Title: Assessing risks in the relationship between ride-hailing and sustainable transportation modes in Vancouver

Author: Leandro Correa, SFU Master of Urban Studies candidate

Date: Spring 2021

Supervisor: Anthony Perl

Keywords: Sustainable transportation; Urban mobility; Ride-hailing; Policy;

Geographic focus: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; British Columbia; Canada

Research question/s: What are the risks to sustainable transportation modes (walking, cycling, and public transit) posed by ride-hailing in the city of Vancouver? And how do urban transportation policies and regulations address these risks?


The ever-growing motorized mobility figures pose huge challenges for humanity, especially those living in urban centers. The perceived benefits of mobility without limits walk side by side with actual problems caused by excessive motorized mobility and associated with car-centric historical urban planning. For a long time, the discussion about the benefits and problems associated with urban mobility was mostly centered on the relative share of private and collective modes of motorized transportation. However, in the last decade, new disruptive players and transportation modes became very popular among users, introducing smartphone-based technological advances and new business models into historical debates. The high-tech newcomers to mobility policy packages are not easily governed within existing frameworks. The new "deregulated" options within mobility choices have been wildly popular and have increased the financial and operational pressure on transit systems in cities worldwide. These pressures demand public solutions to incorporate the benefits of the high-tech newcomers to mobility options without destroying traditional transportation modes and without increasing problems associated with car culture, such as an increase in traffic, congestion, pollution, accidents, and health problems.

One of these new disruptive transportation modes with huge potential to collaborate or compete with traditional transportation modes is called ride-hailing. It is a shared mobility service based on technology and sharing economy concepts, where users can hail and pay for a ride from a driver through a smartphone application (Rayle et al., 2016). Companies providing ride-hailing services are also known by other names, such as ridesharing companies, ondemand ride service, ridesourcing, and TNC – transportation network companies (Tirachini, 2020). The official terminology for ride-hailing in British Columbia, Canada is Transportation Network Services - TNS, as defined in Bill 55, PASSENGER TRANSPORTATION AMENDMENT ACT, 2018. Examples of ride-hailing companies are Uber, Lyft, Didi, and Grab, among others (Henao and Marshall, 2019).

Ride-hailing services have experienced exponential growth around the world since the introduction of Uber in 2009, supported by the rapid ICT (Information Communication Technology) revolution and fuelled by the predominant belief of the benefits of the so-called "sharing economy." Ride-hailing has had rapid adoption by users, disrupting urban mobility around the world and creating new and significant challenges, problems, and opportunities for transportation researchers, policymakers, and planners (Clewlow and Mishra, 2017).

As ride-hailing became more and more popular, discourse and research about its effects, problems, and benefits also has grown. Much of the available ride-hailing literature is focused on understanding and evaluating its externalities, or consequences of individual choices for society as a whole (Donev et al., 2016).

Ride-Hailing poses risks to sustainable transportation (ST) in cities

The externalities produced by ride-hailing services are shaped by different factors such as policies, regulations, income, safety, and several others described by Rodier (2018). The means to conduct complex analysis of ride-hailing externalities is discussed by Tirachini (2020). In his assessment, the main methods to measure ride-hailing externalities are usually associated with variations in vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT) and mode substitution. In other words, it is necessary to understand if ride-hailing users, in general, are traveling more and what mode of transportation, if any, ride-hailing trips are replacing. The main traffic-related externalities linked to ride-hailing, namely greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, pollution, and accidents, are almost entirely dependent on the combination of these two variables (Hall et al., 2018).

Different perspectives on ride-hailing can be found in the literature. While many authors have found high mode substitution rates, increase in VKT, and problems with inequitable and negative environmental outcomes (Button, 2020; Henao and Marshall, 2019; Clewlow and Mishra, 2017; Barnes et al., 2020; Gehrke et al., 2019), many others claim that ride-hailing may have an essential role in improving transit accessibility by solving the first/last mile problem (travel between the starting point or final destination and the nearest transit stop/station) and reducing car ownership preferences, and leading to a more sustainable scenario (Wang and Odoni, 2016; Watkins et at., 2019; Smith, 2016; Haddad et al., 2019).

Across these debates, a policy and regulatory approach to research on ride-hailing recognizes the importance of policies and regulations to define whether ride-hailing will be a substitute for ST modes and increase VKT or whether it will be an essential player among transportation modes towards a less auto-centric world (Tirachini, 2020; Clewlow and Mishra, 2017; Anair et al., 2020; Rodier, 2018; Button, 2020, Schaller, 2018).

Perhaps due to this lack of consensus towards the benefits and problems of ride-hailing, Vancouver resisted this trend for a long time and remained, remarkably, a ride-hailing free city. This changed on January 23, 2020, when, after years of discussion and political struggle, ridehailing was approved in the Lower Mainland to be initially operated by Uber and Lyft companies. Their services are regulated by the provincial legislation described in BC Bill 55 2018: Passenger Transportation Amendment Act along with two policy reports issued by the City of Vancouver (RTS 12938 and RTS 12922), later ratified by the Passenger Transportation Board in the Licence Application Decision numbers 6988-19 and 6990-19 for the companies Uber and Lyft.

Research framework

My research aims to identify risks to Sustainable Transportation (ST) modes such as walking, cycling, and public transit from current ride-hailing policies and regulations in Vancouver. Additionally, the calculation of the NSTP (Neighborhood Sustainable Transportation Profile) developed in this research using census data from 2001, 2006, and 2016 on a neighborhood scale, available on Vancouver's Open Data Portal website, shed light on the different commuting patterns of each neighborhood, offering a methodology to calculate the mode substitution risk (when ST trips are replaced with ride-hailing trips). Moreover, the correlation between the NSTP and socio-demographic indicators raises important questions about social inequities related to ride-hailing. The uniqueness of this research lies in its exploration of the relationship between ride-hailing policies and regulations and ST modes in a city that resisted adopting ride-hailing and invested instead in promoting ST modes, during a decade in which many cities made the opposite mobility policy choice.

This research hypothesizes that Vancouver's current ride-hailing policies and regulations do not protect ST modes. Instead of integrating ride-hailing as a novel sustainable transportation mode, such policies and regulations create a stand-alone alternative that competes and attract users from other modes. This claim is first addressed through a literature review examining the main identified ride-hailing risks to ST. Next, I conduct a neighborhoodbased assessment of commuting patterns in Vancouver, using Census Data, to explore the different usage patterns of ST modes, their relationship with socio-demographic indicators, and to calculate ST trip substitution risk due to ride-hailing trips. Finally, these results are used in a scenario analysis to test how changes in the vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT) and mode substitution, based on NSTP index calculations, produce different outcomes for neighbourhoods in terms of risks and externalities. This framework is illustrated in Figure 1.

After calculating the mobility and socio-demographic indicators, the results were distributed in three different groups, representing three bands of neighbourhoods according to their distance from downtown, as illustrated in Figure 2.


The main findings of this research are based on the association between the NSTP variable with active transportation and socio-demographic indicators such as average income, unemployment rate, and people working from home. Additionally, the NSTP index shows that different neighbourhoods present different substitution risks ranging from 29% to 71%. It suggests that policy updates to accommodate this discrepancy could increase the use of ST modes and support the city in avoiding problems associated with car culture, including ridehailing, such as increases in traffic, congestion, pollution, accidents, and health problems.

The results indicate that distance from downtown plays an important role in the usage of sustainable transportation modes (public transportation, walking, and cycling) in the city over the three census cycles used in this research, showing a constant and strong dominance of group

1. Using 2016 as an example, 62% of trips used ST modes in group 1, compared with 44% in group 2 and 38% in group 3, the neighbourhoods furthest from downtown.The distance factor is even more relevant when only active modes of transportation are assessed (ie. Excluding public transit modes), showing a difference from 35% in group 1 to 5% in group 3.

These results suggest good prospects for increasing sustainable transportation modes in downtown neighbourhoods. After all, in a comparison from 2001 to 2016, this group is increasing its population and trips share in the city. However, when socio-demographic indicators are also considered, the results give cause for concern that NSTP and Active Transportation results are correlated with higher levels of income and share of people working from home as well as low unemployment rates. Living in group 1 requires more than a "green" lifestyle.

Nevertheless, even with the group averages pointing in the direction of ST behaviours being tied to higher socio-economic status, when neighbourhoods are assessed individually, a very different picture emerges, indicating that the association is not so clear. This conclusion is aligned with the concept explored by Hall et al. (2018), showing that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all for ride-hailing policies and regulations as local neighbourhood characteristics do influence the possible integration between different modes of transportation and may define whether ride-hailing will be a competitor or a complement of ST modes.

The results of this research will be valuable for mobility analysis in different ways. Valuable insights from the research may support governments and transit agencies in understanding different influences of commuting patterns on Sustainable Transportation modes, so they can evaluate – or re-evaluate – their own policies and regulations using a similar approach. Likewise, ride-hailing companies may benefit by using this research to develop a mode integration strategy based upon sustainable transportation principles, situating their operations as contributing to overall mobility solutions and sustainability goals. Finally, urbanites may better understand the consequences of their travel behavior, which might inform future individual mobility choices and advocacy for more sustainable and equitable mobility solutions.