In physics, there is a reaction to every action. In politics, there is always an unanticipated consequence to every policy. Sometimes, several. And often, they are worse than the problem which the policy was ostensibly meant to ameliorate.
Ride-sharing has been – is being – pushed as a way to “reduce congestion” in cities and also to salve the planet – or rather, salve the neurosis about the “climate” being in “crisis” – by reducing the quantity of carbon dioxide “emitted” by motor vehicles.
Boomerang. The reverse is happening, according to the latest stats and studies – which show that ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are making traffic worse and increasing ”greenhouse gas” emissions by dint of that.
The reason why is as obvious as the name.
People don’t want to share a ride. They want a ride – by themselves. Not necessarily (though legitimately) because most people don’t want to rub elbows with – and inhale the aromas of – random strangers in the close confines of a car but also because it isn’t convenient to share a ride. At least, not if the people you’re sharing a ride with aren’t headed to the same place or at least in the same direction.
It’s the Carpool Problem revisited – and magnified.
In theory, it sounds like a good deal. Instead of four people each driving their separate cars by themselves, burning four times as much gas, why not all ride together in one car and save all that gas? And as a side-benefit to others on the road, there are three fewer cars on the road.
Except now you have to wait on those three other people to get organized and ready to go, both coming and coming. Someone will always be “ running late” – and so you wait. If you have somewhere you need to be, that is a problem as well as an annoyance.
Instead of just getting in the car and going – by yourself, on your own schedule you are bound to other people’s schedules. It invariably takes more time to get where you’re headed – and time has its costs, too. Being forced to listen to the music you don’t like does, too. And then the pressure to chit chat when all you want to do is wind down.
Ride-sharing has all of these downsides plus the additional downsides of the others in the car not going to the same place. Which means stop to pick them up or drop them off and and detours before you get to your place.
Which means you share a longer ride.
No wonder not many people want to. And thus, they don’t. They Uber or Lyft by themselves, which means one Uber or Lyft car for each solo rider rather than the projected one car for several riders and an increase in traffic rather than the “elimination” of it as promised five years ago by Travis Kalanick, then-CEO of Uber.
“If every car in San Francisco was Ubered there would be no traffic,” he said.
What’s been delivered is another thing.
San Francisco’s traffic is worse. Ditto Chicago’s and New York’s. And not just because of solo-riding. When people drive their own car to work or downtown, they stop driving it once they get downtown. A parked car doesn’t increase congestion – or “emissions.”
But Uber and Lyft drivers never stop driving. They cruise around all day looking for riders. According to a Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal study, 40 percent of the time, Uber and Lyft drivers are driving themselves around.
Ride-shared cars wear out faster, just like taxis and cop cars, because they’re in use longer. The miles rack up, the life goes down. Instead of taking ten years to accrue 150,000 miles and become a candidate for the salvage yard, an Uber or Lyft’d car can rack up 50,000 miles in a year – and transition into scrap metal candidatehood in half the time, necessitating a new car be manufactured to replace it, with all the attendant “consumption” of natural resources and “emissions” associated with manufacturing.
Even the Union of Concerned scientists is . . . “concerned.”
Another hilarious thing – if you like dark humor – is that solo-Ubering has also resulted in fewer people using government (styled “public”) transportation to get to and from. For the same reasons people eschew the carpool. Busses and trains make you wait on their schedule. You also have to share the ride with sometimes smelly, loud and otherwise unpleasant people.
Hail an Uber or Lyft and you avoid all that.
But – boomerang – it results in more of precisely the things ride-sharing was supposed to deliver less of.
One study – done by the University of Kentucky and published in the academic journal Science Advances found that “over 60 percent of the slowdown of (average) traffic speeds in San Francisco between 2010 and 2016” was attributable to the increase in solo ride-sharing and ride-sharing drivers just driving around.
It’s gotten so bad in Chicago that the city recently imposed a surcharge on every ride-share fee, which will have the also-hilarious effect of encouraging people to drive their own cars to work again, once the cost of paying for a ride becomes too high relative to the greater convenience (and lower overall cost) of just driving yourself.
For most of the people ride-sharing, the whole point of the thing was to reduce their commuting costs and to increase convenience. But when you’re paying more to ride-share than it costs to fill up your tank, most people aren’t going to ride-share.
Even if they’re the only one in the backseat.
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