Ridehailing adds more VMT and takes more from transit than previously thought

A new report on the adoption and use of ride-hailing finds that services like Uber and Lyft attract passengers away from public transit, biking, and walking, in addition to serving as a complementary mode (e.g., for commuter rail). The UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies compiled 2000 interviews from US major cities on ride-hailing and its impact on travel decisions.
October 11, 2017,  Regina R. Clewlow | @ReginaClewlow on Planetizen

Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are clearly shaping the way that people move in major cities. However, due to their rapid rise in popularity, the relatively slow pace of regulation, and lack of available data on how, when, and why people use these services, city planners and transportation researchers have been limited in their ability to provide insights into how ride-hailing is changing travel choices and plan for the future. The downside is that those who are responsible for making important long-range decisions about transportation infrastructure and vehicle fleets (e.g., auto manufacturers) are essentially operating in the blind without data.

The new report was produced by researchers at the University of California, Davis Institute of Transportation Studies — one of five leading national transportation research centers funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Uber and Lyft most likely add to traffic in major cities today

In this study based on data collected in major cities across America, we found that a large portion of travelers are substituting ride-hailing in place of public transit, biking, and walking trips, or would not have made the trips at all (Fig. 1). These trips, which are being substituted for or generated by ride-hailing, are most likely adding vehicles to the road in major metropolitan areas. There is a significant need for future research on the topic — the most recent findings from major cities seem to suggest that ride-hailing is likely adding to, not reducing traffic congestion.

Figure 1. How ride-hailing users would travel if Uber or Lyft were unavailable.

The research (and ride-hailing firms themselves) suggest that ride-hailing can be complementary to public transit. This is also true. However, this study finds that while some portion of individuals increase their transit use (an increase in commuter rail use), the net effect across the entire population is an overall reduction in public transit use and a shift towards lower occupancy vehicles (i.e. more cars).

The broader implications of this shift in travel choice are critical. Cities are grappling with how to plan for the potential introduction of autonomous vehicles, which many believe will be deployed through shared services, not to mention the ever-rising impacts of the transportation sector on energy use and emissions. As of 2016, transportation surpassed the power sector as the largest contributor to the U.S. climate problem.

Many believe that sharing vehicles can help address our growing transportation woes — however, this research shows that sharing vehicles is not enough. We will likely need to foster more dense development patterns that can minimize vehicle miles traveled through walkable and bike-friendly neighborhoods, continue to invest in mass transit, and facilitate shared rides in shared vehicles through pricing or incentives.

With the right model, it is also possible that ride-hailing could serve as an effective solution in existing suburban areas where personal vehicles dominate travel. However, without significant coordination between cities, public transit agencies, and ride-hailing services themselves, we do not believe this optimistic scenario is likely to materialize. It hasn’t thus far.

Evolution of shared mobility services

Much of prior academic research on impacts of shared mobility services study what we term carsharing 1.0 — that is, early models of carsharing where vehicles were picked up and returned to the same location, typically through hourly rentals (Fig. 2). A key takeaway from this recent report is that not all shared services can be viewed as the same.

The adoption rates of ride-hailing far outpace the adoption rates of prior carsharing models. Older business models of carsharing have attracted only 2 million members in North America and close to 5 million globally — over roughly 15 years. Conversely, the adoption ride-hailing (e.g., Uber, Lyft, Didi), the latest model of “shared mobility” is estimated to have grown to more than 250 million users globally within their first five years of existence.

Prior research shows that carsharing members (e.g. Zipcar, car2go) were highly educated and environmentally oriented. We believe that the widely cited vehicle reduction “impacts” of carsharing were more likely due to self-selection bias rather than a significant causal relationship. Early carshare members were motivated to reduce their environmental footprint, and they represent less than 1% of the entire U.S. population.

Ride-hailing, on the other hand, has captured a much broader swath of the population. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, we find that more than half of carsharing users surveyed dropped their membership, with 23% citing their use of services like Uber and Lyft as the top reason they no longer use carsharing.

Figure 2. The evolution of shared mobility services.

Reduced vehicle ownership and reduced carsharing membership

The research study reveals a number of additional insights into the travel decisions made by individuals and households, including the demographics of typical ride-hailing adopters, frequency of ride-hailing use, and vehicle ownership decisions.

Key findings include the following:

  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of ride-hailing adopters in metropolitan areas use ride-hailing on a weekly or daily basis.
  • Parking represents the top reason that urban ride-hailing users substitute a ride-hailing service in place of driving themselves (37%).
  • College-educated, affluent Americans have adopted ride-hailing services at double the rate of less educated, lower income populations.
  • Among adopters of prior carsharing services, 65% have also used ride-hailing. More than half of them have dropped their membership, and 23% cite their use of ride-hailing services as the top reason they have dropped carsharing.
  • Ride-hailing users have higher personal vehicle ownership rates than those who use “transit only”: 52% versus 46%.
  • Among non-transit users, there are no differences in vehicle ownership rates between ride-hailing users and traditionally car-centric households.
  • Those who have reduced the number of cars they own and the average number of miles they drive personally have substituted those trips with increased ride-hailing use. Net vehicle miles traveled (VMT) changes are unknown.
  • After using ride-hailing, the average net change in transit use is a 6% reduction among Americans in major cities.
  • As compared with previous studies that have suggested shared mobility services complement transit services, the substitutive versus complementary nature of ride-hailing varies greatly based on the type of transit service in question. On average, ride-hailing hailing appears to reduce bus ridership and complement commuter rail.
  • 49% to 61% of ride-hailing trips would have not been made at all, or by walking, biking, or transit.
  • Directionally, based on mode substitution and ride-hailing frequency of use data, ride-hailing is currently likely to contribute to growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the major cities represented in this study.

The full report can be downloaded through the ITS website.

Regina Clewlow, PhD is a transportation researcher on shared mobility and autonomous vehicles. She received her Ph.D. from MIT in Transportation Systems, and has served as a research scientist at UC Berkeley, Stanford, and UC Davis. Dr. Clewlow joined the transportation startup world where she was previously the Director of Business Development and Strategy at Ridescout (acquired by Daimler and rebranded as moovel). To learn more about how to access new urban mobility insights sign up here, or contact her via LinkedIn.

research on the risks of TNCs to transit, congestion, and GHG increase


Researchers at the U.C. Davis Institute of Transportation Studies surveyed 2,000 people about their travel behavior in seven major metro areas, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and including people who live in their suburbs and those who don’t use these services. Results suggest that ride-hailing draws people away from public transit. And the authors, Regina Clewlow and Gouri Shankar Mishra, estimate that 49 percent to 61 percent of ride-hailing trips either wouldn’t have been made at all if these apps didn’t exist, or would have been made by foot, biking or transit. All of those trips, in other words, added cars to the road that otherwise wouldn’t have been there.

That picture implies that Uber and the like could make traffic worse. And let’s further assume that many of those trips additionally require drivers to cruise around waiting for rides, and to “deadhead” occasionally after the rides are over (to return to, say, the airport with an empty back seat).

3 percent said they rode heavy rail like subway systems more since starting to ride-hail. That’s consistent with the idea that apps could help you travel the “last mile” home from the train if you don’t live near a stop, or that they could help you cobble together transportation options once you ditch your own car. But 6 percent said they rode the bus less, and 3 percent said the same of light rail.

If transit agencies partnered with these companies, as some have begun to try doing, ride-hailing could fill niches that trains and buses don’t handle well, like late-night journeys, transit for riders with disabilities, and suburban service.

“There’s this potential opportunity for policy makers, city planners and these firms themselves to find solutions where we’re steering toward that future,” Ms. Clewlow said. It’s unlikely we’ll get there by chance, though.

Sunny Sen October 13, 2017 7 min

US automaker Ford Motor Company wants to power its fortunes ahead in shared mobility in India to stay relevant in a growth market where value is increasingly being harvested by cab-hailing companies such as Ola and Uber.

That drive is also fueled by Ford’s ambition to garner large swathes of traffic data that will help it understand consumer preferences and meet their transport needs better.

This is part of Ford’s push worldwide that has seen an investment in US ride-hailing company Lyft, the launch of a shuttle service Chariot and a micro-transit hospital transportation service, and a driverless pizza delivery pilot with Domino’s. All this is in the US and with some 250 million people projected to migrate to cities in India from its hinterland by 2030, the time may be right to bet on mobility in Asia’s third largest economy.

Ford’s mobility efforts, as per information available now, may not directly affect Ola and Uber’s business models in India but could have interesting adjacency effects. This story details how.

The biggest question for Ford, says the executive leading its mobility efforts, was whether it would supply cars at the same rate as it has in the last 50 years or at a different rate? “I think at a different rate,” said Raj Rao, CEO of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, in an interview. “How to give shared rides instead of individual rides, and it is not only about personal mobility, but also how to use it to fetch goods.”

Rao took over from Jim Hackett, who chaired Ford Smart Mobility before becoming Ford’s president and CEO. The mobility unit was created in previous CEO Mark Fields’s tenure to accelerate Ford’s plans to design, build, grow and invest in emerging mobility services that would shape the future of the company.

Wheels no longer posh

Rao said that Ford doesn’t subscribe to the notion of “peak car” — something that Uber subscribes to. “It’s not that people will completely stop buying cars,” he said.

Still, trends suggest that a car isn’t the status symbol that it used to be a couple of decades ago. “That is not as universal as it once was, though it exists for some people,” Sheryl Connely, manager, global consumer trends and futuring at Ford told FactorDaily. “…some people would require it when they want to go from point A to B, something like a functional utility.”

Connely’s job is to look outside the auto industry, site trends and make them useful for Ford to develop strategy on future of mobility.

But, isn’t that an area that is dominated by Ola and Uber?

The Indian born CEO of Ford Smart Mobility, Raj Rao, believes Indians are ready for fractional ownership of cars

Ford in August 2016, invested in $24 million in Zoomcar, a self-drive car company in India. “We are getting cities to embrace shared mobility,” said Rao, adding that a lot of people are prepared to share their vehicles. “They are ready for fractional ownership.”

To give an example, if the person is not using the vehicles from 10am to 2pm, he doesn’t mind if someone else uses it, as long as the person who is sharing the vehicle doesn’t damage it. Rao saw it coming with the growth of Netflix, which is about consuming content via streaming, or Airbnb when people started opening up their home as an alternative to stay in hotels, and when Uber started Pool, which was about sharing rides.

Sharing vehicles is the step in evolution of sharing rides. “If everyone did that, that would reduce congestion on the roads,” Rao said. (India’s top planning body NITI Aayog has suggested that cab-hailing platforms be allowed to enrol private cars to offer shared rides but this is being resisted by the central transport ministry.)

Zipcar clones the future?

To do that, Ford would need to create an hyperlocal distribution model – which is where Zoomcar comes in. “It is about how do you create an asset and manage the cost of ownership,” said Greg Moran, CEO and cofounder of Zoomcar.

It is like creating a marketplace of cars. Whenever the vehicle is not in use it can be rented out to a person who needs it. If there is an accident, Zoomcar will take care of the insurance processing and repairs. Moran said that the demand for sharing will grow as supply constraints keep growing in major cities. “We will transition into a complete marketplace, which is 20% the business right now,” he added.

Zoomcar is not the only one with the idea, to be sure. Competitor Revv is building technology that will allow users to hire a car, unlock it, and drive it away without any human interaction. “People are willing to share assets not space,” said Anupam Agarwal, cofounder and CEO of Revv.

Indian shared mobility companies

If they can crack this business model in India, Zoomcar and Revv will be taking forward in India what US car-sharing company Zipcar started in 2000. It offers cars on rent for a monthly, quarterly and annual subscription. Zipcar, which is owned by Avis Budget group operates from 11,000 rental locations in 180 countries, and posted $2.2 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2017.

Ford does not want to directly compete with Ola (which has 60% market share) and Uber (most of the rest 40%), but if Zoomcar, which currently operates in 26 Indian cities, scales its business, that will impact the taxi-hailing business. Throw in, Ford’s manufacturing business – and, it will have an advantage there.

In the past 12 months, the number of rides for Zoomcar has grown four times; the company doesn’t reveal absolute figures. Ford looks at Zoomcar as its shared mobility partner, through which more people will drive Ford vehicles though it can procure cars from other carmakers, too.

It is not just about sharing cars, Ford is starting a shuttle service for its employees in Chennai much like its Chariot service in San Francisco and New York. “Then we will open up to other parts of the cities, in areas of first mile-last mile (mobility), and yet that is scalable,” said Rao.

Ford’s big data map

One area where Ford is actively working is collecting data around traffic movement, population density and from where to where people travel. Then the company wants to analyse this data to offer newer solutions. “The idea is to use data and analytics to do route planning. Use data to study journey. You have to connect more pieces, and see which all places need to be connected,” said Rao.

An easy example it to collect data of a new business district or a new business park — and then help people with transport solutions using analytics depending on where they are going to or coming from.

But before Ford can do this and offer a solution, say, through an app it needs to collect a lot of data. “We are in the early stage of setting up that stage for mobility, because we need the cities to be ready,” said Rao.

Zoomcar CEO Greg Moran says the number of rides on his platform in the last 12 months has grown four times

Ford will have a lot of catching up to do. Uber, which perhaps knows more about the world’s top cities than the city administrations themselves, is looking to offer traffic data on Boston to the local government to ease congestion on roads.

To begin with, Ford wants to prescribe journeys. For example, if you are in Chittaranjan Park in New Delhi and want to go the the bustling market of Karol Bagh for your Diwali shopping, it can a stressful experience getting there using an auto or cab and a metro and, perhaps, a cycle rickshaw.

“We can prescribe the journey, book tickets on the commuters’ behalf, book the transit pass, and be more prescriptive about the journey,” Rao said. “We are looking at different transit – you want to use the metro, to reach to the metro you might need and auto or share a taxi. Instead of you booking an Uber, or book the metro ticket, you will have a single journey plan.”

This cannot be done if Ford doesn’t have data of auto, taxis, buses, metros and all other forms of transportation. The technology work on this is being led by Ford’s Greenfield Labs in Palo Alto, California.