ITF Reports Highlight Benefits of Uber, Need For New Regulations

This week, the International Transport Forum is holding its annual summit in Leipzig, Germany. The ITF is an intergovernmental organization that brings together leading transport policy experts and transport ministers from 57 countries.

At the top of the agenda are new apps like Uber, which are transforming mobility in cities across the world, enabling people to get a ride — or a shared carpool — at the press of the button. In a new report entitled App-Based Ride and Taxi Services: Principles for Regulation, the ITF finds that these new services are “good for consumers, operators, cities and the environment” — but in order to capture these benefits, regulations need to be simple, flexible and focused on public interest objectives.

The report cautions against regulating new services like Uber in the same manner as existing services like taxis. Taxi regulations are largely focused on public concerns around anonymous street hailing. For instance, taxis are typically required to be painted a certain color so that a passenger hailing a taxi from the street has some certainty he’s getting into an approved vehicle.

Using technology, services like Uber can achieve the same public safety objective in a different way — for instance by sharing the license plate number, name and photo of the driver ahead of time. The ITF finds that:

“to the extent that new technology or other alternative approaches can deliver on public policy objectives, including consumer protection, in the place of currently required rules, regulations should be adapted, streamlined, replaced or removed.”

Many jurisdictions around the world have taken just that approach — and more are doing so every month. Just three years ago, only one place (California) had formally recognized ridesharing as a new and distinct form of transportation. Today more than 70 jurisdictions in the U.S. do, and many other places around the globe are following suit, including in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, the Philippines and Mexico.

The ITF also released a study entitled Shared Mobility: Innovation for Liveable Cities, which models how fleets of shared vehicles could improve mobility in a city. (The simulation used real data from Lisbon, Portugal, and looked at a future where a fleet of vehicles would offer on-demand, door-to-door shared rides in conjunction with a fleet of minibuses that would serve pop-up stops.)

The predicted effects are remarkable. Congestion disappeared and traffic emissions were reduced by one-third. The distance driven by the shared cars would be 37 percent less than today, even during peak hours. And mobility would be much cheaper, thanks to the highly efficient use of vehicle capacity: transport prices could be 50 percent or less than today’s, even without subsidy. What’s more, 95 percent less public space would be required for parking, freeing up room for public parks, broader sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

Improvement in access to jobs from the current public transport configuration to the shared vehicle scenario. Source: ITF.

Particularly striking is how the shared mobility system modeled by the ITF improves access and social inclusion: in the simulation, inequalities in access to jobs, schools or health services across the city virtually disappeared. (Not surprising, as a long-term study by Harvard University found that the single strongest factor in determining someone’s economic life chances is not the local crime rate or their education but how long it takes to get to school or work. Another study found that services like Uber can improve access to jobs for low-income residents in connection with transit.)

Admittedly, the model is an idealized representation of one possible future, and it rightly points out that getting there will not be simple or obvious. What we’re excited about is the ways in which Uber is already helping to bring this vision to reality today. UberPOOL, our carpooling option that launched in 2014, is a living example of the shared mobility modeled in the report. And it’s growing quickly: uberPOOL is now available in 33 cities around the world and accounts for 20 percent of global Uber trips. In 11 cities, more than 100,000 people are choosing to share a ride with a fellow rider every week. By getting more people into fewer cars, we can reduce congestion over time and give people a real alternative to car ownership.

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