Portland is a city that values its weird traditions, which is partly why it resisted overtures by Uber and other ride-hailing apps to operate there. Eventually, officials gave in. According to a report by the city, the apps swiftly changed Portland in surprising ways. The findings show how quickly ride-hailing providers can gain traction, first grabbing market share from taxis, then expanding the overall car-for-hire market.
As Bloomberg Businessweek chronicled in a June feature, Uber and Lyft hit the streets of Portland in late April under a 120-day trial period. They started operating after a long political effort involving dozens of meetings, classic lobbying, and (among other things) a unicyclist. As part of the temporary approval, the ride-hailing companies agreed to share detailed data on their operations.
In August, the city council extended the trial period for several months so it could finish tweaking the rules. In the meantime, city staffers crunched the data and compiled what they believe is the first comprehensive report by any city based on proprietary information from Uber. Portland shared a copy of the report with Bloomberg, and we've pulled out some of the highlights. The study provides a rare, detailed look into what happens when a city opens up to on-demand apps and how the taxicab industry adapts.
It didn't take long for Uber and Lyft to become as popular as local taxis. In May, taxis provided about 5,500 rides per day; within a month, that fell to about 4,500 rides and basically flat-lined. Demand for ride-hailing services kept growing, from 2,300 average daily rides in May to more than 8,000 in August. Overall, Portlanders took 100,000 more for-hire rides in August than in May. It's worth noting that the Pacific Northwest had an uncharacteristically warm and dry summer, so there's not much reason to think weather played a role in the increase.
In just seven weeks, Uber and Lyft surpassed taxis in providing rides on weekends. While the number of weekend taxi rides initially fell a bit, Portlanders took thousands more trips on weekends in late August than in early May. Saturdays, in particular, are big nights for the ride-hailing apps. In general, the early morning, from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., is the sole time period when taxis provided more rides. The city hypothesizes that this is due to people catching early flights—probably reserving pickups in advance, a service not offered by Uber and Lyft.
Eight percent of all taxi rides started in East Portland, a low-income neighborhood, while only 3 percent of all Uber and Lyft riders originated there. As the summer progressed, Uber and Lyft picked up more riders in less central areas across the city, but demand for their service remained more concentrated than that for taxis around downtown.
Over the four months, Uber and Lyft provided 13 percent of the 3,000 rides taken by people who needed wheelchair-accessible vehicles, leaving taxis to provide the vast majority of the service. Such vehicles are more expensive to operate. In September, Uber expanded its supply of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, so future reports will show whether it can become the provider of choice for all Portlanders, or mainly just those out at night and on weekends.