Neighborhood Intel

New report argues that Uber is, indeed, making city traffic much worse

By Virginia K. Smith | February 28, 2017 - 1:45PM 

On the heels of the massive #DeleteUber campaign that saw the service hemorrhage users in January, more bad news for the embattled cab-hailing app: A new report came out this week indicating that taxi-alternative apps have had a demonstrably negative effect on our city's traffic congestion.

The report, titled "Unsustainable? The Growth of App-Based Ride Services and Traffic, Travel and the Future of New York City," was authored by Bruce Schaller, a former deputy commissioner for the Department of Transportation, who writes in an op-ed for the New York Daily News: "On-demand companies are fueling a cycle of increasing congestion and declining transit use, and it demands immediate attention by Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo."

During his time with the Department of Transportation, Schaller helped prepare last year's study indicating that Uber wasn't snarling city traffic in a significant way, but now says that on-demand cab rides have tripled since the data for that study was collected, and now total 500,000 rides per day. "On-demand ride companies drove 600 million miles on New York City streets in 2016—more than the same year's total yellow cab mileage in Manhattan," says Schaller. "Most of the added driving is in Manhattan and congested parts of Brooklyn and Queens near the East River, piling more cars onto already crowded streets."

Combined with the first drop in subway ridership in years, this creates a troubling trend for transit. But rather than slamming cab apps, Schaller says that it's the responsibility of the DoT and the MTA to step up both quality of service and policy responses to improve the state of traffic and public transportation.

Specifically, he says, the DoT should focus on improving traffic signal timing, expand off-the-bus fare collection on busy routes (the better to get people boarded more quickly), and implement other efficiency fixes such as the proposed new metrocards that would let riders tap instead of swipe. (On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton had an unfortunate encounter with the MTA's finnicky swipe system, a frustration many New Yorkers have shared.)

Schaller also has a dim outlook on expensive planned projects such as the controversial BQX streetcar or the LaGuardia AirTrain, noting, "Without system-wide improvements, the on-demand companies will keep attracting transit riders at an ever-increasing pace."

Whether or not it's in response to the rise of Uber, a faster and more efficient MTA sounds pretty appealing to us. Especially considering the hefty fare hikes that are set to go into effect next month.


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