New California Data on Ride Services Reveal Rise in Collisions and Incidents

Ride services accounted for 612.6 million miles driven in California between September 2013 and September 2015. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

State regulators have analyzed and released a tiny glimpse of data submitted by Uber, Lyft and other companies — information the firms have carefully guarded because they claim it would reveal trade secrets.

A report on some of the data was presented at a Nov. 5th meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission. While the analysis doesn’t size up how transportation network companies (TNC) are complying with state regulations overall, it does provide a snapshot of the volume of trips and growth of ride services over the past two years.

The aggregated data confirm steady month-by-month growth of transportation network companies in California, amounting to a total of 612.6 million miles driven over the two-year period from September 2013 to September 2015. Rides during that time generated about $1.6 billion in fares.

The numbers may sound large, but when compared with overall vehicle trips in California, they still represent a relatively small slice of the pie, according to Juan Matute, associate director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies.

The report combines data from UberX, Lyft, Sidecar, Summon, Wings and Shuddle. It doesn’t include numbers that might tell how ride services are serving passengers with disabilities and people who live in disadvantaged communities.

“The reason we didn’t provide charts on all the data [is] we’re still evaluating the data and communicating with some of the companies on some of the data issues,” Valerie Kao of the CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division told the commission.

Collisions

The numbers indicate collisions and incidents involving ride service drivers are climbing.

“If it’s normalized by miles driven, you’d expect the number of incidents to be somewhat stable over time,” said Matute. The increase is concerning, he said, “because that would be indicative of TNCs being less safe as they scale up.”

Kao, the CPUC’s analyst, said most of the incidents were minor fender benders or rear-end collisions. The report listed the number of “incidents/collisions” involving pedestrians and bicyclists, though it did not highlight how many involved injuries or deaths.

More than 300 of the “incidents” involved passengers opening doors into traffic. Ninety collisions were doorings of people on bikes, skateboards, motorcycles and scooters. The report counted 200 incidents where a bicyclist or pedestrian was “struck,” or “made contact with” or “involved.” And it added this detail: Drivers “rolled over” passengers’ feet 100 times.

Currently, the report says, more than 30,000 new drivers are being trained every month by the TNCs, although Kao said that number is probably overstated because it doesn’t reflect inactive drivers, or drivers who work for both Uber and Lyft, for example.

At the meeting, Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, who noted that a driver once hit her while she was walking, said pedestrian and bicyclist safety training should be included.

“I think that having some training around this area would be very important. There are areas like San Francisco that are known hot zones for these collisions,” she said.

In 2013, an Uber driver was charged with vehicular manslaughter for hitting and killing 6-year-old Sofia Liu as she and her family were walking in a crosswalk on San Francisco’s Polk Street. In July, Uber settled a lawsuit with the Liu family.

The data say Uber paid an average insurance amount of $6,500 per incident. It did not indicate fault in the incidents and collisions. CPUC officials did not immediately respond to questions about the data.

Evening Rides

More than 30 percent of all trips were taken in the evening, between 7 and 10 p.m., an indication that many are using the services for social outings, said Matute.

“People are using transportation network companies after the peak hours for transit service, when it’s dark, when they might not feel comfortable bicycling,” said Matute.

What was most interesting about the data to Matute was that 30 percent of rides were 3 miles and under, and nearly half of all trips cost $10 or less.

“That showed me that they were primarily trips where biking could have potentially been a viable option. They might be trips where transit wouldn’t be a viable option,” said Matute, who added it’s also possible short trips may have combined transit and ride services.

Uber ‘Defied’ Requirements

Some of the data, according to regulators, was difficult to get from the largest transportation network company, Uber, which was threatened in July with suspension and a $7 million fine by an administrative law judge for failing to meet all the reporting requirements.

When it came to submitting detailed data by Zip code, regulators say what Uber submitted was “useless” and “suffered from a serious lack of precision.” The company argued the data would reveal trade secrets, offering competitors clues on where to expand “without conducting market research.” CPUC representatives stressed in emails that they could not legally release the data.

Uber has since complied with all the data requirements, except for one, after it exhibited “outright defiance,” regulators alleged in September, in a written response to the company’s appeal.

Regulators said Uber submitted explanations that weren’t adequate for analysts to identify the cause of certain incidents in its report on problems with drivers. But they agreed to suspend daily fines for Uber until the full commission provides guidance on “what constitutes an adequate explanation of ‘cause.’ ”

An administrative law judge is currently reviewing Uber’s appeal, according to a CPUC spokesman.

More Data Needed

Experts say more data and even user surveys will be needed to assess what impact ride services are having on Californians’ transportation habits and the environment. Transportation agencies, in particular, are eager to assess the data to see if ride services are causing people to shift modes, using it as the first and last mile to transit, among other things.

But so far, ride service companies and the CPUC have been slow to release useful data, though Lyft has released heat maps and other information to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and the Southern California Association of Governments.


  • De Blo

    It would be interesting to know how much traffic has been reduced and how many cars have been taken off of the road as a result of Sidecar, Uber, and other ride sharing applications. I personally know many people who used to drive and now get around by ride sharing and in some cases have sold their cars. I also know that many folks who used to drive alone to work have now installed the Sidecar drive app and will pick up passengers during their commute – also taking cars off the road. The ride sharing applications are wonderful for our cities and are extremely green.

    • Tom Pitts

      Traffic has increased! In San Francisco they estimate there are between 10 and 15 thousand Uber, UberX, and Lyft cars on the streets at any given time. I know from driving in the Mission, I often see two and three a block (usually around 16th and Bryant at 3 in the afternoon–a regular errand time for me.) I know if you were to pluck a few cars off of each city block during congested hours, traffic would flow much more smoothly. And as for the green part, SF requires all taxi (limited in their number) to be HYBRIDS. But the TNCs have no such requirement. They’ve got cars as old as 2001 running out there with no emissions check whatsoever.

      • De Blo

        If tens of thousands of people are leaving their cars at home and taking ride sharing cars, then clearly traffic overall has been greatly reduced.

        • Christian

          The tens of thousands of people leaving their cars at home would’ve driven to where they needed to go then parked until they went home. They are being replaced by tens of thousands of people who’s cars would be parked at home but are now out cruising around for hours looking to make a few extra dollars. There’s no way you can claim these companies are ‘extremely green’ when every trip they are making with a customer also involves them driving around until they get a request and then driving to the location of the customer before that trip can happen.

          • De Blo

            Nope. I have the Sidecar driver app on my phone – the way it works is the following. If I am driving from the Excelsior to the Sunset for a meeting or errand and want to give a ride, then I specify the exact radius in the Excelsior where I want to pick up a passenger and the exact radius in the Sunset where I am going and want to drop off the person that I am giving a ride. I have NEVER driven more because I was sharing my car than I would have otherwise. And, every time I have given someone a ride that person has not had to drive his car. So, these ride sharing mobile apps are greatly reducing emissions and traffic. The concept of ride sharing/ carpooling (and the sharing economy in general) is actually pretty simple and brilliant and existed even before the Sidecar, Uber, and Lyft mobile apps, just not as efficiently as today. When you take two or more vehicles off the road and reduce them to one, society gains.

      • De Blo

        Nope. I have the Sidecar driver app on my phone – the way it works is
        the following. If I am driving from the Excelsior to the Sunset for a
        meeting or errand and want to give a ride, then I specify the exact
        radius in the Excelsior where I want to pick up a passenger and the
        exact radius in the Sunset where I am going and want to drop off the
        person that I am giving a ride. I have NEVER driven more because I was
        sharing my car than I would have otherwise. And, every time I have
        given someone a ride that person has not had to drive his car. So,
        these ride sharing mobile apps are greatly reducing emissions and
        traffic. The concept of ride sharing/ carpooling (and the sharing
        economy in general) is actually pretty simple and existed
        even before the Sidecar, Uber, and Lyft mobile apps, just not as
        efficiently as today. When you take two or more vehicles off the road
        and reduce them to one, society gains.

  • Jose mendivil

    But who cares about this irrelevant information; The important thing is that we as drivers we are participating in the disruptive technology, reverse economy and we are helping travis cartel to increase his fortune every nanosecond
    And we are helping travis cartel to depressiate the taxi industry by 80%”with last travis cartel fares”
    And we are helping travis cartel to turn the pseudoriders more and more cheap, frugal, arrogant, rough, cinics, disgusted, classless, shameless, demanding a lot more for a lot less
    Do u can imagine what this poor pseudoriders with attitude going to do without us? They are not willing anymore to ride their stinky asses in the ugly and disgusting taxis; we got to be very considerated with this poor pseudoriders
    So, Travis should be prety proud of the nice job we are performing with our little and irrelevants sacrifices
    Dont get me wrong; im not saying travis or the pseudoriders are evil; human condition is like that; if we see the opportunity to use or abuse of somebody; is really hard to resist such temptation
    Please think about it and dont quit
    And by the time you realize you are not making any money and quit or travis deactivate you( or uou get involved in an accident or you just walk away tired of be the fun, the joke and the piñata of everybody; he is going to have 2 or 3 more mental retarders with some degree of authism willing to replace you So dont worry about who and how you pick the pseudoriders. And have all the fun and make all the jokes of the stinky cabs; keep driving and enjoy the ride as long as you can lmao

  • Jim

    How many bus riders have switched to TNCs because they are competitively priced? Especially, Uber Pool and Lyft Line? A lot. MUNI has cut many lines, cut many stops, and increased fares. I see more cuts for MUNI as revenue declines.

Author

Bryan Goebel

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco, and an anchor/editor at KCBS Radio. He's a lifelong Californian and has also worked at radio stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento.

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