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A Lyft ride-hailing car moves through traffic in Manhattan on July 30, 2018, in New York City. Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty Images

Last week, New York City passed the nation’s first cap on new licenses for ride-hailing vehicles, like those driving for Uber and Lyft, citing in part concerns over worsening congestion and declining transit ridership. The decision represents the culmination of alarm over app-based ride-hailing companies and could serve as a blueprint for cities across the U.S.

Yes, but: Privately owned vehicles driven for personal use still dominate our transportation system, in large part because using one is cheap, fast and comfortable after the initial investment. Any regulatory solution to congestion must focus on personal vehicles first. Short of that, placing limits on Uber or Lyft will be a mere drop in the gas tank.

Despite rapid ride-hailing growth over the past few years, over 75% of all passenger miles in the U.S. are traveled in personal vehicles, and over 90% when air travel is excluded. By comparison, taxis and ride-hailing vehicles account for less than 0.5% combined, and all public transit less than 5%. Even in the New York City metropolitan area, personal vehicles account for over 75% of all land travel, versus 1.2% for taxis and ride-hailing vehicles.

Meanwhile, with the advent of self-driving cars, many of the reasons people currently take taxis or public transit — such as disability, aversion to driving, and difficulties with parking — might begin to disappear within the next few years. While some have predicted that autonomous vehicles will lead to the end of private ownership as we know it, this is hardly inevitable: No fleet operator will ever provide the same convenience of having a robot chauffeur in your driveway whenever you need it. And any cap on shared vehicles will make personal vehicles even more desirable.

Fixing transportation will require cities to foster alternatives to personal vehicles by incentivizing shared rides and integrating ride-hailing with public transit, and then implementing congestion pricing and eliminating parking in areas where people no longer need to drive. Otherwise, by the time personal automated vehicles develop a constituency, it will be too late.

The big picture: A new age of transportation is dawning, and we have a choice to make: Rethink the necessity of personal vehicles, or let their share of the transportation pie continue to grow larger and larger while public transit and ride-hailing fight over the diminishing crumbs.

Gordon Bauer is a National Science Foundation Research Fellow in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley.

Go deeper

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and has "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

3 hours ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.