With Lyft reportedly set to file for its IPO this week ahead of its rival Uber, the success of ride hailing is set to make early investors and employees of these companies a whole lot richer. (Investors betting on the IPO may be another story entirely, according to skeptical experts). But is the growth of these companies actually good for our cities?

Unless you like your urban centers clotted with traffic, the answer according to a host of studies is a decisive no. Many people have been sold on a story that the likes of Lyft reduce private car rides, driving down the amount of traffic on our streets. But sadly, that's not what the numbers show. Instead, Uber and its competitors are largely replacing trips made by bike, transit or on foot, and that's leading to a host of unpleasant effects for cities.

Transit-focused blog Streetsblog recently rounded them all up in a long and depressing list (hat tip Kottke). Here's a sampling for those who thought the Lyft IPO might be something to cheer about:

1. Uber and Lyft increase driving.

"One study estimated that in cities with the highest Uber and Lyft adoption rates, driving has increased about three percent compared to the cities with the lowest. That's an enormous amount of miles," reports Streetsblog. "Transportation consultant Bruce Schaller estimates that the app-based taxis have added 5.7 billion driving miles in the nine major cities they primarily operate."

2. They nudge people to walk and bike less.

"A survey of 944 Uber and Lyft riders by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston last year, found that 42 percent of riders would have taken transit if the services hadn't been available. Another 12 percent... said they would have biked or walked their journey," notes the post. That's as bad for our health as it is for the environment.

3. They're hurting public transit.

If people take an Uber rather than a train that's clearly bad news for the local transit system, which is losing desperately needed funds. "Transit agencies simply cannot complete with private chauffeur service which is subsidized at below real costs by venture capitalists," the post argues.

And even if the city does find the funding to keep buses moving, Ubers physically get in the way. "Relatively well off people in Ubers congesting the streets of Manhattan and San Francisco slow down buses full of relatively low-income people," it also notes.

4. They make our streets more dangerous.

More driving doesn't just mean less walking and less well financed transit, it also means, quite literally, more death. Because cars kill a lot more people than subways. One University of Chicago study "estimated that Uber and Lyft increased traffic fatalities last year by an astonishing 1,100 -- an enormous human toll," reports the post.

And no, they're not making up for it by cutting down the number of drunk drivers on our roads: "The study also found, surprisingly, that Uber and Lyft have no effect on drunk driving."

5. They're bad for the environment

Streetsblog is focused on urban design not environmentalism so the post doesn't dwell on this fact as much, but if Uber and Lyft are leading to more miles being driven that also means they're leading to higher CO2 emissions. That is clearly a step in the wrong direction when it comes to handing down a healthy planet -- and livable cities -- to our kids.

What should be done about all this? As Kottke points out, on a collective level "it's up to cities and communities to take action," to regulate these companies and make smart urban design decisions to halt the worst of their effects. But on a personal level we can all ask ourselves if a bike trip or train ride wouldn't actually be a better choice than opening your favorite ride hailing app.

Published on: Feb 28, 2019
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