City traffic and discussions about congestion woes have been part of our lives for decades. It’s become an inescapable reality of our daily commute and often the reason we are running late to meeting appointments or visits with family and friends.
Here in Toronto, there are over 1.1 million cars within the city limits alone and it’s estimated that gridlock in the GTA costs as much as $6 billion annually in lost productivity. Simply put, our roads are clogged by people driving their vehicles and all too often they are doing so alone.
What is causing all this congestion?
Congestion is a complex problem. Many factors can contribute to the growing traffic on our streets. The primary culprits are mass urbanization, economic growth, increased freight traffic, and construction. In the past five years, however, the emergence of ridesharing has added a new variable to the discussion about congestion.
Some studies argue that ridesharing is increasing traffic, while others make the case that it’s helping reduce traffic and increasing transit ridership. A paper on this topic was recently published by University of Toronto Professor Jonathan Hall.
In all likelihood, ridesharing is still too new and too small to have a meaningful impact on congestion one way or another. In the U.S., services like Uber make up less than one percent of overall travel nationally.
What about Uber in Toronto?
During recent City Hall public consultations, it was reported that there are over 70,000 registered ridesharing drivers in Toronto. Let’s take a moment to review this figure which represents all of the people who have obtained a licence to offer ridesharing services in the GTHA.
In reality, only a fraction of registered drivers are on the road at any one time. For example, the average hourly number of drivers online in Toronto in the month of October this year was under 3,500.
At maximum, there were nearly 7,700 driver partners on the road at 11:00 pm on Saturday, October 27. Not surprisingly, this was Halloween weekend, our second busiest time of the year, when many people needed safe rides home after a costumed night out on the town. At our least busy time – around 4:00 am on Monday, October 29 – there were only 500 cars offering ridesharing services on the road that morning.
It’s important to note that Uber’s “rush hour” is actually during late weekend nights when traffic isn’t at its worst. Moreover, the vast majority of trips aren’t even happening in Toronto’s downtown core. In fact, approximately 70 percent of Uber trips begin and end outside of the downtown area – only 11 percent of trips occur exclusively within that zone.
There are several explanations for the discrepancy between the number of registered ridesharing drivers and those on the road. First, most active drivers are using the platform on occasion (usually less than twenty hours a week) to earn incremental income. Second, many drive until they achieve a particular goal (e.g. pay for a child’s camp, family vacation, buy an engagement ring) and then stop. And third, our driver population serves the entire GTHA, so this number includes those who also drive frequently in nearby regions, including Peel, York and Durham.
Can we tackle our traffic challenges together?
We here at Uber believe that ridesharing – in conjunction with smart policies and investments in other modes of transportation – can help reduce car ownership, increase transit ridership, and help tackle congestion.
It’s not just us saying this. There is broad agreement that shared mobility – which includes ridesharing and public transit – has the potential for enormous social benefit.
For example, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs and the OECD have put forward that if 100 percent of the trips on the road were shared, we’d see significant declines in the overall number of vehicles and increase access to transportation while reducing its cost.
While 100 percent adoption of shared transportation modes is far from today’s reality, there are several steps government and industry can take together to tackle traffic in our cities.
In dense urban areas, often times the most efficient and effective way to move people is with high-quality transit.
Right here in Toronto, the King St. Transit Pilot has demonstrated that when public transit becomes more reliable, people will choose to use it more. The latest report from the TTC show that in June 2018, ridership on the King St. line was up 11 percent – and 17 percent during morning rush hour.
At the same time, the area around King St. has experience an overall reduction in the total number of cars of approximately 12 percent to 14 percent. This is at a time when ridesharing is at its most popular and mature state in Toronto.
This month the Toronto Region Board of Trade released a survey that finds that 72 percent of commuters would use transit more if it was easier to get to a transit station. 74 percent of those surveyed also believe that public transit operators should work with ridesharing services to get commuters to transit stations.
As with our transit partnerships elsewhere around the world, Uber is eager to work with transit to offer first-and-last kilometer connectivity solutions. Union Station is already our number one pick-up and drop-off location in Toronto.
And while there are certainly many use cases where transit on its own is a better mode of transportation for commuters than a car, we’re seeing more evidence that transit and ridesharing can work together to create more shared journeys.
For example, in Innisfil, Ontario, we have a unique partnership with the town where the they subsidize Uber trips to designated destinations. The most popular destination is the South Barrie GO Station, and the GO bus stops along Yonge St. are Top 5 locations for riders. Essentially, many residents of Innisfil are using Uber as a first/last mile connection to transit.
Increased Shared Rides & Active Transportation
Beyond connecting people to transit, ridesharing can help reduce congestion by getting more people in fewer cars. Uber started on a mission to do just this in 2014 with the launch of its first shared ride product, POOL.
In short, POOL connects two to three riders heading in the same direction at the same time, having them share a ride at a significant discount. We recently improved on this product with the launch of Express POOL, which has riders wait a few minutes before their trips begin, and then walk a short distance to a nearby spot for pick up and drop off. In Toronto, approximately 20 percent of our trip requests are for these shared services.
Another way of moving people away from driving – and cars all together – is to make active, sustainable modes of a transportation more available. Bikes can be a particularly good alternative to those shorter trips in downtown areas where traffic is bad and parking is expensive and inconvenient.
Uber recently acquired JUMP, an e-bike sharing company, and have since launched in several cities. With JUMP bikes, we’re already seeing success in getting people out of Uber vehicles and onto bikes. In San Francisco, Uber users who adopted JUMP bikes took 15 percent fewer car rides during peak hours.
Parking is all too often left out of the debate around congestion. Parking is enormously inefficient, consumes vast quantities of urban land, and occupies the majority of urban curb space. It also encourages more people to rely on their personal vehicle.
We’re excited to work to help cities make more productive use of their limited parking and curb space — and we just released a report to help. We welcome the opportunity to work with cities around the world on changing parking from dead space that encourages driving to more efficient land uses — including parks — that helps makes cities more sustainable and enjoyable for all.
How can we better share the road?
For the downtown core, as shown with the King St. Transit Pilot and early data from our JUMP e-bike experience in San Francisco, Toronto could work to reduce people’s utilization of cars – including Uber – by making smart investments and policy decisions which support public transit and active modes of transportation, while making parking less attractive.
Uber believes that the growth of shared and active modes of transportation, as well as smart investments and policies, can help reduce congestion over time and make our cities more liveable. That is why we are continuing to invest in strategies, initiatives and partnerships that can help people reduce their dependence on the personal automobile.