Annoyed by the lack of passenger data available from ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, two researchers took matters into their own hands. Hoping to learn why people use ride-hailing apps to get around town, the authors of a study published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use joined forces, with one of the men volunteering to get behind the wheel of a 2015 Honda Civic on the mean streets of Denver, Colorado.
If Uber and Lyft wouldn’t share, maybe real, live passengers would.
The study wasn’t just conducted to get a breakdown of why people use ride-hailing apps; it also sought to discover just how the existence of the service might impact the need for parking infrastructure.
The authors, Alejandro Henao of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Wesley E. Marshall of University of Colorado Denver, discovered, in the fall of 2016, that ride-hailing does offset a great number of vehicles that would otherwise have been driven to their destination and parked. Not entirely shocking. In cities with less-than-ideal transit options, Uber or Lyft carry a greater proportion of people who use it as a second choice to driving their personal vehicle. Still, the study turned up a wealth of additional data.
To gleam this info from users, one of the authors signed up as both a Lyft and Uber driver, staggering the start of his shifts between urban and suburban areas. Customers were asked if they wanted to answer verbal or online questions. The response rate was 87.5 percent.
Of the ride-hailing customers polled in the Denver Metropolitan Area, 26.4 percent would have driven to their destination and parked there, were it not for the existence of the service. Some 22.2 percent would have taken transit instead, 12.2 percent wouldn’t have left the house at all, and 11.9 percent would have walked or biked. Another 9.6 percent would have taken a taxi. It’s no wonder there’s animosity between Uber drivers and taxi operators.
Of the surveyed passengers, 13.5 percent said the existence of ride-hailing means they now drive “a lot less,” while 19 percent said they drive “a bit less.” The 2.3 percent who, strangely, said ride-hailing makes them drive more were discovered to be ride-hailing drivers themselves.
But where were these passengers going? What’s the main motivator for using such a service? For the largest sub-group of ride-hailing customers, the top reason given for that particular trip was all about the bottle. Some 36.6 percent of passengers listed “going out/drinking.” In second place, at 20.7 percent of respondents, were those who feel parking at their destination will be too difficult or expensive (half of them were headed to the airport). Another 17.1 percent said they lacked a personal vehicle.
When asked, generally, why they use ride-hailing, 46.1 percent of customers fell into the going out/drinking category. A full third cited the cost and nuisance of parking at their destination. A lack of public transportation motivated 31.1 percent to call up an Uber or Lyft. “Cost” was the deciding factor for 29 percent of respondents.
(Interestingly, a recent study showed that replacing all personal vehicle trips with ride-hailing probably won’t save you any money.)
By driving around and hunting for a parking spot after dropping off each passenger, the study’s author calculated that, on average, passengers saved themselves 3.4 minutes that would otherwise have been spent hunting for a spot and walking to their destination. Saving time can be a great motivator for choosing a service.
While leaving parking spots empty is one side effect of ride-hailing, what about driveways? Of the respondents, 12.5 percent said their household owns fewer cars due to the existence of the service. Of that group, just under half still had access to a personal vehicle.
The authors’ takeaway is that, in light of the personal vehicle diversion rate brought about by ride-hailing, cities and businesses should reconsider parking requirements when constructing new infrastructure, thus freeing up urban land.