When Uber first brought UberPool to New York in July 2015, the ride-sharing giant claimed that the new service would help take 1 million cars off the road in the city. But since then, just the opposite has happened—Uber, Lyft and other apps of the sort have hired thousands of more drivers in New York, gumming up traffic at unprecedented levels in the process.
A study published by Schaller Consulting last month shined a light on the astronomical growth that ride sharing companies have seen in recent years. In June 2015, there were roughly 18,000 licensed vehicles operating for “transportation network companies” in New York, which provided about 5 million monthly rides at the time. By the end of 2016, those figures skyrocketed, and there are now more than 50,000 ride sharing cars operating in the city, and ridership has swelled to 16 million passengers per month.
This rapid growth has had a significant impact on the city, and it’s no coincidence that ride sharing underwent a major expansion in a year when the MTA saw its first annual drop in subway ridership since 2009. But the army of new cars and drivers on the roads has had an even bigger impact on New Yorkers looking to travel on the street level. Traffic congestion in Manhattan is up—way up, and ride sharing services are one of the leading causes. A new report from the New York Times found that average travel speeds in the busiest parts of Manhattan dropped to a dismal 8.1 miles per hour last year, which is a 12 percent reduction from 2010.
The success of companies like Uber and Lyft is understandable—they’re affordable alternatives to traditional taxicabs and riding in the backseat of a Lincoln Town Car is amply more pleasant than traveling along the cesspool that is the subway system. But the problems associated with the expansion of ride sharing run way deeper than a slightly more hellish drive through Midtown. Schaller’s study revealed that vehicles operating through ride sharing apps contributed an additional 600 million miles of car travel in the city over the last three years, and with that comes an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and an increased cost of movement across the city.
At the same time, one has to wonder when the ride sharing bubble is going to burst. Uber is hemorrhaging money—they lost $2 billion last year, largely due to passengers only paying for 41 percent of the total cost of each ride. One prospective solution to offset those costs is the advent of self-driving cars, but a rollout of autonomous vehicles in New York is likely a decade away. The company is also catching a lot of flack for its opportunistic handling of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance strike that followed President Donald Trump’s executive order that blocked the travel of refugees and people seven Muslim-majority nations.
Something’s gotta give, but in the meantime traffic in Manhattan isn’t showing any signs of improving. So the next time you’re in an UberPool and find yourself complaining about the gridlocked traffic, realize that you’re part of the problem.