A recent report from New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on the decline in subway ridership inspired concerned discussion among New Yorkers and urban transportation researchers. The MTA reported its first year of declining ridership since 2009, with weekend ridership falling by 3%, while slight, when considered in light of the rising popularity of ride-hailing services such as Uber, Lyft, and carpooling service Via, this decline has given rise to considerable concern over the future of the city’s transportation system. As the city’s historic yellow cabs, traditional taxi services, have seen a precipitous decline, seeing a decline of some 100,000 rides per day (a decline of roughly 24%) between January 2015 and January 2017, the various ride-hailing services have risen in popularity. Thanks to their increasing prevalence and affordability, these ride-hailing are consistently rising in popularity which is leading to a considerable rise in the number of vehicles on the streets of urban metropolises like New York City, seeing an estimated threefold increase from 5 million rides in 2015 to 16 million in 2016.
This development is echoed in other major cities as well, with Washington D.C.’s struggling public transportation system leading commuters to shift to ride-hailing services and, possibly, contributing to a rise in congestion in the city’s streets. As some studies and experts direct blame at ride-hailing services and their consumer-friendly ease and ubiquity, others have raised a more skeptical perspective on such simple, one-to-one conclusions. These experts have noted studies, such as one conducted in seven major cities in the U.S. in 2016, which have suggested that users of ride-hailing services were now more likely to continue their journeys on public transport or by foot or bicycle.
However, what is clear in this discussion is the ever significant role that local agencies and public governance play in managing urban mobility in this period of transition. As user preferences shift, new services rise, and technology improves, city authorities must keep abreast of these evolving situations and strive to create forward thinking, comprehensive plans that better integrate these means of transportation and consider the ecological impact of changes in mobility trends, ensuring the continued improvement of their transportation systems’ sustainability.