THE WORLD’S CITIES are dying. The diagnosis is heart disease, or, as it’s also known, traffic congestion. The cause of the problem is Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services. The solution to the problem is taxes.
Congestion isn’t new; gridlock predates Uber. Still, before Uber came along, it wasn’t particularly easy to drive around a city in a private vehicle. Either you had to spend thousands of dollars buying or leasing your own car—on top of parking and insurance and gas—or else you needed to navigate an unfriendly and expensive system of cabs and taxis, whose numbers were carefully managed by taxi regulators, medallion systems, and the like. The harder it was to drive, either in money or effort, the fewer people did it and the less traffic congestion there was.
Uber and Lyft changed the entire system by ushering in an explosive rise of cars available for hire. In just a couple of minutes, at the tap of a button on your phone, you can find a car that is both cheaper and more convenient than anything that existed before. The downside of that innovation was an unprecedented jump in traffic. Show me a city where Uber has taken off, and I’ll show you a city where congestion has risen in tandem. That’s true even in cities like London, which were already trying to manage traffic flows by imposing a hefty congestion charge of about $16 per day. There seems to be no limit to how high supply and demand can go—unless, that is, local governments start stepping in.