Ann Arbor — Car ownership would likely take a hit in areas that have thriving ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
It’s what automakers and industry analysts have long suspected about the burgeoning mobility on-demand sector. But a new study took advantage of events that unfolded last year in Austin, Texas, to start putting data behind the theory.
A survey of 1,200 residents showed that during a roughly one-year stretch when Uber and Lyft stopped operating in the city, 41 percent used their own vehicles to fill the void, while 9 percent purchased a car to handle their transportation needs.
Other, smaller ride-sharing operations and transportation networks grabbed 42 of those surveyed, while another 3 percent traveled by public transit.
“Our findings show that these ride-sourcing companies do change behaviors,” said Robert Hampshire, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. Columbia University and Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute also contributed to the study.
A deeper dive on the numbers showed that those who used their own cars in the absence of ride-sharing were 23 times more likely to start making more trips than those who opted for a different on-demand service.
Uber and Lyft pulled out of the Austin market in 2016 after the city enacted an ordinance requiring the ride-sharing services to conduct tighter screenings for its drivers. Those included fingerprinting, a requirement that the companies deemed an overreach.
In a May 2016 posting on its Lyft blog, company officials stated: “the rules passed by City Council don’t allow true ride-sharing to operate. Instead, they make it harder for part-time drivers, the heart of Lyft’s peer-to-peer model, to get on the road and harder for passengers to get a ride. Because of this, we have to take a stand for a long-term path forward that lets ride-sharing continue to grow across the country.”
A year later, the Texas legislature settled the matter, passing a law that superseded Austin’s local ordinance.
Mobility-on-demand has been projected to cut the overall number of trips made, based on the idea that people will be more choosy about transportation when they don’t have a car of their own in the driveway. The study offers the first tangible evidence of that theory in action.
“On-demand, ride-sourcing services have grown tremendously in the last decade and they promise a host of potential public benefits — reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, easing of road congestion, as well as affordability and accessibility,” said Robert Hampshire, a professor at UM’s Transportation Research Institute and lead author of the study.
“However, we’ve yet to see empirical evidence of these benefits in the research literature. The suspension of services in Austin provided for a natural experiment to measure its impact on travel behavior.”