Uber and Lyft: Friend or Foe in the Battle for Livable Streets?

Uber pool is expanding to the East Bay. Image: Uber.
UberPOOL is expanding to the East Bay. Image: Uber.

UberPOOL, which gives Uber customers discounts to share rides, launched about a year and a half ago in San Francisco. Uber is now rolling the service out to the East Bay.

UberPOOL is more affordable because the cost of the trip is shared. The fare per trip is set at up to 50 percent cheaper than UberX during commuting hours (7-10 a.m. and 5-8 p.m.) and up to 25 percent cheaper every other time–whether Uber pairs you up with another passenger or not.

Lyft Line, of course, is the equivalent service from Uber’s competitor. By combining trips, both should reduce congestion–that is, if one goes with the theory that car sharing services pull people away from single occupancy, privately owned cars. But what if they’re pulling people away from transit, walking and cycling?

“There are certainly some conveniences, and even some benefits of ride-hail. So far, however, the data demonstrates that overall, ride-hail is adding vehicles to our streets,” said Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco. “For those companies that are telling us otherwise, I say, show me the data!”

A study from the University of California, Berkeley, seems to support Ferrara’s conclusions. According to a survey that was part of the study, over 40 percent of ride-hail customers said they would have walked, biked or taken transit. Survey questions were asked of ride-hail customers right as they got out of an Uber or Lyft. A previous Streetsblog post, looking at Uber’s impact in Manhattan, seems to support the claim that Uber generates more vehicle miles, more congestion and, one can extrapolate, more pollution.

That said, car sharing services aren’t going anywhere, so the more tushies per car, the better. Let’s hope car pooling will become integral to Uber and Lyft everywhere. There’s also the potential for growing “pools” into a high tech version of jitneys, with services such as Via.

Uber also experimented with a promising idea during Super Bowl week. Car sharing services are already seen as a big part of the last-mile problem, just like traditional taxis. But Uber took it a step further, by partnering with Caltrain, promoting and discounting “POOLtrain” for people using the service to get to and from any Caltrain Station. Laura Zapata, a spokeswoman for Uber, said that POOLtrain, while just a pilot, “gave us some good data to be able to launch UberPool in the East Bay,” she said. The company hopes UberPool will also help solve parking at overcrowded BART stations. But perhaps there is also room for a long term version of POOLtrain?

Like so many aspects of the transportation puzzle, with car hailing services it will come down to how they are promoted and run. But it also depends on public investments. Once Caltrain is electrified and running at high speeds and frequencies, it would be foolish to use a car service, or any car, for a trip from San Francisco to San Mateo, because it will take longer, even without the usual traffic jams. Car-hail services will make the most money by helping Caltrain and BART work–giving someone another means to bridge the last two or three miles from the train station to their final destination. But if the government continuous to widen roads at the expense of transit, Uber and Lyft will end up joining and contributing to traffic congestion, crashes, and pollution, just like any other cars.

  • David Marcus

    That study sounds a little unfair. While for any given trip, uberpool might compete with transit, it also shows that the people using uber are largely choosing to not own a car (or an extra commuting car) and using uber as an alternative.

  • gb52

    I think this is a bit more complex than adding congestion and negating environmental benefits. While personally I choose transit and use rideshare as last resort, there is something to be said about going car free and all the associated societal costs. Everything from impacts of manufacturing and mining, to vehicle storage and so forth.

    There is a certain flexibility provided by these services and the economics help to an extent, but drivers waiting for a fare need to do something other than just driving around. I think the model is getting a little better but mass transit is still king. Rideshare is great when used to fill in the gaps and would be great to replace underutilized transit lines and provide missing connections. But in the end for long trips like Caltrain, a short car ride and transfer to a mass transit system is probably an overall benefit as compared to driving. It’s a step in the right direction to local connectivity at both ends.

  • mx

    I know that’s true for me. Options like Lyft (and Scoot, and Zipcar) are really helpful to let me stay car free, because I know I have a fairly easy and reliable option for trips when transit isn’t the best choice for me.

  • Andy Chow

    It is a foe. While I have no doubt about the benefits of requesting ride via a app, I believe that the model of drivers working as a contractor with their own personal vehicle is detrimental to the transportation industry, and particularly the transportation workers. Rather than striving for excellence (better pay, better working condition, improving safety), these companies are racing towards the bottom. If these companies don’t think they’re earning enough, then they would slash the fares. When someone eventually finds out what driving “with” (rather than for) a TNC company doesn’t make enough to live, then these companies would run more ads to recruit more unsuspecting folks and get them a new car with commercial car loans.

    When public money is involved, whatever the feeder transportation scheme needs to be transparent, be available to local taxi/shuttle companies, and meet labor/pay standards. If the signal to the public agencies that they can subsidize the TNC rides, once another economic recession hits, transit agencies would be more likely to reduce service, lay off bus drivers, and tell those who got laid off to get a car loan and drive “with” the TNCs, which would be subsidized instead.

    My shuttle service for example charges $15 to $30 per person, if some transit agency is going to give me $7 a head I would gladly reduce the fare. But if that transit agency is able to give the TNCs that money, why can’t I or some taxi company get that kind of support, considering that shuttles and taxis are more tightly regulated than TNCs.

    VTA is experimenting app requested rides but with their own employees and fully accessible vehicles. So it is possible to bring the benefits of an app, but without having non-professional drivers delivering the service.

  • I am personally too cheap to take Lyft except when going to the airport early in the morning or late at night. (During daytime hours I walk to BART and take that.) Except for rare occasions, I also prefer to walk or ride my bike over taking Muni because of speed and cost. However, I’ve been interested to watch how my twenty-something children are integrating Lyft into their lives. They perceive Lyft to be cheaper and friendlier than Uber, and cheaper, friendlier, more convenient, cleaner, and safer than cabs.

    They like Lyft Line a lot and take it to places that are onerous to get to by Muni. Caltrain in particular is miserable to get to via Muni from our house. After many missed trains, we’ve learned to allow an hour if going by Muni, even though the trip takes only twenty minutes bike or Lyft. I’m not sure why Muni service to Caltrain has to be so glacially slow?

    In my observation, Lyft makes it easier for people to be car-free, and this a good thing. Neither of my twenty-somethings own cars; neither have used Lyft as part of their daily commute. When in the city, they still take Muni, walk, and bike most of their trips. Lyft seems especially useful at night when the Muni schedule backs off severely. In particular, people out drinking shouldn’t be driving, period, and Lyft and Uber help make this possible.

  • murphstahoe

    As we have battled for livable streets improvements, what has been the thing that has been the #1 enemy of getting new chunks of infrastructure?

    I would rank them
    #1: Parking
    #2: Parking
    #3: Parking

    Lyft/Uber make an immediate big dent in the need for parking on the destination end. In the medium term I believe they will make a big dent in the need for parking on the origin end.

    All of a sudden you have the huge cohort of people who go nuts at public meetings about the need for parking shrinking. That gets projects we need done.

    I was at a meeting last night regarding a blighted parcel in the center of Healdsburg. Even in today’s world using that parcel for parking would be very poor planning – our retail space and residential prices are going up, and our parking is free. Yet the choices they are proposing are
    1) A parking lot, plus rehab of existing structure into an indoor flexible space that can also double as parking.
    2) Demolish the building and build all parking.
    I was heartened to see that there was an argument by some against the parking – in large part based on Uber. But I predict they will lose and the City Council, who live on the fringes of town and always drive to downtown – will vote for as much parking as possible. It was interesting – people in their 60’s wanted parking. People in their 70’s wanted Senior housing and no parking because “I won’t be able to drive much longer – I want housing and Uber”

    As such, I consider these services very beneficial to the cause of livable streets. Parking uber alles.

  • murphstahoe

    question: Friend or Foe in the Battle for Livable Streets?

    Answer: “detrimental to the transportation industry, and particularly the transportation workers”

    I think you need to re-read the question.

  • murphstahoe

    “I’m not sure why Muni service to Caltrain has to be so glacially slow?”

    This is the question for the ages. Of all the one off random experiments that SFMTA has put in place, we can’t get an express bus to caltrain from the West Portal->22nd and Castro->22nd corridors. That would have a HUGE ROI – yet instead SF got the dumb twitter bus.

    I guarantee a West Portal->Noe->Mission/Bernal->Caltrain express bus at peak rush would be 100% full every day.

  • p_chazz

    Wouldn’t it be easier to take the #23 bus to Glen Park BART station (or the K or M streetcars to Balboa Park BART), take BART to Millbrae and pick up Caltrain from there?

  • murphstahoe

    BWAHAHAHA. Rookie.

  • Andy Chow

    Which drivers promote safety and livable streets: TNC drivers who are paid less than minimum wage and zero benefits trying to drive 15 hours a day to make a living, versus transit operators who are paid far better, well trained, well vetted, have maximum hours of service, and specifically directed not to do things that may be fast but unsafe.

    I think treatment of transportation workers matters and makes a difference on street safety. Race to the bottom works against it. We don’t need that kind of a TNC business structure to increase usage of alternative transportation.

  • Mountain Viewer

    One point overlooked in the article. Uber/Lyft/etc.. increase the number of pick-ups/dropoffs. Those tend to happen via double parking, blocking bike lanes., crosswalks…. Until the streets are re-designed with more loading spots, that’s a big negative on street livability.

  • murphstahoe

    Results conflict with your claims. As much as we rag on Uber drivers, no drivers in San Francisco are reliably aggressive and unsafe as the UCSF shuttle drivers. I have personally played a part in the firing of a professional driving a SCHOOL BUS in San Francisco who attacked us. I’ve had a cab driver throw a beer at me.

    Color me unimpressed with this training.

  • Andy Chow

    There’s always going to be some bad apple somewhere, and some folks get some terrible experience even with a business with an excellent track record.

    I think there should be a race toward the top rather than bottom, including a better compensation and operating structure so to provide better experience for cab drivers and riders. But the TNC is a race toward the bottom no matter how you cut it, especially as better drivers leave TNCs (because of poor pay) they will be filled by drivers with poorer records as the TNCs are cutting fares and pay to eliminate competitions (other TNC, cabs, and transit).

  • Andy Chow

    Even if you put more loading spots there will be a line of cars because unlike a taxi riders must board a specific car rather than just any cab. Without that loading spot the pickup/drop offs would be done anywhere, which is more annoying and compromises safety, but it won’t create a line.

  • Mountain Viewer

    Either way it doesn’t seem to make for a livable street…

  • Andy Chow

    That stupid TNC cancellation fee essentially force people to wait in some random place for that specific TNC car, even if there’s a cab or bus nearby that they can immediately board.

  • mx

    I agree to a point, but some of Andy’s points are valid. TNCs need to be sustainable and not rely on churning through drivers who quickly find out they can’t make a living at it. Drivers who commute into SF from Fresno to chase surge pricing on the weekends, driving for 16 hours straight, are dangerous.

    At the same time, over-regulating the industry is just going to get us back to where we were a few years ago with taxis.

  • mx

    “They perceive Lyft to be cheaper and friendlier than Uber, and cheaper,
    friendlier, more convenient, cleaner, and safer than cabs.”

    Lyft has another advantage over Uber, which is that it supports tipping in the app. While I’d personally prefer a more sustainable fare and no tipping, Lyft at least makes it easier for me to make up some of the difference.

  • Philip D

    Uber and Lyft are safe. They make the streets safer. And drivers can earn easy extra money. To learn more about driving and qualify for a signup bonus, go here: https://get.uber.com/drive/?invite_code=cbe9z

  • murphstahoe

    Andy’s point is only valid for maybe another decade, so it’s somewhat moot. We’ll be replacing the incompetent professional drivers with driverless vehicles soon, not soon enough for my taste, but soon.

  • Sonny Caponne

    Safe, if you’re dead.

  • Sonny Caponne

    Uber is breaking laws. That part is well-known and admitted by Uber itself.

  • Sonny Caponne

    UberPool is nothing new and is minuscule in size. In other words, yet another gimmick and excuse by uber to justify it breaking laws.

  • Sonny Caponne

    But Uber is “creating jobs” meme must go on….!
    Factually, Uber is destroying goo jobs and replacing them with minimum-wage no-benefits gigs where one must get Social Security and FoodStamps to exist. Meaning: Uber is benefiting while we all suffer. The social costs of uber scheme are running in billions and are bared by all of us.

  • Sonny Caponne

    Tipping. Must be “innovative” so something…

  • murphstahoe

    I have zero sympathy for the useless taxi drivers of San Francisco, and look forward to the day they no longer exist. They are a pox.

  • RichLL

    Have you ever stopped to wonder why you find yourself in these confrontational situations far more than the average road user?

    You come across as very confrontational here and one cannot but wonder whether that carries over to your conduct on the streets.

  • murphstahoe

    UCSF shuttle:
    http://sfist.com/2014/11/13/years_before_the_shuttle_bus.php

    Schoo Bus Driver: Union driver with multiple strikes against him – First Student called me in to testify and thanked me for getting a menace off the road. The confrontation started with him swearing at me – with a busload of mentally handicapped students in the bus.

    The cab driver threw an open beer at me. An open beer – yet your reaction is that I’m confrontational, not “why does an on duty cab driver have an open beer in his hand”. I was surprised too – I knew the driver from Noe’s Bar, usually he just stuck to cocaine.

  • mary collamat

    These two companies always in trouble,that is why I use Hyrecar http://hyrecar.com/ and drive myself

  • Andy Chow

    So some techie is going to design a system to replace humans and thinks their system is better than humans. Sorry, sometimes with all the smart phones and apps I find it easier to copying down a phone number with a paper and pen. Sure I may have opinions about the app, but there’s no technical support, and no humans answering the phone.

  • Andy Chow

    He was on a bike. Don’t know how he rides his bike though or whether it was a factor as to how he got into these confrontational situations.

  • murphstahoe

    How old are you? Everyday you become more the exception and not the rule.

    We plan for the future – not 1997

  • Michael Morris

    Uber and Lyft are only useful for allowing car-favoring people to not own a car or consider using their personal car less, it’s a very small step in the right direction. The limitations are obvious, but I feel like they’re not talked about, it won’t be cost effective for a large enough portion of the population, it increases congestion which directly impacts transit effectiveness and overall transportation speed and it leads local governments to favor car-centric policies because transit becomes less desirable. People who use lyft and uber regularly will not favor policies that reserve lanes for transit or decrease speeds.

  • Flatlander

    Foe. I find the claims that they encourage car-free living to be dubious at best. Is there evidence that car-owning people actually sold their vehicles when Uber and Lyft came around? Or that the people who moved here without cars decided not to purchase cars, with the presence of Uber and Lyft a key factor in that decision? Most if not all of the car-free people I know were car-free before Uber and Lyft, and would remain car-free if they disappeared.

    Anecdotally, the couple of times I have used one of these services, it was when I was traveling with someone else, and replaced a trip that would have been made by transit or walking. Never a taxi or personal vehicle.

  • The question asked in the post title is, how does Uber and Lyft affect livable streets. Livable streets are determined by how people walking and bicycling feel about the streets, not just how people get around with vehicles and transit. My experience has been that Uber has significantly decreased the friendliness of the public realm for walkers and bicyclists. Uber drivers are aggressive, not yielding to anyone else. They double park and block bike lanes for long periods of time, not just the brief drop-off/pick-up of taxis (which is legal). They won’t yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. They use large vehicles that don’t belong in the city anyway. Because they don’t have designated spaces to wait, they drive continuously, racking up the VMT. My experience is that Uber has led to a significant decline in livable streets in San Francisco. On the other hand, Lyft seems more like taxis, mostly good drivers but some jerks.

  • p_chazz

    Knowing you, you probably deserved it

  • p_chazz

    But what did you do to set them off? You left that part out.

  • murphstahoe

    I don’t know what I did to set off the guy driving around looking for passengers while drinking a beer.

  • murphstahoe

    Andy – you will note that the UCSF incident noted was a driver who hit a *car* – and oh he killed someone.

  • murphstahoe

    I sold my car in 2005. We moved to Healdsburg in 2012. If I had 2 cars now I would not get rid of one, but inertia prevents me from buying a new one.

    It’s not a decision to not buy a car if you don’t have one – that’s the status quo. The more hassle it is to not buy a car, the more likely you overcome that inertia.

    A lot of people moving here are just starting out and don’t have one or come from overseas where they won’t transport one.

  • 66 City

    And, a lot of people moving here drive their cars here from out of state. This can be seen around the City if you take note of the huge number of out-of-state plates on cars parked in places like lower Potrero Hill and other high-job-growth neighborhoods.

  • jd_x

    Do you really think two connections over three completely different systems (none of which are synced up) would be “easier”? And you’ll pay double.

  • Their Uber car rental program was a total disaster their having problems right now and thats why they offered Uber flat in NY. you can read more here http://www.tlcfinancing.com/

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