Gig economy ‘makes congestion better AND worse’, says report

Denser population areas are associated with lower congestion - first published on

Driving associated with the gig economy has the capacity to worsen – and ease – congestion depending on a variety of factors, says new research.

Streetlight Data says this is because ‘gig driving’ – for example, by drivers of ride-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft and AmazonFresh - has different impacts depending on existing traffic, location, time of day and transit or bike availability.

The data firm uses its own metric – gig mode share – to highlight this phenomenon in a specific area: the Miami-Dade region of Florida.

“Depending on context, a road with a higher ‘gig mode share’ can have a positive, negative, or neutral correlation with congestion,” Streetlight Data says. “The contexts explored in the analysis included time of day, proximity to a major transit centre, road class (highway/non-highway), land use and density.”

It found that gig mode share is higher in certain parts of town, notably tourist- and hotel-heavy areas such as Miami Beach, downtown Miami, and at ramps into Miami-Dade Airport used by services such as Uber.

“We see morning and evening peaks on weekdays,” the company explains. “However, gig share goes up on evenings, late night and weekends. These are times with low congestion, and a few extra gigs won’t make a big difference. As a result, the impact of gig share on congestion does not really vary by time of day or day of week.”

In general, gig driving is a fairly consistent share of highway driving, the company found. “Highways with higher gig shares have a very slight increase in congestion (especially on weekdays). On non-highway roads, we see six times that impact. Thus, we find that, in general, gig mode share has more variability, and more of an impact, on congestion, on non-highway roads.”

The results were perhaps most interesting – and even counter-intuitive – in commercial, rather than residential, areas. “In Miami-Dade, in the very dense neighbourhoods a high share of gig is correlated with a lower congestion. However, in the more standard commercial areas, gig is correlated with higher congestion. We interpret this to mean that in Miami there’s a threshold of activity density above which gig associated with less congestion, and below which gig is associated with more congestion.

The research also looked at what happens within walking distance of the region’s various transit stations. “Overall, these roads are more congested than the typical Miami-Dade road,” the research found. “This doesn’t mean transit causes congestion, it means we tend to put transit in busy places, as we should. In these zones, the higher the gig mode share, the lower the congestion. This finding may also mean that many of people are taking gig to transit stations in the further-flung, less congested parts of town.”

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