Uber’s Own Numbers Show It’s Making Traffic Worse
Uber blasted out an Excel spreadsheet to reporters this morning, accompanied by a story and editorial in the Daily News, with data providing a snapshot of how many Uber vehicles are on Manhattan streets south of 59th Street, New York’s central business district. While Uber claims the data shows its vehicles aren’t responsible for congestion in the city core, transportation analyst Charles Komanoff has crunched Uber’s own numbers and estimates that the service has actually reduced traffic speeds in the central business district by about 8 percent.
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Uber’s data dump [XLS] released hourly information on the number of pickups and drivers below 59th Street and in the rest of the city between May 31 and July 19. It used that data to calculate the number of Uber vehicles in the central business district, where half of the company’s trips originate. Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., there were an average of 1,904 Uber cars on the road below 59th Street.
That seems like a small number at first glance, and Uber highlights that fact by proclaiming it “is not the source of Manhattan congestion.” But the question isn’t whether Uber is the root cause of all congestion — it’s whether Uber is making the current traffic situation worse.
So how do 1,904 for-hire cars circulating the congested Manhattan core actually affect traffic? To answer the question, Streetsblog turned to Komanoff, whose “Balanced Transportation Analyzer” [XLS] models the impact of toll proposals and other changes to city traffic. Uber’s data release provides more detailed information than what was previously available to the public.
The volume of Ubers is similar to the 2,000 yellow taxi medallions the Bloomberg administration proposed to auction off in 2012, which Komanoff calculated would make average traffic speeds 12 percent worse. To understand what happens to Manhattan traffic with 1,900 Ubers in the mix, Komanoff adjusted his model in a couple of key ways to account for the fact that each Uber vehicle likely affects Manhattan traffic less than each yellow cab.
He assumes that while Uber trips cover as much distance as yellow taxi trips, the app-based vehicles cruise half as much as yellows, which spend about 35 percent of their total miles looking for fares. He also assumes that a quarter of Uber trips would otherwise have been taken as yellow cabs.
Even with those tweaks in Uber’s favor, Komanoff estimates that having 1,900 Ubers in the city’s core between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. reduces average travel speeds by 7.7 percent. Without the favorable assumptions, that number jumps to 12 percent.
“Uber is entering a system of vehicles — cars, trucks, cabs, buses — which had settled into a more or less stable level of congestion. The Uber vehicles perturb that system,” Komanoff wrote.
Uber “isn’t totally wrong” to claim that it is not responsible for Manhattan congestion, Komanoff noted. “But that’s the wrong question,” he wrote. “The question before the City Council is: Is Uber the source (or a leading source) of the increase in Manhattan congestion? The answer is assuredly: Yes.”
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Streetsblog is a daily news source connecting people to information about sustainable transportation and livable communities. Since 2006, Streetsblog has covered the movement to transform our cities by reducing dependence on private automobiles and improving conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. Our reporters have broken important stories about transit funding, pedestrian safety, and bicycle policy from day one. And our writing makes arcane topics like parking prices and induced traffic accessible to a broad audience.
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Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: email@example.com) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)
This seems like a small number at first glance and that fact by proclaiming it is not the source of Manhattan congestion. But more questions comes that isn’t whether Uber is the root cause of all congestion. Whose really making the current traffic situation worse.?
At first blush a reduction in speed of motor vehicles in NYC midtown area is probably a good thing for pedestrians and cyclists. But the service does provide a transportation option that has a big footprint in a part of town that is already very dense. And, Uber takes advantage of the poor ability of municipal taxi regime to provide extra capacity at peak periods, since the medallion system makes every cab a full-time operator, rather than the need for part-time cars. But this leads to simply proving even more one-occupant (not counting the driver) cars at the very time of the day when you want travelers to reduce their footprint.
One way to do that is through Uber’s Uber-Pool service, which allows several fares to share a cab, something that NYC mandated during WWII when fuel and tires were in limited supply. With Uber’s handheld apps, they should be able to easily handle the splitting of the overall fare between the unrelated people sharing the car.
In fact, what I am waiting to see is for people transporting themselves in own their car being able to accept ride requests via an app that knows where the person is to be picked up, handles the identity/security, and does the billing. But it will require the participating drivers to file their destination for it to work properly and make it truly ridesharing (the term Uber uses improperly: ridesharing means the driver can recover only his car costs less his own share, not any salary for his time, since he, too, is being transported.).