Transportation advocates say charging higher fees on Uber and Lyft rides may get more people off the roads and help curb Greater Boston’s traffic congestion — but some commuters faced with the prospect of pricier trips say that won’t be enough to change their routines.
Trips provided by ride-hailing services account for a small portion of the traffic, but pink Lyft emblems and black Uber decals have become nearly ubiquitous during peak traffic times, seemingly adding to the gridlock.
The so-called ride-share industry has become a concern on Beacon Hill, and a long-awaited report on congestion released from the Baker administration last week suggested that making such travel more expensive — via the per-trip fee the state already levies — could help steer commuters to buses and subways instead.
“The fee has to be high enough to make that difference for people, and transit has to be reliable enough,” said Lizzi Weyant, of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a regional agency. “Both of those pieces have to be there for people to shift.”
Some riders who occasionally commute using Uber or Lyft, though, said in interviews over the weekend that they doubt higher prices would get them to carpool or to opt for cheaper but less reliable public transit.
Katy Myers said higher Uber and Lyft prices won’t make a difference to her if public transit doesn’t improve.
“I’d rather pay the extra money than spend an additional hour” on the MBTA, said Myers, 29, who was walking in City Hall Plaza Saturday. She’ll sometimes use Lyft to go to Brighton, where she works, and thinks it’s unfair to ask riders to pay more when their other options are unpredictable.
“On days that the T decides not to work . . . the price [of hailed rides] already surges,” she said.
“To put an additional surcharge on that feels like passing the responsibility and the cost [to] the rider.”
Yahaira Rodriguez usually takes a bus from her home in Lynn to the MBTA’s Wonderland Station on her way to work in the Seaport, but she’ll take Uber to the station “if I’m in a rush.”
Rodriguez, 21, said she’d still be likely to use Uber if she’s running late, even if prices go up.
Meghan Shumway, 26, uses ride-hailing to get to work in the West End instead of public transit only if she’s on a tight schedule, and a higher price might not dissuade her.
“Sometimes you don’t have flexibility, like if I need to get into the office at a certain time,” she said. “Unless I leave two hours in advance [and take the T] . . . why would I do that, when I can just take a rideshare?”
Peter Palfi, though, has already switched from Uber to the subway, driven by price. He said higher ride-hailing fees could “absolutely” convince others to join him.
“It’s just so expensive,” said Palfi, 26. “The T is effective enough.”
The companies — also called transportation network companies, or TNCs — have exploded in popularity; in 2018, they provided about 81 million rides in Massachusetts, 25 percent more than in 2017, according to state data.
A recent report commissioned by Uber and Lyft said their cars accounted for nearly 8 percent of the total mileage in Suffolk County (Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop) during a one-month period in 2018.
The report on congestion, however, said TNC trips made up 4.4 percent of all rides originating in Boston in 2018. But it said there is evidence that suggests companies like Uber and Lyft are making traffic worse.
“TNC drivers often pull over where it is most convenient to accommodate riders, including in active travel lanes or in ways that temporarily block other drivers,” the report said.
Local officials and state lawmakers say it’s clear Uber and Lyft rides have contributed to chronic gridlock.
Senator Brendan P. Crighton has introduced one of the handful of bills in the Legislature that would raise the Uber and Lyft fees. That, he said, would “limit the amount of folks just out there riding around during rush hour, congesting the roads.”
Crighton’s bill would raise prices for TNC riders by 6.25 percent, or 4.25 percent for those who share a car with another passenger. It would also allow local governments near the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s service area to charge those using Uber and Lyft during the T’s service hours up to $2.25 more per ride, to get “cars off the road and people back onto the T.”
The money would go toward “municipal investment in public transportation, bicycle, and pedestrian investments, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.”
The City of Boston has backed a similar proposal that would raise Uber and Lyft prices by 6.25 percent, or 3 percent for shared rides. That bill would also charge the company a per-mile fee for the distance driven without a passenger during rush hour.
There’s always a concern that raising prices could disproportionately affect poorer commuters, Weyant said. But “we generally think that TNC riders are closer to middle-income or lower-middle income,” she said.
An Uber spokeswoman, Alix Anfang, said it supports the goal of reducing tie-ups on the roads and noted that the congestion report said ride-hails make up a “small fraction” of car traffic.
“To have real impact, any additional fees should target all vehicles at the most congested areas and times so that people who have limited access to mass transit aren’t punished,” Anfang said.
A Lyft spokeswoman, Campbell Matthews, said, “There are numerous factors that contribute to congestion and targeting one factor alone will not solve the problem. Over 90 percent of vehicle miles traveled in Boston are completed by personal and commercial vehicles. The only way policymakers will be able to solve Massachusetts’ transportation challenges is by taking a holistic approach, applying any proposal equitably to all vehicles on the roads.”