April 12, 2019

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Don’t Blame Uber and Lyft for Congestion

By
Christina Fisher, TechNet Executive Director for Massachusetts and the Northeast
CommonWealth Magazine

(This article was originally published in CommonWealth Magazine on April 12, 2019.)

Not long ago, many of us who live and work in Boston had to plan our days around times the T would run, hope that a taxi scheduled the night before would show up in the morning to help us catch an early flight, or coordinate rides from the nearest train station to visit loved ones.  Fortunately, we have more alternatives to choose from now, including ridesharing, which has transformed and simplified traveling in Boston.  In a few short years, it has become an essential service that both residents and visitors rely on every day, including for trips to and from the airport.

However, consumers could soon see unwelcome changes that would limit their options.  Massachusetts government officials are considering proposals to increase certain fees on ridesharing that could have an impact on the large community of riders and drivers.  A fee increase could put ridesharing out of reach for many residents or diminish its benefits.

Massachusetts has long been a home to innovative companies and services.  World-class research institutions and a business-friendly environment have helped propel the Commonwealth to become a global technology hub and lead all other U.S. states with the most pro-innovation economic structure.  Widespread adoption of ridesharing is an important part of our innovation story.

We see ridesharing’s benefits in our communities in and around Boston every day.  Uber and Lyft provide more access to equitable transportation than ever before, and have stepped in to fill the transportation gap in underserved areas and helped more people connect to public transit.  Lyft’s 2019 Economic Impact Report shows that more than half of rides start or end in low-income areas, and a clear majority of riders take public transit at least once a week.

Ridesharing also provides flexible work opportunities for teachers, police officers, veterans, and many others to make extra income as drivers.  The overwhelming majority of drivers turn on their app to drive less than 20 hours a week, but find the flexibility in being able to do so a key way to generate income.

People are taking advantage of ridesharing to explore Boston and contribute to our local economies.  In fact, spending in the Boston area increased $117 million in the past year due to the availability of Lyft.

There are safety benefits, too.  Cities are witnessing a decline in impaired driving incidents after the introduction of ridesharing.

Despite these benefits, some public officials claim that ridesharing is the reason we have congested roadways, and that the appropriate response is to increase fees on ridesharing in certain places.

This ignores the fact that congestion existed in Boston long before ridesharing arrived and has many contributing factors.  For example, personal cars are one of the primary causes of congestion.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 68 percent of residents in the Greater Boston area drive alone when commuting to work.

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft are most active during nights and weekends, outside of the normal peak commute period.  The option of ridesharing has also reduced personal car ownership, as 71 percent of people without a car told Lyft that the ridesharing company has impacted their decision not to purchase a personal car.  Ridesharing companies encourage more sustainable modes of travel as well, including shared and pooled rides, bikeshare, and scooters.

Instead of increasing fees solely on a service that has made a positive impact for many in Boston, we urge government officials to work with rideshare companies to find a commonsense solution that looks at all the factors contributing to congestion and addressing them equally.  A more effective way to address the issue of congestion could be equal congestion pricing, which would apply congestion fees to most vehicles that enter the city at certain locations instead of applying fees only to specific vehicles.

The solution that Boston advances should promote equitable transportation, not impede it.  Together, we can build a better transportation future for our community that is inclusive of innovative services like ridesharing and the next big idea that transforms our transportation.

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