A study of ride-hail use has uncovered the possibility that these services might promote mobility in low-income, suburban, and rural areas.
In "Redefining Car Access: Ride-Hail Travel and Use in Los Angeles" in the Journal of the American Association (Vol 85, No. 2), author Anne Brown disproves popular media findings that services like Uber and Lyft are predominantly used by wealthier individuals in the dense, urban core.
Instead, she finds "ride-hail use is remarkably widespread across core urban, suburban, and even rural neighborhoods and that people living in low-income neighborhoods — far from being excluded from the service — use ride-hailing more frequently than other travelers do when all else is equal."
Analyzing three months of Lyft data, Brown illustrates that user trips either began or ended in census tracts in which 99.8 percent of all individuals in Los Angeles County reside, highlighting the ubiquity of these services.
Brown attributes such high coverage to the ability of ride-hail services to interact directly with consumers, unlike traditional taxis. But of course, there remain barriers to ride-hailing services, including access to a smartphone and banking services. However, with advancements such as Lyft Concierge and emerging programs to coordinate with transit, the author finds that these, too, may be overcome.
Some say the services weaken existing public transportation by offering faster, more convenient service, while others propose they redirect money that could be invested in the form of fares in public transportation. However, Brown's work intimates that, through partnership, ride-hail services may complement public transportation by providing service to existing gaps.
Brown had special access to the Lyft data. If such data were more widely available, planning practitioners could better understand how to create more spatially just systems of transportation for persons living in lower-income and rural areas where other transportation services are not available.
In addition to considering how to integrate these private transportation means into existing public transportation, the findings here suggest that street and community design have an effect on the number of Lyft trips. As Brown explains: "a 10% increase in off-street parking density is associated with a 1.4% decrease in Lyft trips per capita."
Perhaps the opposite may also be true. To what extent could planners use ride-hail services to support transforming the street and community design?
The Journal of the American Planning Association is the quarterly journal of record for the planning profession. For full access to the JAPA archive, APA members may purchase a discounted subscription for $48/year, or a digital-only subscription for $36/year.
Top image: View from the back seat of a hailed ride. Photo by Flickr user Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures (CC BY-ND 2.0).
About the Author
Kyle Miller is a joint Master in Urban Planning and Master of Public Health candidate at Harvard University.