Ride-Share Services Could Offer Mobility to Underserved Communities

CHICAGO (September 12, 2019) — Although ride-hailing as a form of transportation is still in its infancy, the popularity of services like Uber and Lyft is changing the way Americans think and approach everyday travel. Analysis of rider data demonstrates that ride-hailing services have the potential to bridge the gap of transportation options in low-income neighborhoods.

In her article “Redefining Car Access,” published in the Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 85, No. 2), assistant professor Anne Brown from the University of Oregon presents information gathered from 6.3 million Lyft trips in Los Angeles County over a three-month period in 2016. She uses this data to examine the availability of ride-hail services and the locations of the individuals requesting them. Her research suggests that ride-hail services like Lyft can offer more equitable car access in low-income neighborhoods and encourages planners to integrate this new form of transportation into a wide range of built environments.

Unlike other forms of for-hire vehicle services like taxis, which are limited by an inability to anticipate where their riders will be, ride-hailing apps bridge the information gap by connecting riders to drivers directly through their smartphones. Lyfts are able to service previously disconnected areas outside city centers. Brown’s study shows evidence of users calling Lyfts to and from urban, suburban, and rural areas alike, with most frequent usage by low-income communities. Further, ride-hailing is a particularly viable transportation option in areas where parking is constrained or restricted.

While much of Brown’s research points to ride-hailing as a more equitable form of transit, she cautions planners to be aware of its limitations. For example, most services like Lyft are available only to those with smartphones and bank accounts, which could exclude certain low-income families and non-English speaking households. Brown points to the success of cash and fare-card based bike-sharing systems as a possible solution to addressing this inequality.

Despite such drawbacks, services like Lyft can be a useful method to expand car-access to low-income communities and underserved communities of color. Ride-hailing is an ever-growing industry that breaks through the geographic inequities of the taxi industry, and it should be considered a key player in the future of transportation planning.

The quarterly Journal of the American Planning Association publishes only double-blind peer-reviewed original research and analysis. The journal has published research, commentaries and book reviews since 1935.

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Roberta Rewers, APA Communications Manager, 312-786-6395; rrewers@planning.org.

September 13, 2019