Data Confirms Uber and Lyft Jam up San Francisco

TNCs cause more traffic delays than anything else, according to a new study

Just another Uber blocking the bike lane on Valencia. But according to a company message, now they can "choose" not to do this. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Just another Uber blocking the bike lane on Valencia. But according to a company message, now they can "choose" not to do this. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft accounted for roughly half of the increase in congestion in San Francisco between 2010 and 2016, as measured in vehicle hours of delay, vehicle miles traveled, and average speeds. That was the takeaway from “TNCs Today: A Profile of San Francisco Transportation Network Company Activity,” a new report from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

The study found that TNCs have caused a bigger headache on San Francisco streets than population and job growth combined, as shown by the charts below:

Causes of traffic delay from the SFCTA study
Causes of traffic delay from the SFCTA study

Other findings include:

  • TNCs drive approximately 570,000 vehicle miles within San Francisco on a typical weekday. This accounts for twenty percent of all local daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and includes both in-service and out-of-service mileage.
  • On an average weekday, more than 5,700 TNC vehicles operate on San Francisco streets during the peak period. On Fridays, over 6,500 TNC vehicles are on the street at the peak.

“The data is consistent with what we found. It’s nice to see this issue being taken seriously on a city-wide basis,” wrote Catherine Orland, District 9 representative to the Bicycle Advisory Committee and longtime member and volunteer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Along with a handful of volunteers, she collected data on TNC incursions into the bike lanes on Valencia Street back in 2016, to show what seemed obvious to cyclists at least–that Uber and Lyft are making it much harder and more dangerous to ride a bike in San Francisco.

And, although it doesn’t look at bike-lane incursions, the SFCTA data shows parallels. Congestion caused by TNCs on Valencia is significantly high, explained Bhargava Sana, one of the transportation planners at SFCTA who worked on the study, in a phone interview with Streetsblog. TNCs are responsible for “…between seventy and ninety percent of the congestion measured on Valencia.” It’s highest after 6:30 p.m., he added.

The SFCTA study is part of a growing body of evidence that TNCs are causing huge headaches for cities. A study in 2017 showed that TNCs account for a wildly disproportionate number of traffic citations in San Francisco. Similar studies in other cities show that Uber and Lyft, despite company claims, are increasing traffic congestion and pollution.

“Increased traffic is just one symptom of the high volume of TNCs, and I am also concerned about the quality of life and safety of our streets,” said Jane Kim, San Francisco’s District 6 Supervisor, in a statement. “This research is very helpful to our efforts to make sure state and local policy is keeping up with the rapid growth of TNCs in San Francisco so that the sharing economy doesn’t become a burden on our residents.”

A follow-up SFCTA report, expected early next year, will look at how TNCs impact transit ridership. And SFMTA is preparing a report on their effect on bus operations. One can surmise that, except where Muni lines have their own right-of-way, anything that impacts traffic is clearly going to slow buses as well and thereby generate transit delays.

“Muni is one of the slowest transit agencies in the nation, and increased congestion from all private autos–not just TNCs–are exacerbating the slow speeds,” wrote Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, in an email to Streetsblog about the study. “SF Transit Riders are huge fans of the red carpet treatment to give Muni its own lane, which would speed things up and make transit more competitive to private autos. However, until we step up transit-only lane enforcement, we’re only going to see things get worse.”

“The report from the SFCTA confirms what most of us have known for years: there are more cars on San Francisco’s streets and many of them are there because of Uber and Lyft,” wrote the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Brian Weiedenmeier in an email to Streetsblog. “Now that both companies control bike share in our city, it’s imperative that they work with us to reduce the safety risks caused by people driving on their platform.”

The SFCTA has posted an interactive map that links to the raw data behind their conclusions.

  • baklazhan

    We don’t have a system of congestion pricing. It seems to me that in its absence, the amount of traffic was limited by the amount of parking in an area, which you’d either have to pay for in money or in time (if it was free it would be overused and you’d have to spend time searching). Other car options (a private driver, drop-off by a friend or family member, taxis) were also expensive in time or money. So the system more-or-less worked.

    TNCs sidestepped that limitation, and allowed more people to travel in cars.

  • mx
  • crazyvag

    Would you accept slower speeds in exchange for the added mobility provided by Lyft and Uber? Or do you want the slightly faster speeds and go back to 2010 with taxis with broken card readers and hour waits on Friday nights?

    The congestion still isn’t bad enough for people to hop on buses and bikes, it maybe it is, and, but people prefer slower speeds to buses.

  • LazyReader

    Duh, why would anyone put up with dilapidated public transit when you can be dropped off at your exact destination.

  • LazyReader

    Whether TNC’s existed or not, traffic in growing San Francisco would have increased anyway. But the rise of ride hailing is a consequence of failure. BART has ignored years of critical maintenance, displeased riders with it’s horrible dilapidation of it’s interior amenities and overall disregard for crime and lewd behavior (Failing to turn over security camera footage because they’re worried the race of the suspects is “stereotypical” BART favors the politically correct route of letting people get robbed than deterring crime). After a string of three consecutive murders, poop lining the hallways and people masturbating, Why would anyone ride BART? But BART’s failure is really the result of failure to adapt to a simple principle. Rail suffers wear and tear regardless of passenger volume. Rail infrastructure has a life expectancy of about 30 years after which it must be painstakingly rebuilt or rehabilitated suffering numerous delays, accidents, and other problems. New York’s subway system went through such a crisis in the 1980s, but it fixed the problems by spending billions of dollars and going heavily into debt. 30 years later, the debt remains, and the delays and breakdowns have returned. BART is in the same boat, except they’ve never done a total overhaul of their system, instead of doing basic maintenance they’re spending billions on expansion. Transit advocates claim that “Public transit used to be the equalizer,” but that
    was never true. Before cars, transit was used by the middle class, but
    the working class couldn’t afford it. The Model T Ford was the great
    equalizer, bringing mobility to those who couldn’t afford transit. In
    1910, no more than a quarter of Americans regularly used transit. By
    1926, over half of American families owned a car. A study by NerdWallet concluded that commuting by ride sharing costs less than driving to
    work in many urban areas. If ride sharing is cheaper than driving, and
    driving is cheaper than transit in most cities, then why do we need transit? Other than in high density urban areas like New York. Instead of spending $50 billion a year subsidizing transit, we should
    take a small fraction of that and give low-income people vouchers to ride Uber/Lyft.

  • 66 City

    You over-rate the “convenience” of the taxi/lyft/uber option. For nearly all of us, road travel in a vehicle is simply part of the trip, which usually combines with walking too. A very small number of car uses actually need to be ferried point to point, and very small number of car users’ time is so valuable that they can’t slow down their day a bit and use community transit. We will never solve our transportation needs with passenger automobiles, so we should be planning otherwise.

    Over-reliance on small automobiles for travel is plainly damaging to our lives overall, in pollution, environmental damage, corroding our social cohesion (the richest are always in cars), making streets more dangerous, and on and on.

    Our energy-intensive travel arrangements are killing us. We either make plans for living with lower energy requirements, or we take this whole planet down with us.

  • Kevin Withers

    “For nearly all of us…”

    Layed on quite thick, considering it amounts to no more than your individual opinion.

  • Flatlander

    I mean, if you’re sitting there rhetorically asking “Why would anyone ride [a system with 400,000+ daily riders that’s bumping up against capacity limitations during peak periods]?” it seems you have a few blind spots to examine.

  • LazyReader

    The fact is BART is deteriorating at a pace San Fran cant afford to maintain. Despite above average fare recovery, fares only cover operation expenses and not capital improvement costs. And with a 10 billion dollar maintenance backlog, and the city of SF 10 billion in the hole financially, San Francisco raised property taxes to pay for BART repair, instead they’re pissing the money on BART expansion projects. A waste since all it does is add to their financial woes. BART wont be rescued not without serious re-prioritization. San Francisco needs two levels of traffic to move tens of thousands of workers
    every day: the surface streets and the subways. But nothing says that
    the subways have to be rail. Why not replace the
    trains with driverless electric buses powered by the third rail. Capital costs are far lower
    (railcars cost about ten times as much as buses, and three or more times
    as much after adjusting for capacities and lifespans) if the buses are driverless, which should be
    technically easy to implement on former rapid transit routes the operating costs will be a lot lower. Maintenance costs are lower since, unlike train parts which have to be painstakingly fabricated, automotive parts are ubiquitous and surplus.

  • Darren

    Excellent point. I can’t remember the author but this was brought up on the Shoupistas Facebook group. Parking traditionally has been a reasonably effective method to control congestion because vehicles usually needed a place to park. TNC proliferation has eliminated that variable so a congestion charge (tolls, cordon pricing) oriented toward moving vehicles will be necessary to provide the correct incentives to shift to non-motorized transportation, transit, or at the very least encourage higher occupancy in private vehicles.

  • Wallaby

    “so a congestion charge (tolls, cordon pricing) oriented toward moving vehicles will be necessary to provide the correct incentives to shift to non-motorized transportation”

    And what if the voters do not want to be so “incentivized”?

    What if the voters reject your underlying premise?

  • crazyvag

    Well, you’re clearly not a fan of any public transit, but you’re clearly blind when it comes to physics of fitting people on existing streets. You’ve also haven’t ridden the new Siemen’s trains or new muni buses. If you’d still call that dilapidated, then well, maybe it’s time you hit your dilapidated car, use your dilapidated cell phone to find a dilapidated library and check on your definitions in a Webster.

    Or were you conveniently ignoring all new buses.

    Would this be a good time to educate you that buses last 10-20 years, and not all are replaced at the time. Funding isn’t always there, and it’s just not needed.

  • crazyvag

    You’re funny to respond to because you’re clearly uninformed in some many aspects how world works. First of all, you probably didn’t realize, but take a look at the map, and count how many counties BART services. Now ask your self, why do you expect SF to pay for all the counties BART serves? Does your wife stay home and expect you to pay for everything? Have your kids dropped out of school and asked you to buy them cars? Have your siblings been nagging you about jewelry?
    Take a few minutes to think about that, and then explain to my why you want San Francisco to maintain BART?

  • crazyvag

    Well, you’re onto something. I think voters have a level of tolerance for congestion, and I think many are fine sitting in a Lyft Line in traffic. However, it’s cities job to provide safe options for those who choose to ride transit, take a scooter, or bike.

    I’m not holding my breath for congestion pricing since most people are happier sitting in traffic than paying a congestion charge. Perhaps in another 5 years, sentiment will switch?

  • LazyReader

    I don’t want SF to maintain BART. Instead, transit agencies should begin to prepare for an orderly phase-out of publicly funded transit
    services as affordable, shared driverless cars and high capacity transit vehicles become available in the next decade. This means the industry should stop building new rail lines; replace most existing rail lines with buses as they wear out; pay down debts and unfunded obligations; and target any further subsidies to low-income people rather than continue a futile crusade to attract higher-income people out of their cars.

  • crazyvag

    If you don’t want SF to maintain BART, then you probably should proofread what you write better.

    You also haven’t thought what you’re saying. Your suggesting that public funded transit should phase to and be replaced high capacity transit? So like, replace BART trains, with “high capacity transit vehicles”? Man, did you know that BART is ACTUALLY DOING THAT??? I know it will blow your mind given what else you’re writing, but indeed. BART signed a contract to replace existing public funded transit vehicles with high capacity transit. It will hold even more passengers than before and load them faster than currently funded vehicles.

    Check it out. I’ll can share some links to them if you can’t find information about that.

  • baklazhan

    Then I guess the voters will have to accept traffic congestion, or search for other solutions.

  • baklazhan

    I think a fair number of the critics would prefer slightly faster speeds (for themselves, in their own cars) and to go back to 2010 (for other people).

    I don’t think it’s a question of preferring slower speeds to buses. Maybe, if we had extensive bus-only lanes as well as generally better service, that would be the choice, but as it is it’s a choice between a slow bus (and some additional walking/inconvenience) and a slow car that’s moderately more expensive. And so people still choose the slow car.

  • baklazhan

    Your solutions are a bit out there. I’d really like to see some sources for those numbers you throw out, because they don’t seem realistic to me.

    I don’t even think electric buses powered by a third rail exist, let alone driverless ones, let alone ones with ubiquitous and surplus parts (I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t exactly use off-the-shelf parts from Kragen).

    Buses aren’t exactly cheap either. If you search for “Muni’s worst clunker buses to be replaced for big price tag: $244M” there’s a recent article about Muni’s electric bus replacements which cost $1.32 million apiece. Searching for “Bart new car cost” gets an article which cites “between $1.7 million and $2 million” per car. So that’s actually pretty favorable considering the difference in capacity, longevity, and (presumably) operating costs.

  • baklazhan

    1910 was the middle of an era of mass urbanization, which probably had more to do with how many people used transit than the existence of cars. I’d be interested to see the source for that though.

    Driving is cheaper than transit? Now, that’s something that definitely needs a citation. I suspect that ride share is cheaper than driving (if you consider the cost of parking) and transit is more expensive than driving (if you ignore the cost of parking, and of course externalities like congestion).

    Plus, it ignores the question of scale. The “cost of transit” has a huge variation between lines and systems. Lines which carry tens of thousands of people per hour typically have quite low costs-per-person, while those that carry tens of people per hour have much higher costs. Rideshare (or cars in general) will be the opposite: level costs at low levels of ridership, but as the number of people increases the congestion causes everyone to slow down and costs to increase. So replacing low-performing, meandering buses in the suburbs with rideshare? Sure, might make sense. Trying to replace well-used mass transit lines? Hoo boy.

  • Wallaby

    The voters do accept congestion, when the alternatives are seen as worse.

  • Wallaby

    It is the city’s job to do what the voters tell the city to do. That might prioritize safety or a lack of congestion. But it might not.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Many tech-bros have this warped idea that high capacity transit is inefficient, and that self driving cars and low capacity electric buses are a solution. A driverless car takes up more street space than a car with a driver in it. Driverless cars are not a solution to increasing transportation capacity; in fact they are arguably less efficient. Rail has a proven track record of being much more efficient than buses which are much more efficient than cars.

    Drivers like to conveniently forget things like initially capital equipment costs, road maintenance costs, depreciation costs, and the destruction of our planet from living a completely unsustainable way of life that the automobile has brought us. Then they go on and ramble about how “expensive” public transportation is. Compared with the alternatives, public transportation is cheap because cars are the least efficient way to get around.

  • Not only that, they run people down in the crosswalks with impunity:


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