Ride sharing is often hailed as a way to reduce congestion and complement public transport. But new research suggests ride hailing companies like Uber may be producing a net increase in kilometres driven and undermining public transport.

A UC Davies research report [PDF] found ride hailing trips were growing steadily but 49 to 61 per cent of trips “would have not been made at all, or by walking, biking, or transit” and concluded that ride hailing is likely to contribute to an increase in total vehicle distance travelled.

According to the research, ride hailing is attracting people away from buses (down six per cent) and light rail services (down three per cent) but complements commuter rail services (up three per cent).

Overall, after using ride hailing services the average net change for users in major cities is a six per cent drop in public transport use.

The research raises the question of whether ride hailing acts as a substitute for or complement of public transport. So far Uber has been pushing the latter.

Earlier this year Uber entered into talks with the NSW government to provide subsidised Uber trips to “fill in the gaps” of public transport.

In a submission to the NSW government’s inquiry into commuter car parking in NSW, Uber said,“Ridesharing services complement public transit options by extending the reach of existing transit systems” and claimed one in 10 Uber trips are “organically being used as a ‘first/last mile’ solution for public transport commuters.”

Globally, Uber has joined the International Association of Public Transportation in a bid to improve their relationship with local authorities.

But others have argued Uber is trying to disrupt and undermine public transport, with a long view of achieving a monopoly.

“The most important question surrounding Uber is not whether it is a platform or a transportation company, or whether its drivers are employees. It’s whether it can only recoup its investors’ billions by building a monopoly (or at least duopoly with Lyft) on the ruins of public transportation – and it may not take much to tear it all down,” Greg Lindsay, Senior fellow at the new cities foundation, wrote in the Guardian earlier this year.

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