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2 Investigators: Are Rideshares Increasing Traffic Congestion?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Many believe downtown traffic is worse than ever. Are companies such as Uber and Lyft worsening the problem?

Both have become a way of life in Chicago. But, to what extent is rideshare impacting the traffic on Chicago's streets?

"The trends are rapid enough that this could be affecting both congestion downtown and use of public transportation," Uber traffic expert Joe Schwieterman said.

For a lot of people, traffic not only seems worse, but also more hectic. So, is ridesharing to blame?

In New York, one study found that more taxis and rideshare vehicles were slowing down traffic. With that said, there have been no in-depth studies performed in Chicago.

"We don't have a good measure. When you look at downtown traffic, what share of vehicles are transportation network companies?" Schwieterman noted.

So, just how many rideshare vehicles are on the streets?

CBS 2 asked the Emanuel Administration for that data in the Fall. We received a letter saying, in part, "Uber objects to the release on the grounds that it would cause Uber competitive harm."

Informed of the response, Ald. Anthony Beale says it's the latest example of the city letting Uber call the shots. "I think we're really losing out on a lot of information."

The city says it's not protecting rideshare companies and, after months of wrangling, it finally shared data on "active" rideshare vehicles, or vehicles that completed at least four rides a month.

It showed the number increasing from 40,000 in December 2015, to 60,000 in December 2016 and nearly 69,000 in December 2017.

"The only reason you have a higher number of vehicles coming into the fold is because the consumers are requesting the ride," said Rosa Escareno, who is the head of the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. "In terms of the congestion on the road, it requires a greater investigation."

And she says the city is willing to study it and figure out solutions. But, the fact remains, drivers are frustrated. With buses and bike lanes crisscrossing the city now, congestion is heavy and we still don't know how much ridesharing is contributing to the problem.

Beale, who supports taxi drivers, has no doubts.

"You have so many more people out on the street with that Uber and Lyft tag in the window, and they're clogging up our streets because of the amount of traffic."

Uber and Lyft representatives say rideshare companies aren't solely to blame for congestion. The main cause, they say, is motorists in their personal cars.

The city says it collects troves of rideshare data, but they say much of it is private and can't be shared.

Uber had no comment about the letter we received from City Hall.

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