Friday, January 25, 2019

Ride-share: Heaven or hell for Cities? Here Lyft's numbers for Baltimore

American transportation technocrats lately have thrown water over the initially raging fire of excitement about car sharing companies which they have dubbed Transportation Networking Companies or TNCs.

For a while everyone saw TNCs as harbingers of a future in which cars are shared and eventually being automated. As a result cars would need much less space in cities and open up a whole new urban renaissance. The new generation of "millennials", which gave the concept of car sharing a boost, would abdicate the self-owned SUV, use small urban apartments without garages and would hop on Uber or Lyft after a transit ride in order to cover "the last mile". The option of using one's own car to drive commercially would give hundreds of thousands of people a space in the "gig economy".
New Lyft Report: Not necessarily a deeper story

Recent studies in large cities such as San Francisco and New York showed a different story. Instead of reducing car travel, TNCs added to congestion. Instead of being complimentary to transit they started taking a significant bite out of the already shrinking transit apple.

170,000 vehicle trips are made by TNCs within city limits on a typical weekday, which is about 15 percent of all car trips, and 9 percent of all trips, across different modes.(San Francisco

Additionally, various leadership missteps at Uber have shed a light on car share drivers as a new class of exploited people and elevated especially Uber into the loathed class of global operations which steal our data. Uber's problems helped polish the smaller competitor Lyft's standing, but both companies are now no longer small start-ups but international corporations with an image problem.
Baltimore Lyft website
Lyft was founded in 2012 by Logan Green and John Zimmer to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation, and is available to 95 percent of the United States population as well as select cities in Canada. Lyft is committed to effecting positive change for our cities by offsetting carbon emissions from all rides, and by promoting transportation equity through shared rides, bikeshare systems, electric scooters and public transit partnerships (Lyft website)
This week Lyft published a nationwide report to polish the brand. Not surprisingly, according to Lyft, the news are good for cities, for drivers, for riders and for transit. Lyft, initially with a mobile app that wasn't as convenient as Uber's, has not only matched the competitor's app but has recently pulled ahead in innovation by introducing those little glowing dashboard flip signs that make Lyft cars recognizable anywhere and through color coding allow riders to identify their own in a place where many rideshare vehicle pull up at the same time like at events or airports.
Baltimore Lyft driver statistics

The online Lyft report is interactive and can be tailored to specific states and cities, including Baltimore. It is based on surveys of 30,000 riders in 54 cities taken in 2018. The report also gives numbers on "economic impacts" on local businesses and restaurants. As any economic impact analysis, those effects have to be taken with a grain of salt.

More telling are the numbers about drivers and riders. For example, that 90% of drivers use driving only to supplement other work and drive less than 20 hrs a week or that 65% of drivers in Baltimore identify themselves as "minority", a pretty good reflection of the population overall.

Counter to public perception and traditional taxi driver demographics, 39% of Baltimore's Lyft drivers are female, compared to 27% nationally. Nationally 35% of Lyft users don't own a vehicle (43% in Baltimore). As far as Baltimore, Lyft maintains that it doesn't take away transit riders but increases transit ridership by 5%. (it derives that claim from another study which it cites as its source. Interestingly, that source actually studied Uber's impact on transit). 46% of Lyft riders take transit at least once a week. In Baltimore 58% of all rides begin or end in low income areas. (44% nationally). According to Lyft Baltimore, the most sought out destinations are R-House, Sagamore Pendry and Lexington Market. Indeed, a very diverse set of destinations.
Baltimore Lyft rider profile

The new national report is easy to read, interactive, and full of simple statements but poor on actual data sources or methods (at least on the public facing side). No PDF with the data background is available on the main website.

The strategy is effective. Already business journals across the country report the happy numbers which will, no doubt also heat up the tweeter-sphere.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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