No, Uber doesn't increase congestion

I'm a big of fan of Uber. As I've written elsewhere, Uber should be encouraged not over-regulated. It might even be saving lives.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Uber's very noisy opponents aren't persuading anyone when they argue that Uber's a threat to public safety. As a result, they're changing tactics.

Earlier this year, cabbie union the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) blamed record levels of congestion in London on Uber and called for a cap on the number of private hire drivers on the road.

But, according to a new study from Arizona State University the LTDA's fears about congestion are completely unfounded. In fact, the study found that ridesharing services like Uber actually decrease total congestion.

By looking at cities where Uber entered at different times, the researchers were able to identify changes in congestion due to Uber and control for general economy-wide increases in car use and the like. 

So why were the LTDA so wrong about Uber and congestion? Well, it seems obvious that increasing demand for private hire cars will mean more cars on the road and more people getting stuck in traffic. The study's authors offer a few reasons why this isn't necessarily the case.

First, recent data suggests that Ubers tend to have higher occupancy levels than traditional cabbies. Think of innovations like UberPool where multiple users who otherwise don't know each other are brought together in the same cab for cheaper fares. 

Second, because Uber iss so cheap many people are giving up on driving altogether. So Uber is displacing the number of cars on the road not adding to them.

Third, Uber's much criticised (but not by economists) Surge Pricing system encourages people to delay peak time trips and make journeys at less congested times. As the authors say "Since the price of ride sharing in peak hours can surge quite high, riders who are price sensitive and flexible in their schedule may delay the travel time or choose to use public transit instead."

Finally, Uber is just straight-up more efficient than traditional cabs. Research from Cramer and Krueger found that Ubers spend much more time on the streets with a fare paying passenger in the back. That means they'll cause much less traffic while searching for fares.

Of course, if the LTDA really cared about reducing congestion (opposed to just wanting a stick to bash Uber with) they'd call for pricing roads at market rates (like we've done for years) and doing the same with parking.