Peer-to-peer ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have revolutionized travel over the past few years. It’s funny, the notion of using an app to tell a stranger to pick you up for a ride would have sounded absolutely bizarre just ten or so years ago. Today, it’s completely normal.
Ride-hailing services have some undeniable benefits; from their sheer convenience to how they’ve reduced alcohol-related car accidents in cities all over the world. However, while these services have eliminated the temptation for many to pick up their car keys after hitting the bottle, a new study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health finds that they’re causing more car and pedestrian crashes at pick-up and drop-off locations.
Researchers from Oxford University also collaborated on this study.
There have been various research projects conducted in the past regarding ride-sharing apps’ influence on city-wide crash rates, but this is the first project ever to use direct data from individual trips. Prior studies had simply compared accident statistics in cities where ride-sharing is available to other urban areas that don’t accommodate ride-hailing apps.
Just in case you had any doubt about Uber and Lyft’s popularity, those two apps have set up over 11 billion trips in just the United States alone since 2010. Everyone knows car accidents can happen at a moment’s notice, but it’s not something most drivers dwell on each time they get behind the wheel. You may be surprised to read car accidents and crashes are a leading cause of death globally; roughly 1.3 million people pass away annually due to road accidents.
Again, when it comes to car crashes, ride-hailing apps have done some tangible good. In cities where these apps are available, significant declines in alcohol-related crashes have been noted. Interestingly, though, the overall rate of crashes in such cities has stayed the same. It looks like the team at Columbia have figured out why; ride-sharing apps decrease alcohol-fueled crashes but simultaneously cause more accidents at crowded pick-up and drop-off spots.
“Ridesharing is changing the way we move around cities,” explains Christopher Morrison, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School, and first author on the research, in a press release. “It is becoming clear that technology reduces alcohol-related crashes, but these benefits do not seem to extend to the overall number of crashes. These findings help explain why that might be–because the reductions in alcohol-related crashes are off-set by increases in other types of crashes.”
What better city to examine when it comes to crowded pick-up spots than New York? Researchers used ride-hailing data from NYC consisting of 372 million trips between 2017-2018. They looked at specific areas of the city where crashes occurred, and then cross-referenced that location with the amount of ride-sharing trips that took place nearby around the time of each crash. They also compared the number of ride-sharing trips at each crash location one week before and one week after the accidents. This same analysis was performed for taxi pick-ups and drop-offs as well.
Crashes were categorized based on who ended up injured; motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists.
The research team discovered that when a location or block saw an uptick in ride-sharing services, there were more crashes that involved both motorist and pedestrian injuries. The same relationship wasn’t observed regarding taxi rides or cyclist injuries.
“There are so many rideshare trips every day in our cities, even tiny changes in risks can have a big impact on the total number of injuries,” Morrison concludes. “In congested areas with large numbers of rideshare pick-ups and drop-offs, cities could consider installing taxi-rank style infrastructure to protect pedestrians and prevent crashes.”
These findings aren’t meant to condemn the Ubers and the Lyfts of the world, those companies, and their dedicated drivers perform a great service for billions of passengers. Still, it’s clear that a few adjustments should be made. Perhaps especially busy streets in cities like New York should be off-limits when it comes to arranging pick-ups and drop-offs.
The full study can be found here, published in Injury Prevention.