This study says Uber-style ride-sharing and carpooling could dramatically reduce city traffic

Lynsey Barber
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New York City Region Hit With Heavy Rains
The number of cabs are on the up in many cities around the world (Source: Getty)

London's roads - and the millions of people who travel on them - have reached an unprecedented gridlock.

Congestion is estimated to be costing businesses in the capital £237m every year, while Londoners are wasting a week each year, on average, stuck in traffic jams - not to mention the impact on people's health of high pollution levels (something Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has promised to tackle).

Now, experts have identified that carpooling apps such as Uber and Lyft could help drastically reduce traffic.

Read more: The number of Uber drivers fighting for workers rights has doubled

Some 98 per cent of all demand for cabs in New York City could be served by just 3,000 cars with room for four passengers and with a waiting time of only 2.7 minutes, according to a study produced by MIT's computer science and artificial intelligence lab (CSAIL).

The lab's researchers created an algorithm that analyses the data from more than three million cab rides in real-time and found even fewer vehicles - 2.000 to be exact - could still serve 95 per cent of taxi demand. There are nearly 14,000 taxis in New York City at present.

Watch the algorithm at work

"Instead of transporting people one at a time, drivers could transport two to four people at once, results in fewer trips, in less time, to make the same amount of money,” said CSAIL professor Daniela Rus.

“A system like this could allow drivers to work shorter shifts, while also creating less traffic, cleaner air and shorter, less stressful commutes.”

She added: “To our knowledge, this is the first time that scientists have been able to experimentally quantify the trade-off between fleet size, capacity, waiting time, travel delay, and operational costs for a range of vehicles, from taxis to vans and shuttles. What’s more, the system is particularly suited to autonomous cars, since it can continuously reroute vehicles based on real-time requests.”

The rise of Uber in London has been blamed for a rise in cars on the capital's roads and pollution by black cab drivers as private hire vehicles numbers rocketed in recent years. However, Uber claims the service, and in particular its ride-sharing UberPool option, has reduced vehicle numbers.

While a reduction to the number of taxis on the roads with almost no impact on service may be good for the city and its citizens, it might not sound quite as good for cab drivers.

But Rus told the Washington Post that the study was not meant to harm the industry.

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“We really see this as an opportunity to improve efficiency and improve the lives of drivers. Instead of working 12-hour shifts, you could work six- or eight-hour shifts. And you would make the same amount of money because it’s the same transportation need, it’s the same level of payment that flows through the system," she said.

The ability to carpool a black cab is also being introduced by Uber-rival Gett in London, ensuring iconic drivers are not left out of the progress being made in urban transport thanks to technology.

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