For 30 days in October and November, 2,000 people across 35 North American cities vowed to get around without driving their own vehicle — with a little help from ride-hailing app Lyft.
The Ditch Your Car Challenge offered personal driving alternatives, paid for by Lyft. More than 130,000 offered to participate in the challenge. In the end, only 1.5 percent of those were chosen to receive these credits for a month of commuting:
$300 Lyft Shared ride credit or Lyft all-access plan (if Shared rides weren’t available in your city)
$45 bike-share credit
$100 Zipcar car-sharing credit
$105 public transit monthly pass
Following the month, it wasn’t that surprising to see the highest ranking forms of transportation for commutes were 75 percent for ride-sharing, then 42 percent for public transit, and then 32 percent for walking, which didn’t even offer anyone any credit from Lyft.
Ride-sharing funds for the month were the highest ($300 of the $550 available) and came with the easiest buy-in — challengers likely already had the Lyft app downloaded and didn’t have to sign up for a new service like a bike-share or car-sharing program. And quick reminder, this challenge was from Lyft hoping to encourage future use of its platform, not the local bus system.
Even less surprising, 99 percent of people said they would participate in the challenge again if they could — I mean it was essentially free money to get around for 30 days. Why wouldn’t you want that? That 1 percent must really like their car.
Breanna Ruby, a 24-year-old challenge participant in the St. Louis, Missouri area, said in a phone call she went in assuming the challenge would be easy, but quickly realized it was indeed a challenge. “I would have to relinquish control over my commute and life,” she said about depending on a car service and the light-rail public transit system to get to work. She would have to plan ahead instead of jumping in her car whenever she wanted.
Some post-challenge findings were more aspirational, with 53 percent of participants saying they plan to use their car less after the Lyft-sponsored ditch. Not even 30 percent said they’d use public transit more, but more than 50 percent said they’d opt for a shared ride on a ride-hailing app.
The results from the challenge match ride-sharing patterns discovered in a consumer preference survey from consumer insights company Crimson Hexagon earlier this year that found ride-sharing is more popular than ever.
Looking at online posts about transportation, people are talking more about ride-sharing than public transit. That’s a trend only going up in the past few years. Uber and Lyft are a growing part of the transportation lexicon, and considered a top option to get around.
One testimonial Lyft shared from a post-challenge survey noted the experience using more ride-sharing was “very economical…I feel like it’s the perfect choice between public transit and driving a single occupancy vehicle.”
And it seems like it should be that way, but recent research indicates that ride-sharing apps are adding to road congestion, not decreasing it. Instead of using more efficient public transit, more people are getting into cars they can order from their phones.
Recently the National Parking Association commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to research congestion in cities, and also found that ride-sharing increases congestion. The researchers even predict the eventual arrival of fully autonomous vehicles could worsen traffic and dissuade more people from public transit. To combat our busy streets, researchers suggest changing the way cities use space for street parking, optimizing streets for deliveries and ride-sharing drop-offs and pick-ups, and reconfiguring lanes for bike- and scooter-shares, among other ideas.
The main finding from the Lyft experiment: if you pay people they’ll give up anything.
UPDATE: Dec. 13, 2018, 11:12 a.m. PST Updated to include comments from a challenge participant.