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Uber, Lyft use skyrocketing in Massachusetts

A driver with placards for both Lyft and Uber waited for a traffic light outside South Station after picking up a passenger.
A driver with placards for both Lyft and Uber waited for a traffic light outside South Station after picking up a passenger.(Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File 2017)

The roads in Massachusetts are getting more crowded with Ubers and Lyfts.

Ride-hailing companies completed 81.3 million rides in Massachusetts during 2018 — a whopping 25 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report released by the Department of Public Utilities on Thursday. This is the second year DPU collected data on ride-hailing trips in-state under a Massachusetts law that regulates the companies.

Boston remains the dominant location for most Uber and Lyft rides, with some 42.2 million starting in the city, a 21 percent increase from 2017. The closest runner-up was Cambridge with 7.8 million rides.

However, the state figures indicate the ride-hailing services are expanding beyond their urban bases into the suburbs and more distant corners of Massachusetts. Municipalities such as Arlington saw a 33 percent increase in rides from 2017, while Waltham had a 30 percent increase. Further out, the number of trips in Southbridge, for example, grew to 4,307 from 1,752 in 2017 — a 146 percent increase in one year.

The information comes amid mounting concerns about traffic congestion and the performance of the regional transportation system. Several studies have linked the uptick in Uber and Lyft ridership to traffic congestion, both because of the sheer volume of trips and because drivers may interrupt traffic flow by stopping in city streets to begin or end rides.

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Uber and Lyft argue they can reduce congestion in city streets by convincing people to live without cars, and by better connecting communities with the transit system. Yet in financial filings ahead of an initial public offering, Uber described public transit as competition.

“This data shows that more people and communities across the state are benefiting from rideshare. Rides are growing in smaller communities, vehicles are moving more efficiently, and people are traveling further throughout Massachusetts,” a spokesperson for Lyft said in a statement.

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The San Francisco-based company said it is focused on alleviating congestion on the roads by reducing the number of personal vehicles and single-occupancy trips.

“We’re encouraged that our fastest growth is in rural and suburban areas that are often poorly served by mass transit, and we look forward to continuing to partner with the state to provide reliable and affordable transportation options,” a spokesperson for San Francisco-based Uber said in a statement.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office declined to comment while reviewing the data.

Walsh has called for the state Legislature to increase the per-ride fee of 20 cents on each trip. Walsh has proposed legislation that would encourage carpooling by charging a higher fee for rides taken by a single user and a lower fee for shared or pooled trips that match passengers with one another.

In Boston, as well as Somerville and Cambridge, city officials are testing designated pull-over spots for ride-hail drivers to meet their passengers without interrupting traffic.

And Logan International Airport officials recently established new rules that will go into effect this fall, requiring drivers to pick up and drop off most riders at a centralized parking garage in a bid to cut down on congestion at the airport and nearby roads. Yet those rules were met by protest from the companies and large swaths of their riders — an indication of the companies’ growing popularity.

Eric Bourassa, director of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said it’s tough for regional planners to find solutions for a continued increase in ride-hailing trips because the report doesn’t provide more specific data, such as when trips occurred or how long trips last at different times of day.

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“If more of these trips are replacing non-auto trips, that’s adding more vehicles to the road and causing more traffic congestion,” he said.

Without specific data on when these rides occurred, experts can’t analyze how the increase has affected peak travel times, he said.


Allison Hagan can be reached at allison.hagan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @allisonhxgan.