New Study Suggests Uber and Lyft Reduce Car Ownership

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If you live in a city and have ever found yourself thinking you should sell your car and use a ride sharing service like Uber or Lyft, you’re not alone. A recent transportation study found that on-demand ride services actually do impact how many people buy cars. It also found that the presence of those services reduces the number of trips that people take.

Back in May of 2016, Austin, Texas, voted to require stricter background checks on ride-share drivers. As a result, both Uber and Lyft pulled out of the city. This decision gave researchers the opportunity to look at how the increase in on-demand ride services had changed people’s transportation decisions.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute worked with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and Columbia University to survey more than 1,200 Austin residents about what changes they’d made. Researchers looked at people’s mode of transportation, how frequently they made trips, and whether or not they owned vehicles.

Without those two companies to depend on for rides, 41 percent of people surveyed went back to using their personal vehicles. Nine percent, however, bought new cars. Three percent began using public transportation, and 42 percent switched to one of the smaller ride-sharing services that were still available.

Researchers also found that people who began relying on their personal vehicle again were 23 times more likely to have started taking more trips than those who switched services. They also found that the more inconvenienced someone was by the absence of Uber and Lyft, the more likely they were to buy a car. The most-inconvenienced people were five times more likely to have bought a vehicle to replace their ride-sharing service.

“Our findings show that these ride-sourcing companies do change behaviors. While this study isn’t generalizable to the entire city of Austin, or to other cities, it provides crucial insights that are relevant to policymakers,” said Robert Hampshire, a professor at UMTRI and the study’s lead author, in a statement.

When it comes to public policy, Hampshire also thinks on-demand transportation services provide a net benefit to cities, saying “a 30-percent increase in the probability of switching to personal vehicles … for an individual who is inconvenienced by the service suspension provides strong support for policies that help reduce the likelihood of occurrence of such a suspension. The case for this need is made stronger when one considers that this transition may be associated with a 23-percent increase in trip making.”

Earlier this year, after a new state law passed, both Uber and Lyft returned to Austin, giving researchers the opportunity to study the impact of this change, as well. Based on initial results, it would make sense that car buying and trip frequency would decrease, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Source: University of Michigan

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