In just a few years, new mobility options like Lyft and Uber have transformed the way we get around. Through an app, people can request an affordable and reliable ride when and where they need it, and drivers can access a flexible earning opportunity. Rideshare is empowering more people to move away from dependence on car ownership and towards using the best mode of transportation that works for them, from public transit and bikeshare, to scooters and shared rides.
But with all of these new advancements, roadway congestion is still a major challenge in many cities. There are a lot of reasons you’re sitting in traffic. There are big factors like population growth, employment rates, tourism, construction-related road closures: all signs of vibrant cities and a healthy economy. There are also other macroeconomic factors like gas prices and seasonality, which can impact how people decide to get from A to B. And more recently, changes in the transportation landscape like the rise of rideshare and explosive growth in online shopping have further added to the complexity. At its core, congestion is caused by cars. We know that personal vehicles are the biggest factor, with 76 percent of Americans commuting alone to work. But, we also need to know rideshare’s role as we continue striving to help solve challenges cities face.
To better understand this topic, we wanted to study the rideshare industry’s role in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), a standard metric for overall vehicle activity in a region. In a first-of-its-kind study, Lyft and Uber worked with a renowned transportation consultancy, Fehr & Peers, to determine our combined contribution to VMT in some of the most congested regions around the country.
The Fehr & Peers analysis looks at data on two levels. First, it examines regional data for Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, determined by “Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)” boundaries. MPOs are governmental entities that study regional transportation and land use behaviors, forecast growth, and guide important infrastructure funding decisions. Since people often don’t live and work in the same city (or even the same county), we felt the MPO boundary was the right geography for this study. Second, we specifically explore the most dense county within the MPO’s region, where the core city is located. To get an accurate picture, Fehr & Peers looked at Lyft and Uber trip data from September 2018, a standard month for rideshare use without holidays, extreme weather, or other skewing factors.
Results of the Study
Fehr & Peers found that more than 97% of total VMT comes from personal and commercial vehicles for the six metropolitan regions: Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Washington, DC.
Looking at the dense county-level data where rideshare is most prevalent, personal and commercial vehicles still make up the vast majority of vehicle miles traveled in those areas — representing between 87% and 98% of total VMT. This slightly lower rate makes sense as dense urban areas generally have slightly lower car ownership rates given the inconvenience and costs of parking, as well as greater availability of alternative transportation options (including public transit, bikes, scooters, and rideshare). However, these dense areas also have higher tourism, employment, and population growth — all of which can make congestion worse.
While rideshare is most popular in these dense urban cores, the vast majority of Lyft rides are starting outside of those areas — the Central Business Districts — further underscoring that the majority of VMT is coming from personal and commercial vehicles. In Boston, over 83% of Lyft rides start outside of Boston’s CBD, Downtown Boston. In Chicago, over 91% of Lyft rides start outside the Loop. In DC, over 73% of Lyft rides start outside the District’s CBD. In Los Angeles, over 93% of Lyft rides start outside Downtown LA, in San Francisco, 96% of Lyft rides start outside the Financial District, and in Seattle, over 90% of Lyft rides start outside Downtown Seattle.
And even these levels don’t tell the full story of how low rideshare’s share of VMT is in these urban cores. Research has also found that the peak activity of rideshare trips take place outside of commute hours, such as nights and weekends. During these hours, rideshare plays an important role in reducing impaired driving, and providing a reliable transportation option when public transit may not be running or have infrequent service. Additionally, across the country, a significant number of rides are Shared, meaning that each ride’s miles traveled are shared across multiple riders.
Building Cities for People
As Lyft has grown, we have been working not only to improve people’s lives through better transportation options, but transportation modes that are cleaner and more sustainable. Globally, all Lyft rides are carbon neutral, and we’re excited about our work to grow electric vehicles on our platform through Green Mode. Additionally, in just the last year, we have taken significant steps towards increasing cities’ transportation efficiency through sustainable transportation modes like bikes and scooters. We also surface public transit information in the app in many cities, including many of the ones studied in this report, to help show people when public transit is the best way to get where they need to go.
We know that increasing peoples’ access to transportation choices is one step in reducing car ownership and driving alone, but we also recognize the important role that policy plays. We have long supported holistic approaches to reducing traffic and are excited to collaborate with cities to find smart, sensible solutions together, such as redesignating curb space for rideshare to improve vehicle flow and implementing comprehensive congestion pricing, as well as helping support complete street designs and local infrastructure projects.
Rideshare serves a critical role in our cities by providing transportation options for people to go about their lives. As shared mobility continues to grow, we know we must continue to understand our impact and work with the transportation community to chart a course towards supporting economic opportunity and balancing sustainability. We look forward to continued dialogue and collaboration in service of remaking our cities designed for people, not cars.