Traffic Fiasco at Uber Driver Party Highlights Why Ride-Hailing Is Awful for Cities

The Museum of Science and Industry. Image: Google Maps
The Museum of Science and Industry. Image: Google Maps

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft aren’t the solution for better urban transportation. Rather, they represent a huge problem for cities trying to provide a safe, efficient, equitable, and environmentally friendly transportation network for their residents.

Yes, there are upsides to ride-hailing. The technology can make living without a car more convenient, it provides a new travel option in underserved neighborhoods with subpar transit and taxi access, and it helps keep intoxicated drivers off the road.

But there are many serious downsides to Uber and Lyft. They’re dramatically increasing the amount of miles driven in cities, partly because their drivers spend half their time “deadheading,” cruising around with no passengers. That extra traffic increases the number of crashes, as well as congestion, which slows down buses.

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft’s artificially-cheap service, propped up by wealthy investors’ venture capital money is cannibalizing public transportation. The reduced ridership and fare box revenue makes it more difficult for transit agencies to provide frequent, reliable, 24/7 service, which leads to more ridership losses, creating a vicious cycle.

The absurdity of the the ride-hailing model, in which everyone who possibly can takes a car to urban destinations, was laid bare during a disastrous Uber driver appreciation party Monday night at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in the dense Hyde Park neighborhood. As reported by the Chicago Tribune’s Alice Yin, the ride-hailing company hosted the shindig at 6:30 p.m.

John Morrison, who had been invited to the party by a friend who drives for Uber, said he saw got stuck in a massive traffic jam of cars with ride-hailing decals in east Hyde Park on his way to the event. A location where 57th Street and Cornell Drive merge was complete chaos, he said, because some drivers were going the wrong way and were facing other motorists bumper-to-bumper.

Morrison said it took him almost an hour to drive the single mile from Lake Shore Drive’s 53rd Street exit to the MSI. Once he got there, the museum’s massive 1,500-car underground parking garage was over-capacity. The Uber drivers had been promised free parking.

Eventually, Uber texted its drivers a notification that the party was full. “Due to overwhelming response, the Museum of Science and Industry is at capacity and is not able to accept any more guests,” the text read. “We are sorry for the inconvenience.” The event ended 30 minutes before the scheduled time.

While the party planners made other logistical mistakes, their main ones was assuming that it would work for thousands of people to show up at the same time at the same location in a congested urban neighborhood via cars. Large metal boxes that only hold a handful of passengers are simply not a space-efficient way to move people through cities, which is a big part of why the ride-hailing boom is causing such havoc.

At least one party guest noted that Uber could have helped prevent the horrible traffic jam that clogged the streets of Hyde Park if they’d recommended that people take the convenient CTA bus or Metra commuter rail service to the museum.

But, hey, encouraging people to take transit instead of cars wouldn’t be in keeping with Uber’s (completely unsustainable) business model, would it?

  • paulrandall

    “Morrison said it took him almost an hour to drive the single mile from Lake Shore Drive’s 53rd Street exit to the MSI”. Guy stuck in traffic complaining about other people in cars creating congestion. PRICELESS

  • Thanks for your truly constructive criticism @paulrandall:disqus.

    In all truth, I wasn’t complaining, I was laughing my way through this whole experience due to the sheer irony of it.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    No joke, your Voltaire-like Twitter commentary was much appreciated. Your pain was our gain.

  • KOinSF

    DELETE UBER

    I wish this were bigger news, I do not think many understand they are charging us less than needed to HARM TAXIS and PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.

    To assume they would suggest using public transportation is crazy, they never would have done this, ever.

  • Kevin M

    https://www.nytimes.com/201

    I get it: transit vs. ride-share is an economic war between a publicly-subsidized shared-transportation system and a very different *privately*-subsidized shared-transportation system. Which side can out-subsidize the other and win the “market”? Until elected officials wake up, only one of these competing systems will continue to see this situation as a deadly game of capitalism (spoiler: its the venture-capital-funded system).

    This battle marks yet another private attack on a public system in the post-WWII era, akin to deregulated utilities, charter schools, and so on. Maybe its payback for what the government did to the private railroads with the publically-funded Interstate Highway system. Maybe this is the next round in America’s haphazard approach to transportation.

    I, for one, am really sick of these libertarian disruptions to our public pillars of life. Turning society’s building blocks into markets for private profit is a sickness of greed;
    capitalism without a conscious. It is most dishonorable.

  • Jame

    The worst ride share dystopia experience I have had was in Philly. I went to a concert at the football stadium – which was absurdly not served by transit. We walked a mile from the bus stop to get to the stadium on the way – it wasn’t a really pleasant walk infrastructure wise.

    On the way back we tried to Uber back to the hotel. There were only 2 or 3 roads into the stadium, and they discontinued the street grid at the parking lot (but the apps still had addresses available for the stadium). We tried to call an car and they kept getting cancelled. A few drivers accepted – they had gone to the concert and wanted us to find them in the traffic nightmare called exiting the parking lot.

    We positioned ourselves near an obvious intersection, but several drivers couldn’t find us. Eventually we found a driver – but it took 75 minutes after the show to finally get into a vehicle. I was so jealous of the people who were able to bike. The stadium was only about 4 miles from our hotel. No bike share at the stadium.

  • Tooscrapps

    I think this book would be right up your alley. Capital City by Samuel Stein.
    https://www.versobooks.com/books/2870-capital-city

  • what_eva

    “propped up by wealthy investor’s venture capital money” is no longer the case for Lyft or Uber. Both have gone public in the past couple of months.

  • planetshwoop

    Disagree. They still supplied the cash Uber is burning.

  • Guy Ross

    And your report here, John. Too perfect.

  • David P.

    This is a rather comprehensive critique of the ride-share model:
    https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2019/05/ubers-path-of-destruction/

  • Their SEC filing makes it explicit, their business plan is to damage transit.

  • Kevin M

    Can you please provide further detail/insight to this?

  • David

    They still have some VC cash to burn through. And then it will become the cash of regular investors they burn through, which is a shame because I could see people buying Uber or Lyft stock thinking they could make money one day. Hahaha!

  • Joe Linton

    Not the top Streetsblog issue here, but shouldn’t “employees” be in quotes here? Uber doesn’t think that they are… Perhaps the title is in solidarity with folks pushing for them to be classified as employees.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Fair point, I’ll edit that.

  • Joe Linton

    Now I feel guilty for bringing it up! Didn’t mean to disrespect or give you more work

  • Love2Ride2

    These Stupid Scooter Shares…

    … are AWESOME!

    Been reading up about the electric scooter shares and am pretty surprised to learn about the backlash. City of SF IMPOUNDING a bunch of ’em? Damn, kinda knee-jerk and extreme if you ask me. That ain’t so progressive. And just read the comments sections below articles about the share programs; people just foaming at the mouth spewing vitriol like it’s mass murder or something. “Fucking entitled hipster generation haven’t earned a damn thing their whole lives…!” You get the picture.

    However, I also appreciate that these dock-free share programs are posing problems for people and cities. But chill out, it’s new. It needs to develop.

    “As a cyclist, should you support electric scooter share programs?”

    ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

    Why? Do you ride in an urban environment? Isn’t car traffic great? Getting buzzed by some jerk on his cell phone? Honked at for legally exercising your rights on the road? No? Of course it isn’t! So what can we do to lessen the car traffic? Alternative transportation, that’s how.

    “But scooters aren’t ‘alternative transportation,’ right?”

    They sure are!

    Who are the clueless drivers double-parking in bike lanes?

    You guessed it! Uber and Lyft drivers! Every electric scooter ride has the potential to eliminate an Uber or Lyft driver clogging YOUR route to work, school or the cafe. Every electric scooter ride is ONE LESS IDIOT DOUBLE-PARKED IN THE BIKE LANE! (Plus, oh the sweet irony of Uber and Lyft, who replaced hard-working cabbies, getting THEIR BUTTS replaced by electric scooters. That’s some karmic justice right there!)

    “But what about all those scooter idiots on the sidewalks?”

    Sure, they’re a pain in the butt right now; but the concept is still new and experienced growing pains.

    “But what about all those scooter idiots in the bike lanes?”

    That’s a better question and concern. Nothing ruins a commute like getting sideswiped by some dummy on a scooter who can’t hold his line as you pass his hipster butt, right?

    Well, let’s let this thing iron out the wrinkles, shall we?

    How great is it to replace the 2,500 lb. single occupant, hydrocarbon-spewing, gasoline-drinking, motor vehicle with a tiny scooter? Really, really great, that’s how much! And it’s amazing that people haven’t put 2 & 2 together and realized how totally awesome these share programs are. (Not so great for the auto and gasoline industries. They see their model under attack from all sides. And good. Screw ’em, taking away our Key Systems across the land. They deserve to die a miserable death.)

    So as a cyclist, you absolutely want fewer body-crushing cars clogging your local streets, polluting your lungs, eyes and ears, and endangering everyone they pass.

    And it also addresses drunk (and drugged – a bigger issue with legal pot now) driving. Last thing I want is Joe Sixpack jumping behind the wheel after six hours of uninterrupted drinking at the local watering hole and running my butt over. Put Joe on a scooter and he quickly becomes a danger only to himself. That’s totally awesome! Damn, SF for that reason alone, should offer free electric scooter rides to every bar patron in the city. Think of it.

    “But what about all the scooters being left in doorways, pathways, entries, exits, etc.?”

    Hey, let’s designate some parking spaces every block or so in the city! That can’t be hard? And I know a GREAT place to find these spaces…

    Car parking spaces!

    Drivers are so entitled, they’ll bitch and moan if we take more parking away. But as any half-wit person with a grain of social awareness knows, “free parking” is anything but. Drivers have received subsidized parking for DECADES and that should end, pronto. Your employer and city agency has been forced to provide subsidized parking for people who can’t break the car habit. Just another hidden subsidy the righties won’t acknowledge.

    So dot parking spaces across the city at sensible intervals as designated scooter and bike share parking locations.

    Voila! Problem solved. And now, as a cyclist, you know that you should put your wholehearted support into these bike/scooter/whatever-the-hell-replaces-single-occupant-vehicles share programs. Like big-time. Like go write your representative big-time. Really.

    You’re welcome.

  • Love2Ride2

    Imagine if they rode bikes!

  • Love2Ride2

    You apparently don’t know why companies go public:

    TO RAISE MONEY!

    Live in a cave?

  • Love2Ride2

    Eventually this country will come to its senses about industry and jobs.

    Public transit: actual employees earning living wages with all the benefits

    Rideshare: lowballed “contractors” earning poverty wages with no benefits whatsoever

    America, why do you keep settling for less?

  • 66 City

    Here’s an article about Uber’s plans to privatize transportation:
    https://48hills.org/2019/05/ubers-plans-include-attacking-public-transit/

    “In a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the ride-hail company reports that it seeks, as part of its growth strategy, not just to get people out of private cars but to get them off public buses and trains.”

    And while we’re at it, you might enjoy this detailed takedown of Uber: https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2019/05/ubers-path-of-destruction/

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Not at all!

  • Chicagocyclist

    Yes, anyone can (theoretically) buy shares, but who in fact does/has bought shares? Probably mostly wealthy investors/investment companies/brokers. They were having no trouble at all raising VC money before; but now they can “raise” much much more “volume” of money but by selling public shares.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Please don’t call it “ride-share”. Call it the much more accurate term: “ride-hailing.”

  • relevantjeff

    Because freedom and all that. /s

  • It seems to me that this fact deserves mention in any media coverage discussing Uber and transit. After all, we’ve had years of uncritical media coverage of Uber’s marketing copy, claiming that they seek to complement and partner with transit, it’s time to undo the damage from those lies.

  • Gig-economy scab cabs.

  • Gary Chicago

    So you choose to blame rideshare for being bad when it is a concert promoters bad choice for a venue to get to and from . Contact the promoter of City of Philly for your bad experience ….or pay up and get a limo to wait for you

  • Alan

    I think the VCs are getting out and trying to pawn off their losing proposition on undereducated small time investors. VCs make their profit and in 5 years when the stock tumbles theyve long since cashed the check.

  • Alan

    She didn’t blame them just pointed out the obvious that rideshare is a terrible solution to move large amounts of people in a small space. I take uber occasionally when I need to, but its pretty clear that transit is the much better solution to moving lots of people in and out of downtowns or major events and ubers business model is directly penalizing more investment in transit.

  • Gary Chicago

    Alan
    No doubt on an individual transit bus or a few routs transit is superior,,,,but no one talks about the cost of an entire system in real numbers . In Chicago many buses run with 10% or less capacity and ride share is actual more green and cost efficient . The cost structure to run these buses is unsustainable This drags down the entire system . Even hurting most efficient transit the trains

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Some think that Uber and Lyft are following the lead/model of the early automobile industry: the simply bought out public transportation to “kill” it. The strategy is a capitalist classic, but in a period of or context of “late capitalism,” has an especially significant maliciousness and harmful impact: ELIMINATE COMPETITION. Good for Uber and/or Lyft, bad for society.

  • [citation needed]

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