Uber and Lyft are changing cities in this one crucial way

Ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have become notorious for their sometimes brash entrances into cities. Documented in books like , ride-sharing companies enter cities quickly with the hopes of making their apps hard to live without. Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer has even said that the company “eliminate” car ownership.

A , published Wednesday in the journal iScience, says that goal is a long way off.

In fact, introducing ride-sharing companies into an urban area can actually increase car ownership. Looking at vehicle registrations per capita, the team behind the study found a 0.7 percent increase on average.

The study, which looked at data in major US cities from 2011 to 2017, came as something of a surprise to its authors, including , a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

What’s new — “I would have expected people to own fewer vehicles once they gain access to this alternative transportation mode. But that’s not what we see in the data,” he says in a .

Speaking to Inverse, Michalek says that’s not all that was unexpected. The team didn’t realize how Uber and Lyft could affect different cities in radically different ways. “Specifically, that vehicle ownership increases more in car-dependent and slow-growth cities than in other types of cities and that transit ridership is displaced more in high-income cities with high rates of childless households than in other kinds of cities.”

Thinking Big — Previous studies have suggested the opposite of Michalek and his co-authors findings. One such study, , suggested that when Uber left Austin, Texas, having ride-sharing companies in a city changed behaviors, tilting them away from purchasing new cars.

But whereas the 2017 study looked at the specific dynamics of Austin, “our analysis is based on observed data across several hundred cities,” Michalek tells Inverse, 224 to be precise. “We also only observe what happens in aggregate — there are likely forces reducing vehicle ownership (riders don’t need to own as many vehicles) and forces increasing vehicle ownership (drivers purchase more vehicles than they would have otherwise).”

Side Hustle — Looking at the numbers in aggregate make it hard to determine where, precisely, this increase is coming from, but the ride-sharing companies might have something to do with it. “One possible explanation could be that there’s an effect on the other side, where somebody who was on the verge of being able to afford a vehicle now has an incentive to buy one and earn some money with it,” Michalek says.

The study also looked at how ridesharing can affect mass transit usage, and shows that having children or not can make a big difference. If someone has children, it “may change how attractive an Uber or Lyft looks relative to a personal vehicle,” Michalek says. “For example, if I have to wait for a driver to install a car seat or perhaps carry my own car seat with me at my destination, it may be less attractive than owning my own vehicle.”

Read More