Ride sharing, vehicle accidents, and crime

That is a new paper from Sean E. Mulholland and Angela K. Dills.  Here is the abstract:

The advent of smart-phone based, ride-sharing applications has revolutionized the vehicle for hire market. Advocates point to the ease of use and lower wait times compared to hailing a taxi or pre-arranging limousine service. Others argue that proper government oversight is necessary to protect ride-share passengers from driver error or vehicle part failure and violence from unlicensed strangers. Using a unique panel of over 150 cities and counties from 2010 through 2013, we investigate whether the introduction of the ride-sharing service, Uber, is associated with changes in vehicle accidents and crime. We find that Uber’s entry lowers the rate of DUIs and fatal accidents. For most specifications, we also find declines in arrests for assault and disorderly conduct. Conversely, we observe an increase in vehicle thefts.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.


1) replacing own cars with uber should reduce accidents: A. Uber drivers are more experienced (more daily driving). B. Own car drivers tend to be distracted as this is a side occupation for them between zillion other things.

2) uber = more oversight. Ratings etc. Saying that taxis are better monitored is the dumbest idea I've heard

For a sizable portion of the public, oversight can only be provided by the government.

True dat.

- Mayor of Austin

People take a cheap Uber instead of drunk-driving. No wonder there are fewer DUIs.

So...less money for me, is what I'm hearing.

- Mayor of Austin

I don't think people fully appreciate how much of an impact Uber has on drunk/buzzed driving. I--and most of my friends--now routinely take UberX when meeting for drinks. It's an ~$8 or so ride each way, and we view driving (even if only having a couple of drinks) as simply not worth the professional risk, particularly when combined with the convenience of door-to-door service (no hunting or paying for parking). Uber really facilitates the minimal BAC standards advocated by safety advocates, but it does so organically and voluntarily.

Sooo...less power for me, is what I'm hearing

- Mayor of Austin

My interpretation is that the uber drivers, who otherwise would be drinking and drugging and causing accidents and mayhem, have an incentive to stay sober instead.

Not to worry Ray. Now that they're out of a job, they'll be free to go back to raping and pillaging like they were doing before.

- Mayor of Austin


never reason from a price change

Never reason with rayward

Uber drivers, like all drivers, have a government-issued identification number unique to them on signs on each end of their car. This number is also known to Uber. A Uber driver that engages in criminal activity while in the course of car hire operations would be pretty stupid since there would be a very high probability of his being identified.

Are you saying that rapists and murderers can get license plates, Chuck? Not in Austin they can't Chuck. We ask them if they're rapists or murderers before issuing them out. Like, duh!

- Mayor of Austin

PS: Though, they can totally vote however. That's cool.

Huh? Sorry I wasn't paying attention. Could you Voxplain that to me?

- Mayor of Austin

Once a month I have dinner and drinks with old college classmates. We are cautious drivers compared to drunk teenagers, but everyone drove back home with enough alcohol to fail a test anytime. That means no crashes at 150+ km/hr, but very easy to rear-end someone breaking suddenly in front of you. Uber (and similars) made socially acceptable to get to the restaurant and back home in a taxi instead of driving with "just a few ones". I don't know what happened or what changed, but it's OK to use a taxi now.

"braking" is the correct word

Why would people be more likely to use Uber than a taxi when out with friends having drinks? With Uber's variable rate structure (higher prices during peak times of the day) I wouldn't think it's a price advantage. Is it Uber's faster response time? Or is it the smart phone Uber app?

1) You know it's going to show up, 2) quickly, 3) you know how much it's going to cost (no circuitous routes, no 'broken meter'), 4) you know who the driver is, 5) and what car he's driving, 6) and what his ratings are from other passengers. And the times when Uber's 'surge pricing' kicks in is exactly when you're not very likely to get a cab at any price or wait for a very long time (e.g. one AM Saturday)

It is amazing how hard any of these points are for so many to grasp.

That you can call an Uber to your location from your cellphone without hassle should be #7, and that you can track the driver once he has accepted your request should be #8.

I agree that there is utility, but the way people name-dropped Uber as they used it made me think the viral trend had a lot of sociology to it.

Nope, just extreme utility compared to all available alternatives. Outside of a downtown area, if you call for a cab it can easily take a half-hour, and you're never sure if it will come. If you call for Uber, it'll be there in ~8 minutes, and you have full visibility that it's actually on it's way. Similarly, payment takes zero time with Uber, while paying in a cab can be a bizarre and frustrating ritual. Sometimes the answer really is that easy.

The 14 year old is starting to take Uber with friends. The way they say "Uber" sounds a lot like "cool" to me.

As I say, I don't doubt utility, but the viral appeal is about much more.

The name itself was probably genius, in retrospect. It is why no one says Lyft the same way. And pink?

Like a lot of successful products, Uber has brand loyalty and cache associated with it. People say "Kleenex" instead of "tissue", same thing.

My broader point here is that while econ can explain how people buy stuff, it is less good at why, or why some positive utilities spread faster than others.

Hybrids had great positive utility for high mileage drivers, but they faced a political problem. Half the population thought owning one was too liberal.


Ye gods, was MR one of the places that ran the "Hummer greener than a Prius" story? What happened with that?

A political resistance to a better product faded, that's what.

Don't forget, Uber originally provided black-car service only, which built up a certain cultural cache that it was better than a dirty, smelly cab. They leveraged that cache into getting people to try out riding with ordinary folks in ordinary cars, and those people then learned that riding in the backseat of someone's Volvo is still a lot more pleasant than the backseat of your average cab, all things being equal.

One of the great flaws in economics is its disrespect of trends, trendiness. People use Uber because it is cool. It puts their Rose Gold iPhone in plain sight.

Economics can tell you demand curves for "hoverboards" but not why everyone flocked to buy them. That becomes what, sociology?

yea, one of the other great flaws in economics is that it cant predict the weather. Why doest economics explain everything?

How well do you think econ interfaces to psychology and sociology on important questions, like the business cycle?

There is plenty of interface between econ and sociology and psychology. In fact, econ does a lot better sociology and psychology than most of sociology and psychology.

And there's certainly plenty in econ on "trends" as you call it, i.e. branding, reputation, association etc. Most of that, however, is done in a sub-group of "econ" called...marketing :)

No, people use Uber/Lyft because they're faster, easier, more convenient, significantly more reliable, and usually cheaper than regular cabs. Not to mention easier payment. Why is this hard to grasp?

But, how do you know the driver won't rape you?

- Mayor of Asutin

Why do you feel an urge to diminish the apparent objective utility of a service by implying that some large portion of the revealed preference is based on emotional utility? Do people also flee inner-city, Democrat-stronghold schools because "charter" sounds so trendy?

I use Lyft because the CEO of Uber is a douchebag. I'm still not sure if that makes me cool, edgy or just a consumer.

NB I have no idea what the CEO of Lyft is like.

It's called marketing. That's the discipline that studies these things.

My #1 reason is price. There's a taxi stand right outside my apartment, but Uber is most definately cheaper during non-peak times (which is most of the time where I live). When theres a public transportation fail or big event sure Uber's sticker price is higher, but considering the taxi stands are empty and you can't find one I wouldn't consider taxis cheaper.

I don't have a cab app on my phone, for one.

Why don't you try both and let us know what works better?

Was Uber a nudge?

Yes, definitely. Just one from capitalists, with positive externalities.

How was it a nudge?

Watching this leftist spin the obvious failure of his preferred public-private monopoly taxi system is uncomfortable.

Up your game Thomas, I have no love of taxis or medalians.

Oh oh, I like to bike! I am a socialist!

If you really liked to bike you would hate taxis with the fire of a thousand suns. I bike daily. I have repeatedly told my wife that if I ever show up dead, avenge me on a taxi driver.

Taxis might cut a lot of close calls with cyclists, but unlike a lot of drivers, at least they know where you are. Having been a bicycle courier for some time in the past, I'm pretty comfortable with a lot of close calls, and tend to find taxi drivers aren't actually that dangerous to cyclists compared to other drivers. Then again, if you react unpredictably it could be dangerous, and most people aren't comfortable with coming that close to contact and are not likely to react predictably ...

Rides existed. Uber is rides a with a different choice architecture.

The teacher can only go over a few examples, and
must require the student to try a few more at home
to solidify the concepts. You can Google a few of these companies on the web.
" Do you think it's a good idea to pause and reflect once you've completed your high school.

While the data included in the blockquote suggests that there are positive externalities associated with Uber, that doesn't really address the issues that proposed regulations are putatively aimed towards, which has to do with drivers committing crimes against unsuspecting riders. Unless it can be demonstrated that these regulations make Uber less available as an economic fact, rather than as a matter of politicking,* the data says little to nothing about the relative merits of tighter regulations.

(I don't begrudge Uber in the least for refusing to play ball with cronyists like those in Austin, but I also don't imagine Uber couldn't profitably operate even under the current rules).

Why would the precense of Uber increase the rate of vehicle theft? (I'd have been equally surprised if it would have decreased it.)

Any ideas, or just a statistical fluke? In which case it could be good to take the rest of the findings with a grain of salt as well.

I could see drivers getting ripped off by thieves posing as customers (whether with a dummy account or just noticing the guy pulling over and pretending to be the rider), although that is admittedly not a satisfying story.

I would want to see the relative sizes of the purported effects before discounting the entire study for that one issue, though.

All the unused cars, left around (at bars?) getting stolen ?

People leave their cars at bars (which may not be in the best neighborhoods), and take Uber instead if they drink too much. Car sits there overnight in a high traffic area for criminals.

Uber, if it is cheaper than a taxi (not true where I live in LA), is because the company has convinced the drivers to absorb the fixed costs of providing a taxi service.

Once drivers figure out what it costs to purchase and maintain the car they drive they will find that Uber's payments are insufficient to make a profit. At first it will seem like the money they make is free until the wear and tear on their vehicle will start to show. Then the replacement costs will consume everything they have made from driving for Uber.

Or, it is because Uber pays no medallion fee, has no vehicle storage overhead, utilizes capital that would otherwise go unused, and captures a smaller portion of the profit than traditional taxi firms. Or maybe other reasons.

Also. But you get people who lose their jobs and mine their capital which is stored in the value of their car, probably quite often at lower than capital replacement rates, if you value your time at more than a dollar or two an hour.

Uber, if it is cheaper than a taxi (not true where I live in LA)

Really??? I've only taken Uber once in LA (last year), and I was astonished at how cheap it was (the ride was almost an hour, but it only cost $40.00). I assumed it was because LA is full of unemployed people with cars, so Uber could charge low prices. Anyhow, when I plug in the start and end locations into taxifarefinder, it estimates >$100.00 for a cab (including 15% tip) in slow traffic, more than twice what Uber charged. Even in good traffic it estimated ~$95.00.

At LAX, a taxi charges you $19 to leave the airport. I paid $20 to go to a meeting less than a mile from the airport. The next time I walked off the airport premises so that I could call a Lyft.

It's like the fixed cost of public transit nobody wants to pay.

That's cause nobody uses it, in 99% of cities.

Get the idea?

I disagree. 100% of people use it it 98.2% of cities.

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