By Jamie Leary

GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) — Earlier this fall, University of Colorado Ph. D. graduate Alejandro Henao hit a milestone. After years of painstaking research, he published his doctoral thesis on the impacts of ride-hailing programs.

The results have been making waves. His research showed that services like Uber and Lyft  may be a large contributor to traffic congestion in the Denver metro area.

His study was published Sept. 20 in the Journal of Transportation and found that ride-hailing accounts for an 83 percent increase in the miles cars travel in the metro area, and even more frustrating many of those miles are spent deadheading; for every 100 miles an Uber or Lyft driver spends on the road, at least 69 of them are spent driving around without a passenger.

The ride-hailing services just weren’t moving enough people at a time for the footprint they were leaving and with no cap on the number of drivers allowed he saw the problem getting worse.

But he wasn’t just observing it from a classroom or laboratory. When he began his research, he convinced his academic advisors to allow him to do it as an Uber and Lyft driver.

“I mean, this was three years ago when I started to think about it, so when you mentioned Uber back then, half the people or three-quarters of the people did even know what Uber was,” said Henao.

Back then, Lyft was offering $1,000 for the first ride — and with the support of his family and fellow researchers, he hit the road.

Henao put up a sign in his car detailing the study, started talking to passengers and convinced over 300 to take a survey.

Over the course of two years, he discovered not only were drivers deadheading but passengers were forgoing alternative modes of transportation.

Of those surveyed, 34 percent said if it wasn’t for the service, they would’ve taken other public transit, biked or walked.

Nineteen percent of his passengers took the service despite having their own cars and 12 percent of those trips wouldn’t have been taken at all of Uber and Lyft didn’t exist.

Henao studied civil engineering but to him, the problem is more about just cars and roads. He says it’s a social problem and about the impact to people.

“There is a place for the Ubers and Lyfts, it’s just to understand what place should that be.”

He continued, “There is a lot of conversation around making the city less vehicle oriented, less car ownership oriented and more of multi-mode system users.”

Lyft is very familiar with Henao’s study.

Kaelan Richards, a spokeswoman for Lyft said in a statement,

“The claims made in this study run counter to what many academically-sound studies and transportation experts have found. In fact, rideshare users are significantly more likely to use public transit than weekly drivers, rideshare companies are only 0.1% of overall Vehicle Miles Traveled in Denver, and over half of Lyft passengers in Denver use their own cars less because of Lyft. As always, Lyft is focused on increasing car occupancy and making car ownership optional.”

On background:

Miles & Rideshare

  • Rideshare companies are actually only 0.1% of overall Vehicle Miles Traveled in Denver
  • US VMT and per capita VMT plateauing or declining for the first time since 2014. This suggests TNCs are absorbing personal vehicle trips — the number one source of congestion and VMT.

Transit & Rideshare

  • Shared Use Mobility Center looked at Lyft data from six cities and found “no relationship” between Lyft and changes in transit ridership. They also found peak Lyft use came on nights and weekends when transit ridership is the lowest.
  • This is backed up by research from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies that found the typical rideshare trip “does not occur when and where most transit trips occur,” and that most rideshare passengers “report no change in their travel by other modes.”
  • In a recent study found that while 80 percent of weekly drivers said they never use public transit, 95.5 percent of weekly rideshare riders utilize public transit

Personal Vehicles & Rideshare

  • AlixPartners determined that “each ridehailing vehicle replaces 4 vehicles.”
  • Shared Use Mobility Center noted that rideshare use is “associated with decreases in respondents’ vehicle ownership and single occupancy vehicle trips.”
  • A University of Michigan study found 41 percent of Austin ridesharing users reported transitioning to a personal vehicle in the period rideshare services were unavailable in the city. About 9 percent reportedly purchased an additional vehicle.
  • Eno Center on Transportation concluded, “despite the growing presence of TNCs on the streets, the vast majority of U.S. commutes are in privately owned, single-occupant vehicles (SOVs). Yet, no major city specifically taxes SOVs for their disproportionate impact.”
  • Our own data backs this up.
    • 54% of Lyft passengers in Denver use their car less because of rideshare
    • A quarter of Denver Lyft passengers say owning a car is less important to them because of Lyft
    • Over a quarter (26%) of Denver Lyft passengers use Lyft to connect with transit

Lyft is making big strides in ensuring we are providing sustainable, reliable, and multi-modal transportation.

Henao continues to look at the impacts. He is a post-doctoral transportation researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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