More evidence that TNCs are clogging downtown streets (and what NYC is doing about it)

By Rayla Bellis

In August, Uber and Lyft jointly released an analysis conducted by Fehr & Peers examining how their vehicles are contributing to VMT in six major cities: Boston, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

The study found that Uber and Lyft vehicles account for just 1-3 percent of total VMT in the metro regions. However, they are contributing a significantly larger share in the core counties of several of these regions: between 12.2-13.4 percent of VMT in San Francisco County, up to 8.0 percent in Boston, and up to 7.2 percent in Washington, DC. These contributions are even greater within the core city centers—anywhere from 14 percent of VMT in downtown Seattle to 30 percent in San Francisco and Chicago.

The study also examined how many miles driven by Uber and Lyft vehicles involve an actual passenger versus cruising or “deadheading”—waiting for a ride request—a practice encouraged by the companies to keep wait times down. The study found that cruising accounts for approximately one third of the VMT contributed by Lyft and Uber vehicles in these cities on average. Miles driven with a rider in the backseat account for 54-62 percent of Uber and Lyft VMT, while cars on their way to a pickup account for about 10 percent.

As New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg argued in a recent article, the practice of cruising is a grossly inefficient use of already heavily congested urban streets—one that NYC is in the process of stepping up to address. A year after New York’s City Council voted to enact a cap on the number of for-hire vehicle licenses issued in the city, NYC is extending the cap and proposing to institute a new limit on how long drivers can cruise in Manhattan in vehicles without a passenger.

Trottenberg notes that “New York City will be the first city in the world to institute a cap on cruising, requiring [for hire vehicle] companies to more efficiently use public streets. Under the proposed rules, each company is required to decrease the amount of time vehicles on its platform spend without passengers while driving in Manhattan south of 96th St. from 41% to 31%.”

New York City’s absence from Uber and Lyft’s study is noteworthy as the largest U.S. market for transportation network companies (TNCs). According to a Lyft representative, NYC was omitted from the analysis due to its unique characteristics, including its very low rate of car ownership and extensive transit system.

Rayla Bellis is a Program Manager at SSTI.