How Rideshare Apps Fuel Traffic Jams

Is convenience really that worth it?

Key Takeaways

  • A recent study shows how rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are contributing to traffic jams. 
  • Cities with rideshare app access had longer traffic jams as a result of this type of transportation. 
  • Experts say ways to ease road congestion include electric scooters and having cities add more bike lanes to encourage other modes of transportation.
A traffic jam in the city.

fotog / Getty Images

Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are meant to provide an easier and quicker means of transportation, but a new study reveals they are causing more traffic jams. 

The tech behind rideshare apps provides on-demand rides by matching a driver to a rider, taking them exactly where they need to go. However, instead of solving transportation issues in the U.S., the study shows how Uber and Lyft have only complicated them further. Experts say the study should make us rethink how we get from point A to point B. 

"As the study suggests, the task of finding ideal forms of shared mobility to achieve the goal of sustainable urban transport will be even more challenging in the post-pandemic era," wrote Alex Miller, the vice president of marketing at Uphail, in an email to Lifewire. 

What the Study Found 

Titled "Impacts of transportation networks on urban mobility," the study looks at the data of congestion in cities in the US that had Uber and Lyft availability. 

The study found that congestion in 44 cities with rideshare services increased by almost 1%, while the duration of traffic congestion rose by 4.5%. 

Someone getting into a rideshare vehicle.

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

It also found an 8.9% decrease in public transport ridership in 174 metropolitan areas due to the availability of rideshares. In addition, on-demand rideshare access discouraged people from using other modes of transportation, such as walking, public transit, or cycling. 

"While mathematical models in prior studies showed that the potential benefit of on-demand shared mobility could be tremendous, our study suggests that translating this potential into actual gains is much more complicated in the real world," Jinhua Zhao, SMART FM principal investigator and associate professor at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, said in a press release

Experts say various factors make ridesharing a traffic-jam inducer. For one, "deadheading," or miles when the rideshare driver is alone in the car in-between dropping off a passenger and picking one up, adds to the traffic. The study found that deadheading miles account for 40.8% of a rideshare drivers' total miles driven. 

Other reasons could be attributed to a change in rider habits due to the pandemic. 

"The holy grail for ride-hailing is to maximize efficient use of the vehicle, meaning pooling or sharing rides in the most efficient way and filling all seats as much as possible," Miller said. 

"As we consider our transportation systems as a whole, these [rideshare companies] are in a great position to help advance bicycling and transit in our cities."

"Since the pandemic, shared rides have been disabled by Uber, Lyft, and other providers, further compounding this issue."

Solving Rideshare Congestion

Experts say cities should think about improving transportation infrastructure by encouraging more shared rides, adding e-scooter programs, and increasing bike lanes. 

"[The answer is] allocating more resources to public transportation infrastructure and bikeshares, like adding more bike lanes, bike share hubs, bus lanes, and other incentives to use transportation," Miller said. 

Others want to address the emissions rideshare could be adding to the environment. California is proposing to require that Uber and Lyft go fully electric by 2030

Going electric is another viable option for rideshare services for both congestion and emission issues, specifically with electric scooters. 

"I'm confident that electric scooters can offer a great solution here, or at least make a meaningful contribution to an overall solution," Matt Trajkovski, the founder of EScooterNerds, wrote in an email to Lifewire. 

Closeup of someone holding onto the handle bars of an electric scooter.

Okai Vehicles / Unsplash

"[Electric scooters] are small and easy to navigate, don't occupy too much space on the street, and, as such, are not only immune to traffic jams, but they also help to reduce them (each person on a scooter is one less person in a car)." 

Even Uber and Lyft see the value in electric scooters, and each tech company has now or in the past had an e-scooter program in many major cities across the country. 

Even though transportation infrastructures usually fall on municipalities to figure out, others think Lyft and Uber should take on more responsibility to solve the issues they are causing. 

"Companies like Uber and Lyft have strong technology platforms, massive advertising budgets, and satisfied user bases," Jorge Barrios, an associate transportation engineer at Kittelson & Associates, wrote in an email to Lifewire. 

"As we consider our transportation systems as a whole, these [rideshare companies] are in a great position to help advance bicycling and transit in our cities."

Was this page helpful?