Transportation network companies linked to higher traffic congestion, study finds

traffic_congestionAccording to a recent study, titled ‘Do transportation network companies decrease or increase congestion?’, transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Lyft and Uber, were the biggest contributors to growing traffic congestion in the city of San Francisco between 2010 and 2016.

The presence of TNCs in major cities has exploded over the past several years –  revolutionizing the landscape of transportation in urban areas. In 2016, TNCs accounted for 15% of all intra-San Francisco vehicle trips – 12 times the number of taxi trips.

While these services have been touted by some as a solution to urban traffic congestion, research on the matter has yielded inconclusive or mixed results.

Gregory Erhardt, Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Engineering, and his team set out to determine whether TNCs “live up to their stated vision of reducing congestion in major cities.”

The researchers used data scraped from the application programming interfaces of two TNCs, combined with observed travel time data.

According to the abstract of the study, published in Science Advances, between 2010 and 2016 weekday vehicle hours of delay in San Francisco rose by 62% compared to 22% in a counterfactual 2016 scenario without TNCs.

Earlier this year, Erhardt talked about the impacts of TNCs in an interview featured on the University of Kentucky College of Engineering website.

“TNCs have pretty strong PR arms,” said Erhardt. “They come along and say, ‘Look, we’re new technology. We’re green. We’re sustainable. You don’t need to regulate us or make us follow the same rules as taxi cabs. We’re going to fix your city’s congestion problems.’ And cities have been happy to get on board.”

“The question is whether their claims are accurate from a public policy perspective. We want to look at what’s really happening. TNCs got bigger than people expected and in a short amount of time, so we’re trying to understand the impacts of those companies on the transportation systems,” he added.