Environmental and Equity Impacts of Transportation Network Company (TNC) Growth

Objective

After reviewing studies of TNCs (Transportation Network Companies, e.g., Uber and Lyft) in urban areas, collect and analyze data on the rapid emergence and growth of TNCs in New York City.  Present findings with respect to the environmental and equity impact of rapid TNC growth, and suggest measures that could mitigate/reduce such impacts.

Background

A transportation network company (TNC) is an enterprise that relies on websites and mobile apps to connect passengers with drivers who provide transportation on the driver’s non-commercial vehicle. (TNCs are sometimes also called Mobility Service Providers or MSPs). TNCs are examples of what is termed the “sharing economy.” Uber and Lyft are prominent TNCs today, but a more inclusive list of TNCs would also include Gett, CabifygoCatch, Via, Ola Cabs, GoCar, GO-JEK, Careem, Wingz, Taxify, GrabTaxi, Didi Kuaidi, Easy Taxi, and Fasten (per Wikipedia).

TNCs have grown dramatically, with no legal limitation on the number of vehicles on the road. This contrasts with the practices of the taxi industry, for which a set number of medallions are issued, based on supply and demand as well as on environmental studies and assessments.  There are differences of opinion as to whether the convenient and fast ride-sourcing of TNCs has and will continue to dissuade car ownership. Have TNC business models led to unprecedented numbers of motor vehicles in cities by encouraging more part-time drivers to add to the mix of vehicles on the streets? And does the TNC practice of “surge pricing” or “demand pricing”—which allows doubling or tripling of fares during peak hours—potentially add to urban traffic congestion?

This project will look at the impact of the unprecedented growth of TNCs—Uber in particular—in a relatively short time, to more than 50,000 vehicles in the New York metropolitan area. It will attempt to analyze how this growth is affecting traffic congestion as well as other externalities, e.g., effects upon equitable provision of urban transportation options. 

Suggested Approaches

(1)  Literature review.  Review and analyze existing studies related to TNC impacts on traffic congestion, equity concerns, and sustainable transportation policy generally. Of particular interest: the impacts of Uber on traffic congestion.

(2)  Data gathering.  Collect data from various sources, possibly including New York’s Taxicab Passenger Enhancements Project (TPEP), heat maps, fare records, etc. Gather information on taxi and TNC pick-ups, drop-offs, routes, etc., focusing on understanding and contextualizing the impacts of Uber’s growth in NYC.

(3)  Findings/recommendations.  Describe primary findings with respect to TNC impacts (congestion, equity concerns, etc.), the extent of the impacts, and the adequacy of existing laws and regulations. Propose policy solutions to mitigate or reduce such impacts/externalities. If time allows, explore how the data and findings for NYC, in concert with that for other jurisdictions in the US and internationally, could suggest some best policy practices for managing the emergence and growth of TNCs.