A Critical Look At Uber’s Austin Mobility Case Study

On Monday, Uber released its much awaited Austin Mobility Case Study. Having officially launched in June 2014 in Austin, the app provided over 2.5 million rides throughout the Austin area, with a predictable spike during SXSW. Not everyone gets as excited about transportation studies as we do, though the information provided is often important. But it’s okay — we read the report so you don’t have to. Here are some of the main takeaways:

Ridiculously Short Waits

Most users of the app have already figured this out. But now we have proof. According to Uber’s study, “the average wait time for an Uber ride in and around the city of Austin is three minutes and one second.” A study from UC Berkley last year found that less than 40 percent of taxi users were picked up within 10 minutes during the week. At nights and on weekends, what are peak times for on demand transportation, the percentage dropped to 30 percent when calling for a ride to their home and 16 percent when calling for a ride from their home. While the Berkley study did not sample Austin taxis specifically, a similar result would not be surprising.

Increasing Urban Access

According to the case study, Uber reports that 32% of Austin trips in August 2015 began or ended in East Austin, a typically underserved area of the city due in part to lack of transportation options. What Uber would like to have you think from this statistic is that the introduction of the app has improved equality in transportation access and affordability for the city’s most vulnerable citizens. What the data doesn’t say, however, is just how far east Uber’s definition of “East Austin” is. The near east side has recently developed a trendy bar district, which does have very little access in terms of transportation options. But providing a means for people to go out does not necessarily mean providing equal access to the city for the demographics getting pushed farther and farther away from the city with increased lack of affordability.

Uber as an Employer

Austin has 10,000 driver partners, an order of magnitude above Austin’s capped number of Taxi medallions. That’s 10,000 possible sober rides home. 10,000 flexible workers adding to the economy. 10,000 people coming from across the city to supply a seemingly never-ending demand of transportation. More than the sheer number, of drivers, Uber reports high satisfaction from their driver employees.

Linking a Disjointed Public Transportation System

An important statistic, however nonspecific to Austin, that Uber notes in the case study is that nearly two-thirds of Uber rides are “one-way trips,” meaning that another means of transportation was used on either the to or from trip. Uber asserts (although, disappointingly, without background data) that “riders use the platform to travel to and from the outer terminuses of the Capital Metro, making entire neighborhoods that previously lacked sufficient transportation options newly accessible.” This fairly anecdotal evidence is feasible, considering that the bus system does not run late enough to pick up party-goers, but does provide reasonable access to their nighttime destinations.

Solution to Drunk Driving?

At least in Austin, Uber’s claim to have an influence on drunk driving is crucial. The study notes that “the lack of convenient and readily available alternatives to driving and unfamiliarity with alternative transportation service routes and options” plays a large role in the poor decision making to drive drunk. The study provided one graph which overlays a statewide spike in ride requests concurrent with the time at which most fatal crashes occur. While clean and readable, this graph is entirely too simplistic without supporting data to claim that Uber is having an effect on drunk driving in Austin. The most information that can be drawn from this graph is that Uber is providing their most rides when they’re needed most. What it doesn’t say (but Uber would like you to think) is that the graph is evidence of a reduction in drunk driving fatalities in Texas.

Though the Austin Mobility Case Study doesn’t actually cite statistics on Austin drunk driving fatalities, it does cite two studies analyzing Uber’s entrance into Californian markets showing a 5-6.5% drop in alcohol-related driving fatalities.

Overall Grade: A-

The Uber Austin Mobility Case Study touts some interesting statistics in the wake of Austin City Council proposed limits and fees for the transportation networking company, though few of those insightful statistics are actually relating to Austin. With interesting, but rather non-specific statistics, we give the study an A- for engagement but lack of relevancy. We eagerly await information regarding the TNC effect on drunk driving in Austin, as this year’s record traffic fatality count continues to rise. 

If you have been involved in a car accident, contact a lawyer to help with the many questions and negotiations you’ll be faced with afterward. Jason McMinn and Justin McMinn are happy to evaluate your case quickly and without cost. Call us at 512-474-0222, use the live chat on our website, fill out the form on this page, or email info@mcminnlaw.com.