The Most Common Chicago Ride-Hailing Trip Is a 1-Mile Hop From River North to the Loop

Ride-hailing drivers often park in bike lanes downtown, the most common place for trips to begin and end. Photo via Bike Lane Uprising.
Ride-hailing drivers often park in bike lanes downtown, the most common place for trips to begin and end. Photo via Bike Lane Uprising.

Last Friday the city of Chicago announced the publication of anonymized trip info from apps for ride-hailing companies, including Uber, Lyft, and Via, on its Data Portal. To protect the privacy of drivers and customers, the starting and ending locations were lumped together by Census tract. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting takeaways from the data that’s currently posted on the portal, covering November and December 2018.

Downtown trips

The most common ride-hailing trip made during that two-month period was taking a short ride from the Census tract that includes the western part of the River North neighborhood (let’s call it River North West) to the one that includes the west side of the Loop proper (we’ll call it Loop West.) 29,262 such trips were made during the two-month period. 

The combined length of these two tracts is only about a mile and a half, and the most frequently occurring trip length was 1.1 miles. That’s a short distance to drive in a car, so many of these trips could have easily been made by walking or biking. On the other hand Chicago weather can get pretty nasty during those months, and the bikeway connections between the two zones aren’t the greatest.

A person tweeting from the @ChicagoBars Twitter feed speculated that many of these trips may be made by hotel, restaurant, and bar patrons and employees who are concerned about personal security while traveling late at night. However, the vast majority of these trips – a little over 80 percent – started in River North West between 7:00 a.m. and 7:59 p.m.

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29,262 trips were taken between the River North West tract and the Loop West tract in November and December 2018.

The total number of trips originating from River North West was 341,582. So the 29,262 trips made to Loop West represented only 8.6 percent of trips from River North West.

The second most common trip was from the Loop West tract to O’Hare Airport, with 27,308 trips. However, the inbound trip from O’Hare to Loop West was only the 15th most popular type of trip, with 20,147 rides.

The third most common trip was from the Census tract that includes the northeast quadrant of the Loop proper (let’s call that Loop Northeast) to Loop West, with 27,151 trips. That also includes some very short trips, with possible starting points and destinations including office buildings, high-rise housing, hotels, and tourist attractions.

Altogether, 645,087 rides were taken into the Loop West tract. Since November and December represent 61 days, that’s an average of 10,575 trips per day.

One negative impact of all these short trips in a transit-rich part of town is that the additional driving causes more congestion and slows down CTA buses. That’s why Chicago should charge an additional tax on trips into and out of the Loop and other dense areas, and invest the revenue in improving CTA service, something mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot has voiced support for.

Looking at weekdays only, 24,596 trips were made from River North West into Loop West during the two-month period. That comes out to an average of 572 trips per weekday. Weekday trips represented 84.1 percent of trips between River North West and the Loop, more evidence that this kind of trip is largely done for workday commutes.

The most common distance of all Chicago ride-hailing trips during the two-month period was 1.2 miles. Again, that’s a really short distance to cover on bike or electric scooter (if Chicago had them.) Even on foot, that would only take 24 minutes to walk at a 3 mph pace.

Low-income areas

Of course, ride-hailing use isn’t just confined to toney downtown districts – people in low-income areas also use it. (For our purposes, we’ll use the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s definition of “low-income areas” as ones with an average household income at or below 60 percent of the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area’s median income, currently $35,580 for an individual, and $50,760 per year for a family of four.)

However, most low-income Census tracts saw fewer than 5,000 trips start there during the two-month period. The average number of trips originating in low-income areas was 3,305. The median is much lower than the average, at 1,281. This means that half of the low-income Census tracts originated fewer than 1,281 trips in November and December.

In contrast, the average number of trips originating in non-low-income Census tracts was 24,394. The median number of trips was 3,124, suggesting that a disproportionate number of rides originate in a small number of non-low-income tracts.

Pink or red on this map indicates a non-affluent Census tract. The deeper the color, the more ride-hailing trips originated there.
Pink or red on this map indicates a low-income Census tract. The deeper the color, the more ride-hailing trips originated there.

The low-income Census tract that generated the most ride-hailing trips includes the Illinois Medical District, with 52,659 total rides during the two-month period. Most trips that started in the IMD were headed to the Loop West tract, even though the Blue and Pink lines offer a cheap alternative for making the same trip.

The second most popular destination for rides originating in the IMD was the West Loop Census tract that includes Union Station. Again, the Blue Line could have been an option for that trip.

The low-income area that generated the second-highest number of riding-hailing trips was the tract that includes Chinatown and part of Armour Square. Once again, the most common type of trip was to Loop West, with 3,736 rides. That’s despite the presence of the Red Line and bus routes on State Street and Archer Avenue.

Next steps

Studies have shown that ride-hailing is increasing congestion in cities like Chicago. The new ride-hailing data adds to the wealth of transportation statistics that the city of Chicago has been making available. This new info could be compared to the taxi trip data to get a sense of how many ride-hailing trips are replacing trips by taxi and other modes.

The CTA should analyze the ride-share data as it provides more insight on the kind of trips people are taking. The transit agency might be able to access the specific pickup and drop-off points and to determine if there’s an unmet need for better transit options.

Have you checked out the ride-hailing data yet? If so what patterns have you noticed? Let us know in the comments.

  • planetshwoop

    I think it is only a matter of time before Lyuber starts advocating for tax free transit benefits like parking for work and CTA get.

  • Treetop

    Those benefits went away with the tRump tax-cut scam.

  • Dennis McClendon

    “Transit-rich part of town?”

    The only transit serving River North West is the #37, with 20-minute headways most of the day.

  • Tooscrapps

    Well the Brown Line serves that area, but obviously isn’t affected by congestion.

    Car trips might not affect bus transit in that area a whole lot, though I think the 65 and 66 would qualify, but they certainly have an effect on their destination area.

  • Random_Jerk

    This is a strange country. People really can’t walk for 20 min? It’s kind of sad. I bet most of them have gym membership and walk on the treadmill after work… Anyway with all that traffic caused by Uber/Lyft I find walking is the fastest option recently. West Loop to River North is definitely faster on foot, especially during the rush hour.

  • rohmen

    I’d bet this trip is made by a fair amount of business people that are also taking clients out to dinner, and get to bill it back to the company. I’ll even admit to times where I’ve asked a client if they want to walk the mile or get a car, and if they say get a car, I get the car (and my clients are actually more often European).

    That said, this also matches up a lot with where some of the new residential apartment buildings have been built in River North, and where a lot of those residents may then work in the Loop. It does also show too many of those folks are probably just grabbing a Lyft/Uber rather than walking it.

  • Tooscrapps

    Yah, but walking at a pace that allows you to look at your phone easily adds like 10 minutes to the walk!

  • Dennis McClendon

    To ride the Brown Line, though, you have to walk north to Superior.

  • Gene Parmesan

    @sebastianrut:disqus , judging by the proliferation of yoga pants and other form-hugging apparel, River North is probably the most physically fit neighborhood of Chicago. It is not that people can’t walk, it is that it’s not a practical option in many cases. The weather is bad, they are wearing too nice or expensive clothes or shoes, or they are carrying too much. I am a perfect example seeing as that I live in RN and work in the loop. Personally I love to bike, I have my own as well as a divvy pass, so I will bike whenever the weather is tolerable. But I am lucky that my office has a very casual dress code and lets me bring my bike inside. If it is under 20* temperature, or raining or snowing, or there is too much ice or salt on the roads, or if I had to wear nicer clothes for a client meeting, or I have to bring something bulky too or from the office, I won’t be biking.

  • Michelle Stenzel

    This data doesn’t surprise me. People are probably doing what is most convenient at the level they’re willing to pay. For the affluent people who live the the River North West area and work in the Loop, walking over to the Brown Line stop at Chicago or Merchandise Mart takes time to walk and wait; then the arriving trains are all already cheek-to-jowl full at these stops during peak times; they pay full $2.25 fare even though they’re only riding for one mile, squeezed between the sweaty masses. The other alternative of getting a shared Uber for $4 or private Uber for $8, a guaranteed seat, and door-to-door service obviously seems like the better option, for just a couple bucks more.

  • Tooscrapps

    For some parts, yes. The bounded area literally has two Brown Line stations in it, which are are, at most, 1/2 mile from any one point. Pretty transit-rich if you ask me.

  • Tooscrapps

    Only the bike benefit went away.

  • I have yet to really dig into this dataset, but a few initial thoughts:
    1) the number of rides and the size of the dataset is staggering. 17m trips in two months (although at least some of these were shared), 2g of data per month. As Steven pointed out on Twitter, this is ~280K trips/day. But that’s out of probably 8.5m trips by Chicago residents on a typical weekday, which lines up with what we know about big city for-hire vehicle usage (NHTS found ~1.7% of large metro residents use taxis/ridehailing on a given day).
    2) I’m interested to look at how these rides line up with peak hours, to get a sense of how much of that daytime travel is driven by commutes, other trips during the workday, or stuff that are likely more tourist related. How the city & CTA might respond would differ depending on whether it’s a time/corridor when transit vehicles are already saturated with riders.
    3) It’ll also be interesting to see how this varies with weather. This time period is pretty much the bottom of the annual trough for walking and biking.

  • rduke

    AFAIK the transit benefit went away too. Either that or my union is lying to me.

  • planetshwoop

    Of course. Sheesh.

  • Tooscrapps

    Yes and no:
    Yes: employees can still use their pre-tax dollars for commuting/parking up to $265.
    No: your employer can no longer deduct the cost of covering employee commuter expenses.

    https://www.benefitresource.com/blog/2019-pre-tax-limits/
    https://thebenefitsguide.com/commuter-benefits-for-bikes-still-worth-it-even-without-the-tax-break/

  • Kevin M

    Did people not dress in “nice” clothes before WWII (before the proliferation of the private automobile)? And was there not “bad” weather back then?

    Just because we have a technology–the car–to make our individual lives easier doesn’t mean that we–speaking as mass of ~3 million people–should all be using that technology just because it serves our individual needs/preferences. The natural order of things on Earth is that the needs/preferences of the individual organism do not out-weigh those of the collective species, and no species is more important than the environment which allows it to exist (this planet).

    Our priorities are way out of whack; we have most individuals in this city and country putting their comfort-needs above the health and safety of both their fellow humans and the planet that we all depend on.(example 1–the individual human who choose to take a car for a short distance when they are capable of other means that are much better towards their fellow humans and the planet). If we can’t find enlightenment, then I say we tax the heck out of automobile transportation.

  • Harald

    I did some basic analyses of trips by hour. Yes, there are rush hour peaks, primarily in the pm, but also lots of evening travel, especially on the weekends. https://vgxhc.github.io/Chicago_TNC_data/

  • Alex

    Does the data indicate whether each trip was made on Uber, Lyft, or Via? If so, I’d be interested to know what the market share is of each.

  • Harald

    Nope, that’s not included in the dataset.

  • Passenger usage during Nov-Dec is very different than the rest of the year. Many people leave for the holiday season and rideshare is notoriously slow, especially around Christmas break and any Holiday where college kids and people who transplanted to the city go back home to visit family.

  • Dennis McClendon

    I thought of something else as I biked past yesterday: the East Bank Club. The hundreds of Masters of the Universe who start their days there used to take a taxi to their Loop offices afterward. Now—they didn’t get corner offices for refusing to use other people’s money—they take Uberlyfts.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    You do know there are lots of conventioneers and tourists who use those services, right? And no, not everyone has 20 plus minutes to spare every time.

  • Gary Chicago

    Does the data show if the ride share is a Chicagoan or visitor . I see many people visiting for work staying in Rivernorth and going to their meeting downtown . You cant expect a visitor to walk or bike

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