By on August 21, 2018

A new study from Schaller Consulting is claiming that ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft, contributed to 94 million additional miles being driven on Seattle-area roads in 2017. We’ve heard similar claims in the past. Data-backed allegations typically revolve around the notion that app-based services don’t encourage motorists to carpool so much as they pull pedestrians away from public transportation.

Considering how difficult most subway systems and bus lines are to enjoy, that’s not hard to believe. 

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, area residents took 20 million rides (most of them from Lyft and Uber) last year. Bruce Schaller, an independent transportation consultant, took that figure and combined it with previously existing data and survey results from other metropolitan areas to arrive at the 94 million mile estimate.

Summarized by The Seattle Times and available in full at the consultation firm’s website, the issue is probably less pronounced in Washington’s biggest city. That’s down to the elevated popularity of public transportation that’s currently taking place. However, Seattle is the exception and not the rule. The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that other major cities like New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago have all seen a major decline in mass transit over the last five years.

“Without public policy intervention, big American cities are likely to be overwhelmed with more automobility, more traffic and less transit,” Schaller said. “…and drained of the density and diversity which are indispensable to their economic and social well-being.”

None of this is new. In fact, we covered this issue extensively a few months ago. But it’s worth having another data set and analysis to draw from while these kinds of services continue to reshape our urban driving environments.

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54 Comments on “Same Old Song: Study Claims Uber and Lyft Increasing Congestion Problem in Seattle...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    Uber and Lyft are so cheap now that they definitely pull passengers out of the bus system. No doubt.

    As for the additional miles, 100% true also. Uber drivers typically drive as many miles a day empty as they do with passengers, which ends up being way more than if people commuted alone in their own cars every day.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Absolutely! During my three-day experiment with Lyft, I spent three-quarters of my time deadheading back to a better area, or poaching parking waiting for a call. And while you circle the blocks, suddenly you’re aware of how many other cars have those stickers for U or L.

      Ride-sharing is a convenience that give the consumer custom service at a low price, but it’s in no way a substitute for mass transit.

    • 0 avatar
      ktm

      I question the study merely based on my own experience as an engineering consultant for 20 years and now working on the client side. Many times the client wants an answer that they WANT to hear, not what your studies are showing. Also, consultants are known to make egregious liberties with assumptions. There is no doubt that Lyft and Uber are contributing to traffic, but I highly doubt it is as bad as their “studies” show.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    If everyone takes Uber who is going to pay for the 6 figure transit worker pensions?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Being that the vast majority do not make “six figure pensions” your comment is clearly alternative facts.

      Interesting fact as to how some do get big pensions. Simple – overtime. Why by so much overtime? Because most municipalities rather pay OT – even on a continual basis – than see an increase in the dreaded “head count” number. Seems that the beancounters don’t necessarily compare lifetime cost of continual OT (“bloated” pension plus time and half pay) vs the new employees’ overall lifetime cost.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        Any rational system would not count OT pay into pension calculations – just another example of what happens when Democrat administrations and Democrat Public Employee Unions “negotiate” contracts that screw the taxpayer.

        • 0 avatar
          redapple

          Sting-

          Yes. Common sense isnt it?

          I have 8 relatives that are police officers. At family events they get together and laugh at how they are gaming the system and juicing up their pension (in their final 3 years before retirement). A lot of pre planning goes into when to get out and how get the OT to rape the treasury. That extra $10 buck in OT in a final year will yield them a $1000 at least in added pension payment over 30-40 years of retirement.

          In the mean time, all of us tax payer jag off dummies have those really sweet 401s.

    • 0 avatar

      Of course without mass transit the traffic in the city gets worse which create productivity losses as well as problems for the local economy.

  • avatar
    Prado

    Just wait until driverless cars hit the roads in numbers … it will get worse. The cost of cabs should go down significantly once you take out the human driver labor costs.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      I suspect driverless cars will make things much worse in a few ways:
      • the ones I see on local roads are very “timid”; I think that will reduce throughput of the local roads
      • personal self-driving cars may make dropoffs and return back home because the destination has no parking; that will double the miles driven
      • kids and really old people will now be using the roads
      • people who currently drive themselves can use a driverless car and do something else when traveling — less effort while traveling means more traveling

      Because of those factors, driving will be much more painful. That will cause a quick switch as people will use self-driving cars as a way to reduce the pain caused by everyone else’s self-driving cars.

      Here in crazy-land Bay Area, I wonder if people will just buy a self-driving car and have it drive them around all night while they sleep, saving the cost of buying a $2,000,000 Bay Area shack.

      • 0 avatar

        “buying a $2,000,000 Bay Area shack.”

        It is not a shack. For $2mil you can buy very nice one story/two bedroom/one bathroom 1000 sqft 60 y.o. house with patio big enough to put small table and two chairs. And $2mil is not big money if you make over $200,000 a year plus bonus and stock options.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Only ten times annual income at 5% for 30 years.

          Pish posh indeed.

          Btw how many of those type of jobs exist in that locale? A few ten thousand? A few thousand?

          • 0 avatar
            SunnyvaleCA

            >>> Btw how many of those type of jobs exist in that locale? A few ten thousand? A few thousand? <<<

            I'd guess that Facebook, Google, and Apple combined account for 100k jobs paying at minimum $100k/year. Together, those three represent only a small portion of the overall high-tech employment.

          • 0 avatar

            Welcome to glassdoor.com. Look for facebook, google and etc.

        • 0 avatar
          MrIcky

          LOL, can’t tell if kidding. So you can buy a very nice, elegant even, shack for 2MM?

          San Fran is out of control.

          • 0 avatar

            Realtors call them “charming”. There are no controls – it is a free country even for undocumented “guests”. Except of rent which is controlled – 1/3 of “charming” apartment may cost you around $2000 with all the controls in place.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            San Francisco housing prices are no more out of control, than car prices would be if car makers were banned from building new cars, in order to ensure those who already owned one, could “make money” from having it sit there in the fog decaying.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Meh, 5 bedrooms, 3 bath, 3400 square feet,new construction on a mountain for a quarter of that.

          I travel to the West coast frequently for work and am in fact enjoying some time in Seattle now. I love it,but no way I’d live here. At least in Paris it was just dog crap on the sidewalk.

          Not trying to do the whole “left coast sucks” thing, because I really enjoy it out here and there is so much to offer. But to sustain my standard of living I’d have to legitimately pull in 7 figures. I do well, but not that well. Maybe if I was 25 again (assuming we could bring all the bands from back then back), but you can’t go back.

  • avatar
    Ryannosaurus

    I am from a rural area and had never used a ride-hailing service. While visiting Sacramento on New Year’s, my family and I decided to go downtown to see the fireworks. We took the metro to avoid parking hassles. The train was dirty and we were engaged in conversation by a couple of drunks. After watching the firework show we returned to the train stop and waited and waited. Analyzing the confusing schedule, we realized that they were operating under “holiday” schedule and ended service early. What to do?

    My niece suggested Lyft. The time it took for me to download the app, enter my info and have the driver show up took 5 minutes! A nice man in a late model Jetta picked us up and transported us back in less time than the metro-rail had taken us there. Well worth the 20$ (included a fat tip).

    I don’t think my experience is unusual, and I cannot imagine taking public transportation again when there is such a better option.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    I’m not at all surprised. From the viewpoint of the traveler, public transportation is horribly inefficient. It runs on its own schedule, not yours, follows designated routes, which rarely go directly to your destination, and has no provision for handling more than you can carry with both hands. If you live someplace where parking is difficult and expensive, a ride hailing service may be cheaper than owning your own vehicle. If a community wanted to implement public transportation that would at least break even, instead of requiring a subsidy, it would start its own version of Uber/Lyft or just contract with one of them to provide the service.

    • 0 avatar
      Reino

      Public transport is a means for transporting the urban poor. Always has been, always will be. The notion that people of all classes should use it instead of personal transportation is just progressive idealism.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        You’ve never been to DC or NYC, have you?

        • 0 avatar
          Nedmundo

          Or Philly. Our subway/trolley system isn’t nearly as extensive as NYC’s subway, but folks of all social classes use it. The subway is EASILY the best way to get to the stadiums if you’re in the city, and I use it all the time.

      • 0 avatar
        aquaticko

        Apparently you’ve never been in any city outside of North America. I’ve been on multiple transit systems in Europe and East Asia, and you do indeed find people of all but the very wealthiest classes on public transit. Those systems are also generally designed, maintained, and updated on a level that surpasses anything in the western hemisphere.

        Our transit is for the poor because we make it so. It works everywhere people genuinely want it to.

        And, regarding the topic of the article: a big “no duh” was had by all. Cities need space efficiency, and no car is ever going to be more than a fraction as space-efficient as a bus or rail transit system; there’s just no getting around that. The sooner we stop pretending cars are a panacea for all passenger transportation which doesn’t involve planes, the sooner we can put our cities on a competitive level, globally speaking.

        • 0 avatar
          Reino

          Ive been to NYC, DC, London, Paris, and grew up in Chicago. Yes, there are middle class people that use the commuter trains to get into the city from the suburbs. But once in the city center, anyone with means hails a cab over taking the bus or ‘the El’. Young professionals use it because it’s hip and cool, but once you realize who it’s truly made for, you outgrow it pretty fast.

          • 0 avatar
            aquaticko

            My experiences–in London, Manchester, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, NYC, Boston, Montreal, Tokyo, Seoul, Busan, and Beijing–say that public transit is used by anyone without the most absurd classist blinders on in any situation wherein it’s the fastest/cheapest way to get around.

            That it so often isn’t in this country just goes to show how inadequate our systems are.

          • 0 avatar
            IBx1

            The poor people make peepee on the bus and yell at each other on the trains so it’s always Uber for me.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @ Reino, In most larger ‘modern’ urban centres the city core is populated by the rich, educated or young. In many instances the ‘poor’ have been relegated to the inner suburbs. And in these cities, the subway/LRT is faster than a cab because it does not depend on congested streets.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @Reino, that view is historically incorrect. In many of the largest urban environments, traffic congestion and the lack of parking means that all but the ‘highest earners’ use public transit.

        Just this week J.A. Happ of the New York Yankees who makes $13 million per year was seen taking the subway to and from Yankee Stadium.

        In many European nations all strata of society routinely use public transit.

        And as for convenience, if designed ‘properly’ public transit has dedicated lanes or transit routes or ‘tracks’ like LRTs or subways and therefore circumvents traffic and therefore is a much faster way to commute.

      • 0 avatar
        MrIcky

        I just got back from Seattle a month or so ago. I used public transit pretty extensively. It was pretty egalitarian IMHO. I also saw a ton of Uber cars though too. It’s a difficult city to get around in period, but the public transport seemed to work better than most places I’ve been.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually the larest users of Public transit are working class people with income of 25,000 to 55,000. The next largest group is a tie between those over 100,000 and those under 25,000 a year. So basically Poor and working class are the biggest user then upper middle class. If you take out small cities and focus on the largest urban areas in the US I believe it actually flips to the over 100,000 being the largest user. This is driven my things like Metro North mostly being used to commute wealth people into the city.
        The income thing comes into play the worse the traffic is. So when transit becomes faster then driving (like NYC to CT) wealthy people start buying housing closer to transit stops. Kind of a weird dynamic that flips in small cities with less traffic issues.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I used to be a devoted Enterprise customer. Now I am a devoted Lyft customer. When I visit Chicago I used to rent a car. Now, either the El for horrible traffic hours, or Lyft does the trick for me . The $50+ per night parking fees at the hotels put me over the top.
    Are Uber/Lyft/Via strangling the streets of major cities like New York. Absolutely! But the service is, as said above, door to door and a lot safer than a 1AM subway ride. Fix the rail lines to make them faster and safer and their ridership will go up. Right now you can’t travel 5 times on a NYC subway and not hit a delay.

    • 0 avatar
      Funky

      Several weeks ago I visited Chicago for a week. Parking for my vehicle at the hotel was $75 per day. I walked everywhere I needed to go, though. No need for a ride service or for my own vehicle.

      The only alternative for parking was to park in a near-by garage/lot (for about half the cost) and lug my bags half a block to the hotel. And I’m too old, too fat, often walk with a cane, and just wasn’t able to manage the alternative.

      In the area I visited I don’t recall seeing many ride service or taxi vehicles. But I’m sure they were there. I just didn’t take notice of them. I did, however, notice what I think was a Lamborghini dealership. I was too embarrassed to take too much of a look at it since it seemed like “old hat” to the folks around me at the time.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    A friend of mine owns a WRX. She works downtown in the city near my town but uses Car-To-Go all week and every week. It’s a fleet of SmartCars with code readers, essentially. One joins the club; gets the app; and fires said application up when a car is needed. It will show the available cars in the vicinity as chosen by you. 100m, 300m, whatever. As the company has its own parking lots downtown she says it’s not only much faster than public transport – it’s cheaper, too.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I thought these companies were gonna save the world?! And that we were all gonna be enjoying the lack of traffic as we zip around in our shared rides?!

    Now you’re telling me it’s all a lie?

    No way.

  • avatar
    aquaticko

    Apparently you’ve never been in any city outside of North America. I’ve been on multiple transit systems in Europe and East Asia, and you do indeed find people of all but the very wealthiest classes on public transit. Those systems are also generally designed, maintained, and updated on a level that surpasses anything in the western hemisphere.

    Our transit is for the poor because we make it so. It works everywhere people genuinely want it to.

    And, regarding the topic of the article: a big “no duh” was had by all. Cities need space efficiency, and no car is ever going to be more than a fraction as space-efficient as a bus or rail transit system; there’s just no getting around that. The sooner we stop pretending cars are a panacea for all passenger transportation which doesn’t involve planes, the sooner we can put our cities on a competitive level, globally speaking.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Not to mention what it does to traffic flow and parking.

    Way to many times I’m stuck behind the Uber/Lyft driver stopping in the middle of the street to drop off and pickup. They are also areas where it is common to see a line of Prius Vehicles lined up with drivers waiting for the next call.

    • 0 avatar
      Nedmundo

      Definitely. I live in downtown Philadelphia, and over the past two years I’ve noticed that many traffic slowdowns involve Uber and Lyft drivers. I have little doubt they’re contributing mightily to our congestion, which is so bad that I avoid driving in the city whenever possible. Luckily, almost everything I need is within easy walking distance.

  • avatar
    cdrmike

    Public transportation is fantastic, unless you are the poor sap that actually has to use it. Hot, sweaty, dirty, late, erratic are the words that come to mind. The exception are especially affluent areas like Northern Virginia and their well-heeled commuter runs.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Funny, the bus I took to work this morning, on a busy central-city route, was ~2 years old, clean, blessedly air-conditioned, smelled fine, was about 2 minutes late despite massive crowding, and worked as expected like it does 98% of the time I take it.

      • 0 avatar
        Funky

        In our so-called poor rural third class city our buses are newer (less than two years old), clean, and less expensive than calling on a ride service or taxi. It gets folks who otherwise would be stuck without transportation to the hospital, Walmart, grocery stores, a couple of local (within the county) industrial places of employment, and to-and-from two slightly larger cities (outside the county) that are in the area.

      • 0 avatar

        There is a bit of a chicken and egg thing. Here in CT they built a dedicated busway with new buses. It definitely attracted a more well heeled rider as well. Kind of interesting Hartford has just enough traffic issues that people will fill the busway parking lots to ride it downtown.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Not much of a surprise when every 1 mile of private car trips replaced by the TNCs results in ~1.6 miles of TNC driving including deadheads. TNCs and taxis are just different kinds of cars, and they don’t solve the fundamental problem of cars in central cities: there just isn’t enough space for everyone to carry a two-ton, 6*16 ft metal box with them everywhere.

    Seattle has a central street (Third Avenue) where most north-south bus service serving all of the city runs. About 100,000 bus riders and 4,000 drivers use Third Avenue daily. The city just made a variety of changes to Third to give buses more priority, and one of them was to ban TNC pickups and dropoffs. It’s only been two days, but the buses already seem to be flowing better.

  • avatar
    ryanwm80

    I was in Seattle for the World Naked Bike Ride on a Friday night and saw Lyft and Uber cars all over the streets. We left the science center around 10 pm, rode past all the bars in Belltown, up to Capitol Hill, through Volunteer Park, then the U-district, and over to Fremont – it was about 2 hours of riding around completely naked on bikes on a warm summer night, and the whole city was crawling with people out on the streets.- not sitting indoors watching TV – they were out and about, and so were all the Lyft and Uber drivers.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    ““…and drained of the density and diversity which are indispensable to their economic and social well-being.””

    Say what?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      ‘Density’: the greater the population per sq mile the more efficient public transit becomes. It also decreases the need for private autos as more services are within walking distance.
      ‘Diversity’: meaning a wider group economically and socially. Different ‘classes’ living adjacent to each other, rather than ‘ghettos’ be they of the poor or the very rich. Ghetto (def):’ a) put in or restrict to an isolated or segregated area or group, b) a part of a city, … occupied by a minority group or groups.’ I think that we can agree that the very rich are a ‘minority group’.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Thanks Arthur. So what I take from this is this dipsh!t wants to put us in dystopian overcrowded world of Soylent Green as opposed to letting me ride an Uber in Seattle. So, no solution to overcrowding issue already plaguing Seattle, just an acknowledgement. He doesn’t even cite ManBearPig, he’s saying you will live like sardines and you will like it oh but pity there are other transportation solutions. I’m truly taken aback at how brazen the insane have become.

        • 0 avatar
          MrIcky

          I don’t know how’d you’d solve the overcrowding of Seattle. By all I can see, it appears to be what people want, because they are moving there in droves and choosing to live “like sardines”.

          Completely ignoring manbearpig type stuff, it’s a city that’s bordered by water on 2 sides so it can’t spread well and if you want to live in the suburbs, I5 is a disaster.

          The diversity part is funny though, after watching how Belltown has changed over 20 years. If by different classes living together you mean doing pretty well and doing very well on the same block- ya I buy that. Gentrification and all…

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            If there was a solution to be found, I have confidence the people of Seattle have more than enough intelligence to discover it.

            Off the top of my head I suggest artificial islands, perhaps current pricing can support the cost? Its not like prices are every allowed to go down in this post Lehman world.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @28: A percentage of humans have lived in crowded urban environments since at least the time of the Romans. Possibly even earlier.

          With the global population so high, the movement to urban centres will continue to increase.

          The only solutions to overcrowding on this planet, would be some form of mass extinction (plague, war, etc), or global ZPG policies.

          Otherwise, we need to find better ways to live in crowded urban environments. And good public transit is one way to improve that type of environment. A solution rather than a problem?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            This depends on which problem you’re trying to solve, transportation or excess humanity? In my view, the excess is the core problem.

            I think AI will be the disruptive technology to finally overturn the 18th century model of population increase effectively leading to “growth”. Then what to do with the excess?

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          People who think crowding and urban density are undesirable should probably choose to live in places other than the core of big cities.

          You can ride an Uber in Seattle all you want. No one is suggesting banning them. You just may have to wait a bit more in congestion, and may have lower priority than people using more space-efficient modes of transport.

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