Uber And Lyft Increase Traffic And Pollution. Why Do Cities Let It Happen?

"I told LAX, 'You're putting an end to the taxi industry in Los Angeles,'" Koretz says. "I didn't get a peep in response."

Koretz noted that several classes of passengers find shuttling to LAXit unduly burdensome, including disabled passengers and those traveling with small children. The airport's management has been considering whether to allow taxis to resume curbside pickups at selected terminals, including the Tom Bradley International Terminal, but the idea is still preliminary and no decision has been made.

The drawbacks from the growth of ride-sharing firms may seem remote to passengers reveling in the low cost and high convenience of Uber and Lyft, but they're ignored at our peril. The Air Resources Board warns that the rapid expansion of ride-sharing will make their contribution to greenhouse gas emission ever more significant in the future, which "necessitates formulation of immediate policies." ARB says that increasing occupancy through shared rides and decreasing deadhead miles have the most potential to reduce the services' emissions.

New York and Chicago have implemented congestion fees to reduce traffic in their central cities; New York also has imposed a first-in-the-nation cap on new permits for ride-hail vehicles, while also mandating a minimum wage for their drivers. Taken together, those steps appear to have alleviated congestion, reduced the number of trips, and improved earnings for ride-hail and taxi drivers alike. They may not all be possible in other cities except those with strong public transit systems such as San Francisco, Schaller says.

Addressing the taxi crisis may be harder. To a certain extent, the industry itself has contributed to its problems. "They haven't tried any kind of innovative thinking in the last six years to confront this threat head-on," says Spiegelman. Some taxi co-ops have tried online apps similar to those of Uber and Lyft, but not much more.

In some cities, taxis have acquired a reputation for crumminess that may be hard to overturn. Even in New York, where taxis are plentiful and Uber and Lyft don't enjoy a significant price advantage over them, "customers are still voting with their feet" and choosing the ride-hail services, Schaller says.

"Taxis are not competing well on service." Taxi services long have had a reputation for passing minority passengers by, while Lyft and Uber are thought to be less prone to discrimination.

Some experts believe that reducing taxi fares might make them more competitive. That's an option explored by Christopher S. Tang of UCLA's Anderson School of Business, who based his research partially on the impact of the ride-sharing service DiDi in China. He also suggests that public transit systems, taxi services, and the ride-hail firms work out single-ticket arrangements allowing passengers to reach their destinations via a combination of travel modes. "That could be a win-win," he told me. Slomovic is skeptical that taxi fares could come down enough in L.A. to compete with Uber and Lyft, without reducing cabdrivers' income beyond unsustainable levels. Ride-hail fares are destined to rise as the companies reach for profitability. But they're still capable of subsidizing fares with the billions of dollars they've raised from venture investors and stock sales. A taxi cost index used by the L.A. Taxicab Commission to set fares has risen over time, but taxi co-ops have asked the commission to avoid raising fares, they've been kept at $2.70 per mile for the last 10 years, but that's still much higher than Uber or Lyft fares.

Saving the taxi industry is crucial. For one thing, they provide competition for the ride-hailing firms. "If Uber can squeeze out the taxis, they can become a more effective monopoly and raise their prices," says Tang. "That may not be a good idea from the public's perspective."

As a regulated industry, taxis perform services that Uber and Lyft are free to shun. In Los Angeles, which issues franchises to taxi firms, they're required to cover underserved communities such as low-income neighborhoods. Passengers who can't use app-based services because they don't have access to smartphones or don't have bank accounts or credit cards that can be used for payment often rely on taxis instead, because they can pay with cash.

Uber, Lyft and services like them have been a boon for millions of passengers. But they're not good for everybody. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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