Thinking about taking an Uber or Lyft to your next destination? Think again: ride-share services are increasing traffic in Boston.
A new report by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimates that 15 percent of ride-hailing trips increase the number of cars on Boston’s roads during rush hour. The study also found that riders were willing to pay substantial premiums for these services, with nearly two-thirds of trips costing greater than $10.
Alison Felix, senior transportation planner for the MAPC, said the results of her organization’s study raise important concerns regarding traffic congestion. She confirmed that the expansion of the ride-share industry is increasing the number of cars on the streets of Boston.
“Overall, our findings demonstrate that ride-hailing is quickly becoming an important and valuable option for the region’s residents,” Felix said. “However, we may not be fully prepared to manage the negative impacts of these services.”
When survey respondents were asked which mode of transportation they would have chosen if ride-hailing was not an option, 42 percent said they would have taken public transit and 12 percent said they would have walked or biked.
Felix said the MAPC believes public transit and ride-hailing services can be complementary, but co-existence would require improved cooperation so congestion does not increase, and the MBTA does not continue to lose revenue.
“Not only does this transit substitution affect congestion but it also affects MBTA revenue,” Felix said. “After accounting for transit pass availability and substitution options, we estimate that each ride hailing trip represents 35 cents of lost revenue for the MBTA, far exceeding the 20 cent per-ride legislatively-mandated surcharge collected by the Commonwealth.”
The report also confirmed several common assumptions about those who use ride-hailing services, Felix said. Most survey respondents were between the ages of 22 and 34, did not own a car and used Uber or Lyft on a weekly basis, most frequently in the evening hours. When asked why they selected ride-hailing services over other transportation methods, the majority of participants responded that ride-hailing trips were quicker.
Kate Pearson, 26, of Fenway, said she typically uses ride-hailing services instead of the T because they shorten the duration of her ride.
“When we pay for Lyft or Uber, we’re paying for the convenience, the fast service, reliability,” Pearson said. “The T may be cheaper, but it can take you an hour to get someplace that you could get, by car, in half the time.”
Alix Anfang, communications manager for Uber, said ride-hailing services like their company complement the existing public transportation system and allow residents to rely less on car ownership.
“Uber’s long-term goal is to end the reliance on personal vehicles and allow [for] a mix of public transportation and services like Uber,” Anfang said. “Uber helps fill gaps in communities across Boston that lack convenient access to the T, helping people affordably and reliably move around the city.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker formed the Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth to evaluate the impact of Uber, Lyft and other transportation network companies on Massachusetts roadways, said Jacquelyn Goddard, communications director for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Boston’s Chief of the Streets, Transportation and Sanitation, Chris Osgood, said Boston is developing a long-term transportation plan, Go Boston 2030, that will assert the City’s commitment to “facilitating a comprehensive, equitable regional public transportation network” for residents and commuters. Osgood said the MAPC report is an excellent first look at the impact of ride-hailing on the evolving transportation network.
“The study’s finding of a potential increase in congestion during rush hour, at the expense of walking, biking and public transit, is concerning,” Osgood told The Daily Free Press. “The study reinforces the urgency to identify and implement policies that will help ride-share vehicles to complement the overall transportation network in a way that lowers congestion, emissions and costs.”
Boston has recognized the safety concerns posed by ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, Osgood said. He said the city is working with these companies, in response to the MAPC report, to manage efficient curbside pick-ups and drop-offs.
“This will improve safety and ease congestion by reducing the number of vehicles that stop and essentially double-park, in travel and bike lanes,” Osgood said.
As an avid cyclist, Lauren Anderson, 28, of East Boston, said she has learned to be extra cautious while biking in the city because of the tendency of Uber and Lyft drivers to swerve into bike lanes when picking up their passengers.
“Biking is absolutely less safe with more cars on the road, especially more Ubers and Lyfts,” Anderson said. “These drivers have no shame about barreling into the bike lane to pick people up on the side of the road, without even signaling or checking for bikers.”
Dave Carson, 32, of South End, said he rides the T to and from work, but uses Uber when he is traveling places without train accessibility.
“The T can’t take you everywhere,” Carson said. “As good as the MBTA is, Uber’s always going to get you there faster and to any location you want. You have to be going to a very specific location right along the train line if you choose to take the T.”
Peter Furth, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, said that although public transportation is a sustainable resource, it will always be inconvenient.
Because public transportation services concentrate riders on a limited number of routes, Furth said, traditional public transportation can only offer services in certain locations. He said he views ride-hailing services as a more efficient, modern form of public transportation, despite the traffic and safety concerns they might pose.
“We should think of these ride-share services as another form of public transportation, especially when they serve more than one passenger at a time,” Furth said. “In that sense, they’re a boon to a city. At the same time, we should apply common sense regulations and fees so that the people who use these services pay for the harm they create to others.”