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Uber and Lyft hurt CTA ridership, slow down buses, and worsen congestion

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Ride-hailing trips have increased by 271 percent since 2015

A bus and a car on a downtown street in Chicago. Shutterstock

In the mayor’s proposed 2020 budget, existing city fees on single rider Uber and Lyft trips will increase. During a special address to announce the budget, it was clear that Mayor Lightfoot was not a fan of ride-hailing services.

In the mayor’s speech, she stated that Uber and Lyft trips in Chicago have increased by 271 percent from 2015 to 2018. This statistic comes from the city’s public data on Transportation Network Providers (TNP), which includes Uber, Lyft, and Via. In April, information on registered drivers, where trips began and ended, and how much riders tipped was released as part of a database.

The mayor released an analysis of the data in a 13-page report that illustrates how ride-hailing companies have impacted public transportation, congestion, and commutes. Overall, 25 percent of Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector. The report, which examines ride-hailing trips in both neighborhoods and downtown, more insight into the mayor’s strategy. While investing in bus-only lanes and disincentivizing ride-hailing by tacking on a higher fee, her administration hopes to combat terrible downtown traffic.

Here are four trends the mayor’s office detailed in their recent report.

Uber and Lyft have covered more miles and completed more trips every year

In 2015, 27.6 million trips started or ended in Chicago, and in 2018 that number jumped to 102.5 million. Mileage covered also increased from 135.9 million miles to 603.4 million miles in the same years, although the total number of miles by Uber and Lyft drivers is likely much higher, the study said. The additional distance driven to pick up a passenger or while a driver waits for a request accounts for 40 percent of ride-hailing service miles in the Chicago area.

“This behavior is particularly concerning, as it is adding to overall congestion while providing no tangible transportation value to residents,” the study said.

The large increases put more wear and tear on the roads, adds to vehicle pollution, and hurts public transportation ridership. According to the report, 48 percent of customers who use ride-hailing services would have taken the CTA if the technology didn’t exist.

Ride-hailing services worsen congestion in areas that already have terrible traffic

Downtown areas like The Loop and River North have some of the highest congestion due to ride-hailing services, the report says. Between March 2018 and February 2019, about half of all trips started or ended in the downtown area and a third started and ended downtown.

Examining shared trips, the data showed that those are less likely to happen downtown. More commonly riders in neighborhoods on the South and West sides request shared trips.

Ride-hailing usage peaks during morning and evening rush hours

Not surprisingly, the data shows more people are taking Uber and Lyft trips during peak morning and evening commute hours. In the downtown area, the highest number of trips happen from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays. On average, about 8,132 drivers complete 25,807 trips during a morning rush period, the study said. The evening numbers are slightly higher: 9,326 drivers completing 29,817 trips.

How the CTA is impacted

As Uber and Lyft have surged in popularity, Chicago’s public transportation has suffered. Since 2015, the CTA has lost close 48 million rides annually even as it sinks millions into renovations, upgrades, and new stations.

Ride-hailing services aren’t the only cause for the decline, but the study notes that areas with high CTA ridership loss also have higher numbers ride-hailing trips. Since 2015, there’s been an 8 percent decline in CTA ridership on the Near North Side and a 5 percent decline in Loop.

Crowding and speed are also factors in frustration with downtown public transportation. Without a network of dedicated bus lanes, the city’s buses are subject to congestion and gridlock.

Currently in congested areas downtown, taking a bus is only twice as fast as walking, while some buses are only 1 mph faster than walking. For example, CTA bus routes the #1 Bronzeville/Union Station and #28 Stony Island, which connect the South Side to the Loop, travel at under 4 mph to cross downtown from Union Station to Michigan Avenue, and the #7 Harrison, which connects the West Side to downtown, is only slightly faster at 5 mph between Union Station and Michigan Avenue. Six different routes on N. Michigan Avenue travel between 3.7 and 4.4 mph.

The data presented in the report serves to justify a change in structure to ride-hailing fees. While the conclusions aren’t surprising, the numbers quantify a problem that could continue to grow without changes to ride-hailing services, streets, and public transit. By adding the highest fee to single-rider trips in a designated downtown area, the mayor’s administration hopes to eliminate some of the congestion.