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A pedestrian walks by a Lyft advertisement at a busy bus stop, West 10th and Alma.

Limits on ridesharing ‘may make Vancouver’s congestion worse’

Prof says limits on cars available could push people to less sustainable options

By Gabby O'Hara , in City , on November 20, 2019

A local economist and rideshare expert says Vancouver’s efforts to limit rideshare cars in its downtown may produce more congestion.

Simon Fraser University professor Hendrik Wolff has said that limits such as price increases and lack of vehicles could lead to an increase in congestion and overall car use, as people opt for other choices when rideshare cars are too expensive or unavailable. 

“When people have to wait too long for a service, they get frustrated, stop using the service, and would rather use their own car,” Wolff said. “The goal [of a climate-forward city] is to reduce car ownership but, by putting limitations on rideshare, it will limit the people moving around, which isn’t a good thing.”

Vancouver council put limits on rideshare, which is supposed to be arriving throughout B.C. by the end of the year, by adding a 30-cent pick-up and drop-off fee downtown and an annual licensing fee of $100 per vehicle.

If rideshare isn’t available due to these limitations, it doesn’t mean people will flock to transit either, said Wolff. 

We have seen in other large cities, when traffic congestion goes up, use of public transit has typically gone down,” 

University of B.C. student Sandra Lee agrees. She looks forward to using rideshare services as an alternative to transit.

I use the bus and SkyTrain now, [but] there are times when it’s really late at night or when I don’t have the time that I would prefer it [to the bus].”

A taxi and a bus drive side by side on West Broadway.

Wolff explains these limits may not only deter the population from using the service, but also cause people to turn to less sustainable options, like purchasing more cars. 

According to Metro Vancouver growth projections, Vancouver is becoming busier and more sprawled. The number of people living in the metro Vancouver area will increase by one million people by 2050. The number of cars is also quickly increasing to almost three per household. 

Wolff offers an alternative solution

The best way to rid traffic congestion? Wolff says no limitations entirely. If rideshare companies are more accessible in the downtown area, fewer people will be inclined to drive their own cars to these areas and, in doing so, reduce congestion.

“Ideally, [with no limits on rideshare], the city could get rid of street parking, and use it for other things like an extended pedestrian area or more green space, [as long as] there is still an appropriate pick up and drop-off zone,” said Wolff. 

There is more information available about Wolff and his Open Data Framework here.