in New York City, and 118 percent in San Francisco.

2 minute read

January 26, 2021, 9:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Transportation Network Companies

NYCStock / Shutterstock

[Updated January 27, 2020] New analysis by Schaller Consulting, published in the Transport Policy journal, quantifies the effect of ride-hailing companies on the amount of automobile travel (measured by vehicle miles traveled) by users.

Kea Wilson provides analysis of the new study, noting that the study accounts for "all the miles that drivers spent circling or heading to their pickups — aka dead-heading," in addition to the amount of time drivers spend in route to a paying customer's destination. The non-customer driving is significant: dead-heading "accounts for as much as 48 percent of the average e-taxi driver’s total mileage in some cities," according to Wilson's explanation of the report's findings.

Wilson summarizes the realities of ride-hailing, as indicated by the study's findings:

In every region in the study, the customers of transportation network companies at least doubled their total vehicle miles travelled compared to the modes they told researchers they would have taken had Uber and Lyft not been around. Schaller found collective VMT increases of a whopping 97 percent in Chicago, 114 percent in New York City, 118 percent in San Francisco, 157 percent in Boston, and 118 percent in the California suburbs.

Ride-hailing companies have the tools to limit this excess driving, however. Pooling rides, an optional service offered by the major ride-hailing companies, reduces vehicle miles traveled significantly.

As noted by Wilson, the study isn't the first to quantify the ways in which ride-hailing companies increase driving, rather than delivering reduced vehicle miles traveled as some had hoped when the business model went mainstream. A recent study showed that ride-hailing companies induce car ownership, and thus more driving. An earlier study showed that ride-hailing companies poach transit ridership.

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