The impact of ride-hailing on vehicle miles traveled

Ride-haling such as Uber and Lyft are changing the ways people travel. Despite widespread claims that these services help reduce driving, there is little research on this topic. This research paper uses a quasi-natural experiment in the Denver, Colorado, region to analyze basic impacts of ride-hailing on transportation efficiency in terms of deadheading, vehicle occupancy, mode replacement, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Realizing the difficulty in obtaining data directly from Uber and Lyft, we designed a quasi-natural experiment—by one of the authors driving for both companies—to collect primary data. This experiment uses an ethnographic and survey-based approach that allows the authors to gain access to exclusive data and real-time passenger feedback. The dataset includes actual travel attributes from 416 ride-hailing rides—Lyft, UberX, LyftLine, and UberPool—and travel behavior and socio-demographics from 311 passenger surveys. For this study, the conservative (lower end) percentage of deadheading miles from ride-hailing is 40.8%. The average vehicle occupancy is 1.4 passengers per ride, while the distance weighted vehicle occupancy is 1.3 without accounting for deadheading and 0.8 when accounting deadheading. When accounting for mode replacement and issues such as driver deadheading, we estimate that ride-hailing leads to approximately 83.5% more VMT than would have been driven had ride-hailing not existed.

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