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Does Uber Actually Make Cities Safer?

Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare companies generated billions in investments with a vision for a new kind of transportation that offered maximum flexibility for travelers with less urban congestion and safer roads. Nearly a decade later, these companies have operated in hundreds of cities in the United States alone and provided tens of billions of rides.

Have they begun to fulfill those promises?

Uber Does Not Decrease Traffic

In a study from 2019 titled “Do transportation network companies decrease or increase congestion?,” researchers analyzed data from major TNCs like Uber and Lyft to observe their effect on congestion in San Fransciso, where these companies have been operating the longest. Not only have rideshare services not improved congestion in San Fransciso, but they made it considerably worse.

The study found that between 2010 and 2016, “vehicle hours of delay” increased by 62%. In a model of traffic growth of the same period without rideshare services, vehicle hours of delay increased by only 22%. In other words, Uber and Lyft services made traffic far worse for commuters. Increased congestion pollutes the air, puts pressure on existing infrastructure, and raises the likelihood of car crashes.

Uber Has No Effect on Drunk Driving

A study from 2016 of the 100 largest cities in the US showed that Uber had no measurable effect on drunk driving prevention or DUI accidents. Given that Uber is the largest provider of rideshare services in the world, we can safely presume that no rideshare company is preventing drunk driving to a measurable degree. This is a major discovery, as Uber has long promoted ridesharing as a countermeasure to drinking and driving.

The authors pose a few possibilities as to why ridesharing has no effect on drunk driving:

  • The likelihood of a DUI arrest is fairly low (1.1 million arrests vs. 121 million incidents), so drunk drivers are likely only to call an Uber if the price of an Uber is low, if at all.
  • The idea of a drunk driver ordering an Uber instead of driving assumes that the driver is thinking rationally about their safety, which research shows may not be the case.
  • Uber use is largest among people who don’t own a car or would otherwise take a bus, so Uber largely doesn’t affect car owners who drink.
  • Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare services only have a combined 2 million drivers, while there are 121 million drinking-and-driving incidents per year, so their small size makes it impossible to make a dent in drunk driving statistics.
  • Uber use may be too expensive when compared with the low risk (comparably) to a person driving drunk.

Do Rideshare Companies Need to Be Held Accountable?

Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare companies have openly sought to “disrupt” the passenger transportation industry. However, it’s also disrupted city life in unsavory ways as well, including rising rideshare accidents. Uber and Lyft have historically taken zero responsibility for their drivers, whether they caused a crash via negligence or assaulted passengers.

But through all that, rideshare companies have defended themselves as necessary utilities—a way for cities to decrease traffic and improve public safety. With research taking the opposite position, there’s zero reason for cities and individuals not to hold rideshare apps responsible for the harm they cause.

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