Should you blame ride-hailing apps for your city’s traffic problem?

Governor Andrew Cuomo and his Fix NYC advisory panel are looking for ways to promote carpooling and reduce traffic from ride-hailing services.
31 July 2018

After a significant increase in local traffic and a spate of suicides by taxi drivers, New York City is planning to vote on capping ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP

When you’re in a city like New York, San Francisco, or Chicago, you’re likely to use a ride-hailing service to get from one place to another instead of driving yourself around.

As a result, ride-hailing service providers such as Uber and Lyft have made quite a fortune, and the increased demand from passengers have fuelled a growth in the number of drivers joining the app.

It’s an almost perfect world, except for the fact that more app-powered taxis on the road will cause the city’s of the world’s busiest streets to get even busier, clogging them up, congesting them, and resulting in long, painful traffic jams.

To make things worse, autonomous vehicles are around the corner, promising more efficient and cheaper ride-hailing services for everyday commuters.

Obviously, civic officials are concerned, and hope to find ways to solve the “problem”.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and his Fix NYC advisory panel, for example, are aiming to levy a fee on anyone using a private automobile without carpooling.

According to a recent report by the New York Times, the city’s officials are also looking to cap the number of vehicles driving for Uber and other ride-hailing services.

If actually implemented, the regulation will make New York the first major American city to set a limit on ride-hailing vehicles.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is working on overhauling the NY City Subway system in a bid to get more people to ride the trains instead of hail a cab. Source: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images/AFP

However, the truth is, New York isn’t the only one that needs to worry.

America has five of the top 10 most congested cities in the world, and according to the Inrix Rankings, whether you’re looking at North America, Europe, or even Asia, the growing number of cars that ride-hailing solutions bring to the roads raise strong questions about pollution, health, road traffic, and even quality of life.

So, what’s America doing?

Well, rather than harping on a problem, the country is working on a fix. The easiest, and arguably the most effective one, will be an overhaul of the public transport system.

Earlier this year, New York Governor and his Fix NYC panel announced a plan to fix the city’s subway system. And although it’s already facing challenges with a rivalry between the City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio and the State’s Governor Cuomo debating who should foot the US$19 billion bill.

Fortunately, given the strong demand from stakeholders, key among whom are the residents of New York, it seems the plans will follow through.

Meanwhile, Washington DC and Chicago are taxing ride-hailing apps in a bid to raise funds to transform their own subway or public transport systems.

Washington DC, for example, raised the tax on app rides from 1 percent to 6 percent with a goal of raising US$23 million for its public transit system.

Chicago raised its fees on Uber and Lyft rides and now levies a surcharge of 67 cents per ride.

Seattle’s City Council is planning on implementing some sort of a tax or levy based on the impact of ride-hailing apps on transportation in the city.

According to a survey that Bloomberg found, 42 percent of heavy ride-hailing app users in Boston would go with public transport if the option to hail a ride didn’t exist – providing evidence that New York and Washington DC are on to something.

The fact is, sooner or later, cities in America and in other parts of the world will need to evaluate how ride-hailing services impact their cities, and introduce some sort of tax or levy in order to raise funds to overhaul the city’s mass transit systems.