Making Private Data a Public Issue

A new report takes a deep dive into the numbers of Lyfts and Ubers on S.F.'s streets.

(Photo by Aleah Fajardo)

Ever wonder how many Lyfts or Ubers cruise down San Francisco’s streets on a daily basis? What areas are most heavily trafficked by ride-hail vehicles? Or what percentage of the city’s traffic is dedicated to these cars? Up until this week, that data was largely private, held only by the companies running the operations. But thanks to a new report from The San Francisco County Transportation Authority titled “TNCs Today: A Profile of San Francisco Transportation Network Company Activity,” the public finally has some answers. It’s the first comprehensive data compilation to emerge that documents the volume, frequency, and geographic coverage of Lyts and Uber in S.F.

The report was commissioned by the city’s Transportation Authority Board (comprised of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors). “We are at an important time, when many cities are shaping policies to respond to a host of new mobility options,” says Tilly Chang, executive director of the SFCTA. “This is best done with the benefit of data-driven analyses to evaluate the impact of each new service on the goals we have set for a healthy city.”

Data for the report was collected during a six-week period in late 2016, and was pulled directly from Uber and Lyft’s programs by researchers at Northeastern University. The information was then handed over to the SFCTA to clean it up and organize it into useful conclusions that will help inform city policy on ride-hail vehicles going forward. Here are just a few of the things discovered.

Ride-hail vehicles represent 15 percent of all vehicle trips in San Francisco on an average weekday, with more than 170,000 passengers picked up and taken to their destinations.

The majority of ride-hail trips take place in dense and congested areas of S.F., such as downtown. During peak rush hour periods, Lyft and Uber compromise 20 to 26 percent of all vehicle traffic downtown and in SoMa.

On a typical weekday, ride-hail vehicles in S.F. travel 570,000 miles, which accounts for 20 percent of all local daily vehicle miles citywide.

And in a blow to the city’s old traditional taxi service, it was concluded that ride-hails make approximately 12 times the number of taxi trips on a normal weekday.

Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the Tenderloin and SoMa, says the report is important for understanding the effects of ride-hail traffic on her constituents. “The residents and businesses in my district feel the effects of TNCs [Transportation Network Companies] on our neighborhood every day,” she says. “Increased traffic is just one symptom of the high volume of ride-hail vehicles, and I am also concerned about the quality of life and safety of our streets. This research is very helpful to our efforts to make sure state and local policy is keeping up with the rapid growth of TNCs in San Francisco so that the sharing economy doesn’t become a burden on our residents.”

For Supervisor Aaron Peskin, this report hints at the prioritization of private businesses operating on city streets at the expense of sustainable forms of transportation. “The data in this report confirms the widespread public perception that TNCs comprise a significant share of traffic on our city streets,” he says. “As a Transit First City, we have to evaluate the impact these gig economy vehicles are having on our public transit and our already congested streets. My Board and I will be working to ensure our public transit, cycling, and pedestrian safety infrastructure is prioritized above private interests.”

More studies on ride-hail vehicles are on the horizon, with a deeper dive expected to be taken into passenger and pedestrian safety, city air quality, disabled access, and curb management.

An interactive map showing the data listed above can be found online at tncstoday.sfcta.org.

View Comments