MIT Study Finds Carpooling Services Could Replace NYC Taxis

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Traffic in New York City is a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived there your whole life and know every side street and sneaky shortcut. A large amount of it is made up of taxis, and a new MIT study finds those taxis could be replaced by carpooling services and reduce traffic by 75 percent.

There’s no way to hail a taxi and share it with other random folks heading in the same direction. That puts lots of taxis on the streets with only one person along for the ride. Carpooling services let you share that ride, which means not just a reduction in the cost for passengers, but an improvement to a city’s traffic flow.

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The study found that using services like Uber and Lyft could reduce traffic by 75 percent. Professor Daniela Rus of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory led a team that created an algorithm to determine exactly how carpooling services can help a city’s traffic. They found 3,000 four-passenger cars will cover 98 percent of New York City’s taxi demand.

Even better, this switch won’t have you standing at the curb waiting. The average wait time is only 2.7 minutes. Switch that up to 2,000 ten-person vehicles and it still covers 95 percent of the city’s taxi demand. There are 14,000 taxis in the city right now, so either way, it’s a huge reduction in traffic.

They came up with their numbers by compiling data from 3 million taxi rides. Their algorithm operates in real-time to route vehicles based on incoming requests and even sends idle vehicles to high-request areas to be ready. That alone speeds the process by 20 percent.

The public is embracing ridehailing services and is equally ready to share that ride with a stranger. Lyft reported half of its rides in San Francisco are carpools and 30 percent are carpools in New York City. As passengers embrace the idea, those 14,000 New York City taxi drivers are likely to object.

Even if many of them switched to ridesharing jobs, there will still be plenty of drivers without a job. Taxi drivers are putting up a fight to stop services like Uber and Lyft, because they see them as a threat to their livelihoods. Those services could reduce traffic, improve air quality, and save an estimated $160 billion annually, but they will put taxi drivers out of a job. Don’t expect the streets of New York City to become devoid of those yellow taxis anytime soon.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin