- Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Amazon Prime Video
- 41% of Uber and Lyft customers in Austin, Texas, reported they switched to their own personal car after those apps suspended service in that city. 37% of car-share rental app users in London reported they decided not to buy a car, according to a study by Imperial College. And a YouGov poll says 43% of Londoners regard Uber as a genuine alternative to owning a car. The UK has experienced a sudden decline in car sales even though the economy is growing.
Apps like Uber and DriveNow may be doing to cars what the web already did to newspapers: Two academic studies published this year have shown that people say they will reduce their use and ownership of private cars when they have access to ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft, or car-sharing apps like DriveNow.
A team of researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and Columbia University, found that 1,840 users of Uber and Lyft in Austin, Texas, reported a 41% increase in their probability of switching to a personal vehicle after both companies suspended services in the city after a local ordinance change:
Another 42% of Austin riders found another “transportation networking company” (TNC) to ride with. The data suggest that when Uber and Lyft are available people will ditch their cars, and when those apps are taken away a large portion switch to similar on-demand services.
Separately, a study by Scott Le Vine and John Polak of Imperial College London for the journal Transport Policy found that 37% of car-share users said they decided not to buy a car because of their use of DriveNow, a car-sharing/rental club similar to Zipcar. A further 17% of DriveNow users said they had sold their private car or intended to in the next three months. Their study was based on a poll of 347 DriveNow customers. DriveNow members pay a per-minute fee to drive a pool of communal Minis and BMWs. Users can pick up and drop off the cars almost anywhere, and they use an app to locate the nearest available car.
Both studies were based on survey polls. Neither reflects real-world vehicle sales data. But the stats dovetail with anecdotal evidence suggesting the prevalence of Uber and Lyft is reducing the demand for new cars, or making people use their own cars less.
For instance, a less academically rigorous survey by YouGov found that 43% of Londoners believe app-based ride sharing is a genuine alternative to owning a car. And 22% of Londoners who own a car would consider not owning one in the future if Uber service became easier, YouGov found.
In terms of actual cars on the road, new car manufacturing fell 14% year-on-year in the UK in June, according to the official industry sales stats. It was the third straight month of year-on-year declines for new car production, even though the economy is still growing, with record-low unemployment:
New car sales (as distinct from production) are also in decline. New car registrations in the UK have just seen four straight months of declines, according to Pantheon Macroeconomics:
- Pantheon Macroeconomics
And while UK consumer car finance debt is still growing, its growth has slowed recently, according to stats compiled by the Bank of England:
- Bank of England
Of course, it is still early days in terms of the use of apps like Uber and Lyft. Neither reaches all areas of the UK.
Until recently, it had been feared that Uber was adding to the number of cars on the road. The Financial Times reported in April that “The number of licensed drivers [for private-hire cars in London] has jumped from 65,000 in 2013-2014 to more than 117,000 today, while the number of vehicles has increased from 50,000 to 87,000 over the same period.”
What has not been measured is whether the increase in the number of taxi, private-hire, and other Uber-style ride-sharing cars is actually reducing the aggregate demand for all new cars.