Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Gregory D. Erhardt

Second Advisor

Dr. Mei Chen


This research investigates whether Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, live up to their stated vision of reducing congestion by complementing transit and reducing car ownership in major cities. The objective of this research study is to answer the question: are TNCs are correlated to traffic congestion in the city of San Francisco? If found to be so, do they increase or decrease traffic congestion for the case of San Francisco? If and how TNC pickups and drop-offs impact traffic congestion within San Francisco? And finally, how does the magnitude of this measured command of TNCs on congestion compare to that caused by pre-existing conventional drivers of traffic and congestion change? Apart from answering these questions, it is also sought to establish a framework to be able to include TNCs, a seemingly fledgling mode of transportation but one that is demonstrably shaping and modifying extant transportation and mode choice trends, as part of the travel demand models estimated by any geographic jurisdiction.

Traffic congestion has worsened noticeably in San Francisco and other major cities over the past few years. Part of this change could reasonably be explained by strong economic growth or other standard factors such as road and transit network changes. The sharp increase in travel times and congestion also corresponds to the emergence of TNCs, raising the question of whether the two trends may be related. Existing research has produced conflicting results and been hampered by a lack of data.

Using data scraped from the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) of two TNCs, combined with observed travel time data, this research finds that contrary to their vision, TNCs are the biggest contributor to growing traffic congestion in San Francisco. Between 2010 and 2016, weekday vehicle hours of delay increased by 62%, compared to 22% in a counterfactual 2016 scenario without TNCs. The findings provide insight into expected changes in major cities as TNCs continue to grow, informing decisions about how to integrate TNCs into the existing transportation system.

This research also decomposes the contributors to increased congestion in San Francisco between 2010 and 2016, considering contributions from five incremental effects: road and transit network changes, population growth, employment growth, TNC volumes, and the effect of TNC pick-ups and Drop-offs. It is so done through a series of controlled travel demand model runs, supplemented with observed TNC data. The results show that road and transit network changes over this period have only a small effect on congestion, population and employment growth are important contributors, and that TNCs are the biggest contributor to growing congestion over this period, contributing about half of the increase in vehicle hours of delay, and adding to worsening travel time reliability. This research contradicts several studies that suggest TNCs may reduce congestion and adds evidence in support of a recent empirical analysis showing that their net effect is to increase congestion. This research gives transportation planners a better understanding of the causes of growing congestion, allowing them to more effectively craft strategies to mitigate or adapt to it.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Funded by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.