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New Mobility: Present and Future

On-demand ride services such as Uber and Lyft have been widely welcomed by users for offering readily-available, reliable and comfortable service at an affordable price. Customer surveys have shown four in five users to be extremely or very satisfied, enviable satisfaction levels for any transportation service.

App-based services are prospectively good for cities as a whole as well as customers individually. In providing an alternative to the personal auto, they can complement public transportation, reduce parking demands and drinking-and-driving, and improve access to myriad urban attractions from restaurants to cultural and entertainment venues.

As their rapid growth added tens of thousands of vehicles to city streets, concerns about these "Transportation Network Companies" (TNCs, also called ride-hail and ride service companies) extended to impacts on traffic congestion and potentially undermining public transit and taxi services that are essential components of urban transportation networks. There has also been much discussion about how these types of services may integrate self-driving vehicles into their fleets and implications of this revolutionary technology on urban transportation ecosystems.

The reports listed below explore the cross-cutting issues that lie at the intersection of app-based ride services, traffic, transit and the future of urban transportation networks. The reports discuss how TNCs can contribute to the goals of public transit agencies, document TNC impacts on traffic and transit, analyze regulatory issues and address the path toward self-driving vehicles operating as shared taxi- and transit-like services.

A Few of My Favorite Facts

  • There were 3.2 billion ride service passenger trips in 2018 in the U.S. Combined taxi and ride service trip volumes more than doubled since ride services came on the scene in 2012, from 1.4 billion passenger trips in 2012 to 3.9 billion in 2018. (See chart at right.)
    Ride service and taxi ridership in the U.S., 1990-2018
  • 70 percent of ride hail trips are in nine major metro areas: New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC.
    Ride-hail trips by metro area group, 2017
  • Many people hoped that greater availability of for-hire services would lead big-city residents to shed their personal motor vehicles in favor of public transit, bikes, walking and a bit of ride-hail. However, data through 2018 shows that vehicle ownership is stable or increasing in big cities and core neighborhoods with the most transit and new mobility options.
    Change in Household Vehicle Ownership and Population, 2012-18
  • The average ride-hail trip is 6.1 miles, 23 minutes, 16 mph. Distances are shorter and a bit slower in big metros, longer and a bit faster in suburban/rural areas.
    TNC trip characteristics

    Major Reports and Papers

    Can Sharing a Ride Make for Less Traffic?

    Invited Research Paper published in Transport Policy," March 2021, pp. 1-10.

    The popularity of Uber and Lyft and advances in autonomous vehicle technology have spurred public interest in the potential of shared ride services to reduce traffic congestion, vehicle emissions and space devoted to parking.

    This paper uses Uber and Lyft experience from 2014 to 2020 to examine the effectiveness of shared (or “pooled”) services in reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in four cities with large concentrations of ride-hail trips and suburban areas of California. It finds that ride-hail adds to vehicle mileage for trips associated with ride-hail even taking into account pooling. The mileage impacts are only slightly reduced when taking account of "first mile/last miles" connections or reduction in cruising for parking.

    The implication for public policy is that in dense urban areas, it remains important for policy-makers to prioritize space-efficient modes of public transportation, walking and biking. At the same time, ride-hail can clearly be valuable to meet specific needs such as providing paratransit services to people with disabilities, providing first and last mile connections to transit services and connecting late-night workers to jobs. (March 2021)

    The New Automobility: Lyft, Uber and the Future of American Cities

    Municipal and civic officials in cities across the country are grappling with how to respond to the unexpected arrival and rapid growth of new mobility services, most notably, ride services such as Uber and Lyft (also called Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs) and “microtransit” companies such as Via and Chariot.

    Are these new mobility options friendly to city goals for mobility, safety, equity and environmental sustainability? What risks do they pose for clogging traffic or poaching riders from transit? What will happen when self-driving vehicles are added to ride-hail fleets?

    This report combines recently published research and newly available data from a national travel survey and other sources to create the first detailed profile of TNC ridership, users and usage.

    The report then discusses how TNC and microtransit services can benefit urban transportation, how policy makers can respond to traffic and transit impacts, and the implications of current experience for planning and implementation of shared autonomous vehicles in major American cities. (July 2018)

    Unsustainable? The Growth of App-Based Ride Services and Traffic, Travel and the Future of New York City

    Over the last four years, Uber, Lyft and other app-based ride services have put 50,000 vehicles on the streets of New York City. Customers embraced these new services as offering a prompt, reliable and affordable option for traveling around town. Their growth also raises questions about their impact on traffic congestion and on public transit and taxi services that are essential components of urban transportation networks. A dearth of factual information has made it difficult, however, to assess their role in the city's transportation network or decide whether a public policy is needed.

    This report presents a detailed analysis of the growth of app-based ride services in New York City, their impacts on traffic, travel patterns and vehicle mileage, and implications for achieving critical City goals for mobility, economic growth and environmental sustainability in New York and other major cities.

    Findings are based on trip and mileage data that are uniquely available in New York City, providing the most detailed and comprehensive assessment of these new services in any U.S. city. (February 2017)

    Making Congestion Pricing Work for Traffic and Transit in NYC

    The rise of app-based ride services such as Uber and Lyft in major U.S. cities raises the question of what should be done to control the traffic impacts from their rapid growth without compromising the mobility benefits they bring to city residents. Amidst debate over congestion pricing recommendations made by a task force appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, this report assesses how charges on taxis, app-based ride services and other for-hire drivers can respond to the serious challenges posed by the rapid growth of these new services.

    The report recommends that taxi/for-hire trips be charged an hourly fee that would apply to vacant time between trips as well as time with passengers. An hourly fee would incentivize companies to minimize vacant time which serves no mobility purpose and would encourage patrons to choose shared ride options or more efficient transit, walking and biking alternatives.

    Rates could be higher in Midtown Manhattan which chronically has the most severe congestion in the CBD and also has a wealth of transit, walking and biking options. A robust program would raise $670 million a year for subway, bus and other transportation needs. (January 2018)

    Empty Seats, Full Streets: Fixing Manhattan's Traffic Problem

    Using newly available data on TNC trips, this report examines the impact of TNC growth on Manhattan traffic conditions. Findings indicate that TNC growth has generated a 59 percent increase in the number of taxi/TNC vehicles in the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) on weekdays between 2013 and 2017. The number of taxi/TNC vehicles in the CBD in the late afternoon has doubled since 2013 to over 10,000 vehicles, as shown at right

    The report examines the sources of this growth and recommends steps to reduce the impact of TNCs on Manhattan traffic congestion as part of an overall program that would include a per-trip fee paid by taxi and TNC passengers and cordon-based congestion pricing fees paid by all drivers in the CBD.

    The report also discusses implications of these findings from New York City for other cities and for the addition of autonomous vehicles to mixed TNC fleets comprised of both human-driven and autonomously operated vehicles. (December 2017)

    Unfinished Business: A Blueprint for Uber, Lyft and Taxi Regulation

    With big-state legislatures stymied over how to regulation Uber and Lyft, this report summarizes the debate on each of five key issues, assesses the arguments put forth by the various stakeholders, and makes recommendations designed to achieve core public policy goals of service, safety, competition and equity, while fairly balancing competing interests of companies, drivers, customers and cities themselves.

    The report can help guide elected officials and the public to ensure that legislation works to improve access for all customers, leads to fair treatment of drivers and creates a competitive landscape for Uber, Lyft, taxis, new app-based services hitting the roads, and potential new entrants like Google. Decisions being made now lay the groundwork for the much-anticipated adoption of self-driving vehicles. (September 2016)

    Making the Most of the Curb

    Curb space is a fixed commodity, but the escalating demand from the growth of ride services and commercial deliveries is straining urban streets. There is widespread demand to do something about the resulting chaos. This report documents what's happening, discusses results from pilot programs in Washington DC, New York City, Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and concludes with recommendations for what cities should be doing to make the curb an asset to their transportation systems.

    Private Mobility, Public Interest: How public agencies can work with emerging mobility service providers

    This report outlines how government agencies can more effectively incorporate popular on-demand services like Uber and bikesharing to improve service for transit customers while also addressing some of the transit industries' biggest challenges. The report highlights strategies agencies can use right now to work with emerging mobility providers like ZipCar, Car2Go, bikeshare providers, and on-demand transit providers like Bridj or Via.

    This report was prepared for the Transit Center, a foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility. Bruce Schaller is a co-author of the report.

    Between Public and Private: Examining the Rise of Technology-Enabled Transportation Services

    A report from the Transportation Research Board (TRB), the largest unit of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, discusses in detail regulatory and policy issues raised by the rapid growth of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft and other innovative shared mobility services including carsharing, bikesharing and microtransit.

    The report offers guidance to local and state elected officials and regulators on these rapidly evolving and complex issues.

    Bruce Schaller was a member of the TRB committee and co-wrote the report.

    Interviews, op-eds, articles and presentations

    Density Isn’t Easy. But It’s Necessary.

    Citylab column, May 4, 2020

    The coronavirus pandemic has led some to question the wisdom of crowding people into big cities. How density played into the spread of the virus is a complicated question, but one thing is clear: big cities are here to stay. People keep coming back to cities because they want the jobs, restaurants, culture, sociability, and the chance to prove yourself against the best. The question is not whether we need cities and density. The question is whether we have the vision, commitment and fortitude to make our cities equitable, affordable and sustainable as well as dense, creative and diverse.

    What Urban Sprawl Is Really Doing to Your Commute

    Citylab column, Sept. 3, 2019

    Urban traffic congestion is growing dramatically, according to a new report. So why aren’t drivers taking longer to get to work?

    In a Reversal, ‘Car-Rich’ Households Are Growing

    Citylab column, Jan. 7, 2019

    Car ownership is up, even in the nation's most walkable and transit-rich cities. The resulting glut of motor vehicles makes it more difficult to give buses, bikes, and now e-scooters the road space they need to be speedy, safe, and comfortable. We better do something about it.

    Driven to desperate measures: The city’s approach to Uber and Lyft isn’t right yet

    New York Daily News op-ed, June 14, 2019.

    Hey, City Hall, it's not 1937 or 2009. Sensible regulation for today's needs.

    Listen up, congestion pricing foes: The two main objections to charging cars and trucks to enter Manhattan's central business district don't hold up

    New York Daily News op-ed, March 14, 2019.

    Among the benefits: equity to your neighbor, high-paying jobs, top-flight medical care.

    What is happening on the streets of New York? (video-taped interview)

    12-minute video interview by Rosalie Genevro, Executive Director of the Architectural League of New York, for the League's conference on Ground Transportation and Climate Change, held November 3, 2018.

    In this video, nationally recognized mobility expert Bruce Schaller offers an in-depth look at the forces shaping New York City’s transportation system. The interview was recorded as part of The Architectural League's Five Thousand Pound Life’s transportation series.

    Why Reining in Ride Hailing Is So Critical

    Citylab column, Aug. 14, 2018

    "Cities should make transit the most attractive way to get around town, reallocate street space to support higher-capacity modes, and charge all vehicles for their contribution to emissions, congestion, and use of curbs.

    "In a place like Midtown Manhattan, where vehicle speeds average 5 mph during the business day, yellow cabs, Ubers and Lyfts are 50 to 80 percent of traffic flow and rapidly adding to congestion. Given these facts, it would be foolish to dismiss the notion of pressing the pause button on the spiraling growth of ride service vehicles.

    "But circumstances are different in other big cities where ride services are most concentrated in nightlife districts, such as Chicago’s Near North Side and D.C.’s Dupont Circle. It makes sense to manage rather than limit ride services with steps like directing drivers to pick-up and drop-off zones and cordoning off lanes for buses to speed down busy corridors."

    Time for a cap on Uber and Lyft: Why a traffic expert changed his mind

    New York Daily News op-ed, July 2018.

    "The numbers from my most recent research show what is also visible to the naked eye: Ride-hail and yellow cab drivers now dominate the Manhattan streetscape. Put the cap where it counts: on Manhattan’s clogged streets. Limit the number of Lyfts and Ubers in Manhattan during daytime hours. That would force the companies to fill their cars and even yellow cabs."

    Second Chances: Regulation and Deregulation of Taxi and For-Hire Ride Services

    This article was published in a special issue of TR News, a publication of the Transportation Research Board, devoted to the 40th anniversary of deregulation.

    While airline, trucking, railroad and intercity bus industries underwent deregulation of entry and prices four decades ago, the for-hire (taxi and now TNC) sector was on a different timeline: deregulation in selected cities in the 1970s and '80s, followed soon after by re-regulation, and then the current, de factor deregulation in the form of "transportation network companies."

    This article examines this cycle and looks to the future of under shared service models and autonomous technology.

    David Krulewitch interviews Bruce Schaller on "Moving Block" podcast

    Did you know that Uber and Lyft drivers spend one-third of their time in Midtown Manhattan empty searching and waiting for fares? How does this affect congestion and what can be done to have our taxi system run more efficiently?

    I sit down with Bruce Schaller, a consultant, and a former executive at NYC DOT and Taxi and Limousine Commission on how best to manage our roads to alleviate traffic. We also discuss the hot topic of congestion pricing. (January 2018)

    An Uber and Lyft Revolution?

    A discussion of how this "revolution in transportation" is transforming customer expectations for transit and taxis too. Published in the University of California, Graduate School of Public Policy, Policy Notes, Fall 2017

    The Road to Shared Autonomous Vehicles

    As tech firms and auto makers begin to test and look toward introducing fully autonomous vehicles, transportation, environmental and energy leaders are eagerly anticipating the replacement of private autos with systems of shared autonomous vehicles.

    A system of shared autonomous vehicles (SAVs) holds the promise of saving lives, eliminating traffic congestion, increasing mobility, and reducing space devoted to parking in central cities.

    While much of the discussion of SAVs is necessarily speculative and based on sometimes-arcane travel demand modeling, there is much to be learned about the path toward SAVs from current experience with Uber, Lyft and other app-based ride services. (April 2017)

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