Between 2015 and 2018, the number of ridehailing trips taken in Chicago has almost tripled. Many of those trips ferry only a single passenger in our transit-rich downtown. What can we do about it?
In transit-rich downtown Chicago, ridehail trips such as Uber and Lyft increase congestion and emissions. Following precedent from other world-class cities like Copenhagen, London, and Singapore, earlier this month Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced plans for a “congestion fee” hike on ridehail trips aimed toward alleviating traffic, reducing emissions, and charging for the indirect costs of those choosing private rides over readily-available public transportation.
What does the proposed increase on ride-hail trips mean for Chicagoans? To answer that, we need to take a big-picture view of the City’s transportation situation. Lyft and Uber provide a service that many people use. Yet, these private companies operate on public streets—with an impact on the entire transportation and urban ecosystem. And those impacts vary widely across the city.
It is important to regulate and design transportation based on the kind of Chicago we want to live in. We want to live in a place with clean air, where people can walk and bike without fear of being killed or injured by vehicles, and where you can jump on a bus to zoom to your job or pick up your kids at daycare with reasonable predictability. The alternative is a city clogged by cars spewing pollution, where pedestrians and cyclists are exposed to traffic violence, where buses full of commuters move at a crawl and you never know how long it will take to get home.
The least efficient vehicle on a public street is a car carrying one person
Public policies should be implemented to incentivize the use of the most sustainable, efficient and equitable types of transportation. We need to design and operate streets to move people. The least efficient vehicle on a public street is a car carrying one person.
Other world-class cities are establishing policies to reduce car traffic too. Road pricing in London, Stockholm and Singapore has reduced vehicle miles traveled, shifted trips to sustainable modes, and improved air quality. Paris has also taken aggressive measures to reduce travel by car.
Now it’s Chicago’s turn to improve the policies for our public roadways to get the sustainable and equitable results we want. Mayor Lightfoot’s proposal to increase fees for transportation network providers (TNPs) such as Uber, Lyft and Via for single-passenger trips in the central business district during the busiest times is intended to manage the volumes of cars that come into our most congested areas and make more sustainable forms of transportation—transit, biking and walking—more attractive. The new proposed fee structure on ridehail companies makes the critical distinction between single passenger and shared rides, with the highest fee on solo rides into downtown.
Between 2015 and 2018, the annual number of TNP trips in Chicago has grown 271 percent
A recent City report on ride hail companies -- also known as transportation network providers (TNPs) -- and congestion illustrates why these new fees are needed. Between 2015 and 2018, the annual number of TNP trips in Chicago has grown 271 percent, and the TNP miles traveled with passengers have increased 344 percent. It’s important to remember that, as large as that number is, the actual miles traveled by ride-hail vehicles is even higher. These figures only include miles traveled while a customer is in the car, not miles driven while a driver waits for ride requests or is en route to pick up a passenger. Half of all trips citywide begin or end in the downtown area, and nearly a third of those trips both start and end in the downtown, meaning that many of the ride hail vehicles you see double parked downtown or blocking a crosswalk are traveling only a short distance in the city’s most transit-rich area Shared trips are more likely to be requested outside the downtown area, particularly for trips starting or ending in neighborhoods with lower incomes, which are concentrated on the South and West Sides of the city. Areas downtown and on the north, near north and near west sides of the city with higher income households have a greater rate of single trips. Therefore, the slight decrease in fees on shared rides outside the downtown area reflects a consideration for the equity of the policy.
Mayor Lightfoot’s proposal is to adjust the tax on TNPs within a defined downtown zone.
Proposed Downtown Zone Boundaries
Currently, the City’s Ground Transportation Tax is a flat $0.60 per TNP trip that begins or ends in the city, with a special surcharge of $5 at the airports, McCormick Place, and Navy Pier. If the extra fee to travel alone in a ride hail vehicle is more than the cost of a ride on a bus or train, people may give transit more consideration, take a Divvy bike, or just walk.