Ride hailing apps: transport for the privileged?

Ride hailing apps: transport for the privileged?

By Mac Urata, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) inland transport secretary

Who uses ride-hailing services in the United States and why? A recent report by UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies draws up an interesting picture of young, affluent and highly educated riders that e-hail Uber or Lyft for their trips to bars and parties.

The institute selected seven major metropolitan areas in the United States including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for this survey. It was deployed in two phases between 2014 to 2016. A total of 4,094 adult respondents (18 and older) completed their responses. 2,217 resided in dense, urban neighbourhood and 1,877 from more suburban locations.

To one’s surprise perhaps, 60% said they “have heard of, but do not use” ride-hailing. An additional 10% said they “have not heard of” it. Out of the remaining 30% that use ride- hailing, 9% “has used with friends, but haven’t installed app”.

34% of the respondents used ride-hailing “less than once a month”. A total of 41% used it between “once to 2-3 times a month”. The “daily” users were a mere 6%.

29% of those in more urban neighbourhood of the cities surveyed adopted to ride-hailing and use them more regularly, while only 7% of suburban residents in major cities use them to travel in and around their home region.

In terms of the demographics, 36% were aged between “18 to 29” years old; followed by “30 to 49” years old age group which was 27%. “65 and older” were only 4%.

Regarding their levels of education, the highest was “Advanced degree” (28%), followed by “Bachelor’s degree” (25%). Only 11% had their “High School degree or less”.

Shockingly, 33% earned “$150,000 or more” annually. A total of 45% were paid between “$35,000 to $149,000”. An annual earning of “Less than $35,000” was 15%. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of the Americans is currently $43,556.

On trip purpose and travel mode, the report says that respondents were asked to select their top three modes for several common activities. By a fairly wide margin, the most common activity ride-hailing is used for is going to “bars and parties” (38%). Combine that with “restaurants and cafes”, they add up to 62% of the activities. The other answers were: “Family and community” (13%) and “Shops and services” (11%).

Furthermore, 33% said the reason for using ride-hailing is “to avoid driving when I might have alcohol”. Among the urban respondents, 37% cited parking-related reasons such as “Parking is too difficult to find” and “Parking is too expensive” for substituting ride-hailing for personal driving.

One of the findings of this report was that “49% – 61% of ride-hailing trips would not have been made at all, or by walking, biking, or transit”.

In the meantime, there are various reports of ride-hailing drivers who do not even earn a minimum wage with very long hours that they put in. And the taxi workers whose income have plummeted by the encroachment of Uber and Lyft in their towns and cities.

Put these two pictures together and it begs the question. Ride-hailing – who is it for and for what purpose?

In a recent interview with In These Times, Brishen Rogers, a labor law professor at Temple University cites that “Ride-hailing apps are able to ensure that customers never have a very long wait or a very high cost for a ride,” However, “the convenience is coming at the cost of a decent standard of living for drivers.” And like many “sharing-economy” companies, ride- hailing services “are really providing services to Yuppies,” he argues.

*Disruptive Transportation: The Adoption, Utilization, and Impacts of Ride-Hailing in the United States – Institute of Transportation Studies University of California, Davis

  • Mac Urata, ITF Inland Transport Secretary.

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