For a little while, Uber and Lyft operated as happily in Austin, Texas, as they did anywhere else, with their own driver background checks in place. But voters wanted more — they wanted drivers to be fingerprinted. The ride hailing companies balked, and a measure was put on the ballot to let them keep their own system. Austin said nope at the polls, and Uber and Lyft left town.
That’s the background you need to understand the research that was published recently. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and Columbia University wanted to know how those two businesses pulling out of a city affected car ownership. They surveyed 1,200 people to ask what their last trip with Uber or Lyft was and how they’ve been making that trip since the companies stopped service. They also asked how inconvenienced people were without ride hailing in their lives.
Nearly half of the people, 41%, said that they used their own car to make those trips, which isn’t surprising. What was surprising is that 9% of respondents said they’d bought an additional car to fill that void. Only 3% turned to public transportation, and the other 42% used one of the dozen small startups that jumped up to take the place of the ride-hailing behemoths.
People who said that the absence of Lyft and Uber was inconvenient were more likely to buy a car to make those trips. But wealthier people were not more likely to buy a car after service was suspended — probably because they already had a car or three in the garage that they could use instead.
The authors of the study concluded that having a robust ride-hailing system that people actually use instead of driving their own cars is probably better. Maybe for parking, maybe for congestion, maybe for air quality, maybe for anything that’s made worse by having more cars on the road.
But don’t you worry about weird Austinites. Uber and Lyft both reinstated their services in May 2017 when the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that overrides local ordinances. It also created a “statewide regulatory framework for transportation network companies,” which hopefully includes some oversight on that background check process. Of course, the universities involved in this study are continuing to gather data to see how bringing big ride hailing companies back will change those numbers. Stay tuned.