Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies have arrived in Vancouver despite evidence of increased congestion in major metropolitan U.S. centres, including cities similar to Victoria, such as Seattle.
If the disruption of ride-hailing is increasing traffic wait times in metro cities, is it worth it?
Of course, congestion is only one of the many concerns ride-hailing has come with. Among the concerns are that it’s unfair to the taxi industry and that the lead corporation of Uber is in the red while its top executives earn high wages on the backs of underpaid drivers. Ride-hailing, in general, is also criticized as another convenience at the expense of increased greenhouse gas emissions during a climate emergency.
Lost among these concerns is the car-centric culture North America has become, says Todd Litman, head of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute and Cities for Everyone group.
“Taxis have always been an important form of transportation for people who cannot, or should not, drive,” Litman said. “One of the mistakes we’ve made in the past is to undervalue taxi services. Taxi services have been poorly managed.”
In other words, too often taxis are restricted to people with more money.
Regardless, a loosened taxi market with or without the introduction of ride-hailing is not particularly helpful in a city that also prioritizes the personal car. You can’t have both, Litman said.
|Transportation advocates say Uber is not to blame for adding auto congestion in major urban centres and could actually be part of the solution to make urban metros accessible for everyone. (Uber screenshot)|
“I rebel,” Litman said. “It’s fundamentally wrong to blame ride-hailing just because it’s the newest kid on the block. We’re subsidizing [personal car] travel.”
Litman contracts out to major international cities from his Fernwood home office on this very topic. He points to the success of London, Stockholm and Singapore, which have all introduced congestion pricing (or decongestion, as Litman prefers) for motorists entering the urban centres. For example, it costs more than 11 English pounds to enter London’s core by vehicle.
Italian cities are closing off their city centres from anything but electric vehicles, same as London (which opens a new argument, as only those with access to a pricey new EV are permitted).
“Yes, evidence shows ride-hailing has upped the number of cars on the road,” Litman noted. “But the problem is the private cars. The majority of congestion and traffic is private cars. It’s foolish to restrict taxi and ride-hailing, it’s unfair to poor people.”
The answer is transportation options and roads, which have become the most prime real estate in cities, should not be subsidized to prioritize the use of personal cars.
Decongestion pricing is already underway in the City of Victoria, which in 2019 eliminated free parking on Sundays. The next step for cities in Greater Victoria is to increase parking costs in high-congestion areas, Litman said. It’s one of the easiest administrative tools to promote decongestion.
“If cities were smart they’d start charging for the extremely valuable asset of road space,” Litman said. “It’s unfair, it’s inefficient, and low parking fees guarantee cities will have traffic congestion.”