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Lyft doesn’t cause congestion, all vehicles do

Severin Borenstein, professor of business | December 20, 2018

Restrictions targeted at the newest road users are unfair and inefficient

lyft car from flickrFor years, Bob has been driving around the city to get to work, run errands, and see friends. The traffic is sometimes bad, but given where he lives and the places he goes, it’s not practical to walk, bike, or use public transit. Luckily for Bob, many people don’t have cars, and can’t afford taxis. So they walk, bike, or use public transit, which keeps them (mostly) off the roads.

But then some “genius” comes along and figures out how to use smart phones to provide taxi-like ride-hailing service at lower cost and greater convenience, with hip names like Uber and Lyft. Traffic increases, and Bob’s daily travels get slower and more frustrating. What is Bob to do? Well, for many Bobs in US cities, it appears that the answer is to hobble the technology that has allowed all those other people to get around more conveniently.

After all, Bob says, he was here first, so the congestion isn’t his fault. He just wants to make his life great again.

Jennifer is one of those people who doesn’t have a car, and has been walking, biking or taking public transit. Sometimes it’s pretty inconvenient. Uber/Lyft has definitely improved her life. Now, she even occasionally does things that weren’t practical before, like going to the other side of town to meet a friend for lunch. You know, the sort of things Bob has been doing for years.

So, please explain to Jennifer why she should not get to use the roads to go places with Uber/Lyft, but Bob should get to use them to drive his own car.

If you’re stuck, that’s good. Because there really isn’t a valid explanation. In reality, Bob is just as much of the problem as Jennifer is…

Read more on the Energy Institute Blog at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

Comments to “Lyft doesn’t cause congestion, all vehicles do

  1. Stunning how unethical and unscientific Severin Borenstein’s op-ed is.

    “The data is clear: Because of the industry’s growth, for-hire vehicles are empty approximately 40% of the time, forcing drivers to drive around for longer and earn less income.”
    Council Member Stephen Levin, 33rd District Brooklyn, NYC

    —>hence Uber/Lyft drivers CREATE non-productive congestion a huge portion of their working day

    —>plus Uber/Lyft drivers without passenger(s) 40% of the time CREATE needlessly larger carbon emissions

    Oversight and review to prevent specious op-eds penned by their staff members is seriously deficient at the Haas School of Business, the Energy Institute at Haas, the Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley, and the University of California Energy Institute.

  2. In the full article you wrote that before ride-sharing services ” Only people who could afford cars and parking spaces were using the roads, so the congestion externality wasn’t too bad ” — the externalities weren’t borne by the drivers alone, though — it was spread out among all of us, including to every other species on the planet and to every living thing yet unborn, so sure it was a great deal for the car owners — they have convenience and our grandkids have that much more of a struggle.

    Every institute at Haas seems hobbled by the business-boy mindset no matter how well intentioned or comparatively enlightened. Congestion is one among many ‘externalities’ that isn’t being correctly ‘priced’.

    The solution to having too many cars is to get rid of most of the cars.
    People associated with business schools are taking too damn long to realize the obviousness of this path.

    City planning for density and usage that makes public mass transit economical is not a moon-shot or pie-in-the-sky. Most nations whose initials don’t start with US figured it out a long time ago. Even American cities and suburbs built before car-culture arose did a fine job at making getting to work, errands, and friends workable with minimal involvement of personal passenger cars. I don’t know what circumstances you were raised in, Prof., but I came up in a neighborhood where there was just about one car per family, maybe slightly less than one, and everyone seemed to manage to get to work, errands, and friends just fine. No fancy third-party coordination needed. Buses and subways and carpools met the need, and also meant there was less debt peonage to credit companies and banks and insurance agencies and garages — and it all added up to allowing the next generation to meet its needs by being able to breathe.

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