While Uber’s arrival in some cities has corresponded with lower rates of alcohol-related traffic accidents, new data indicates Uber’s arrival in a city is often also followed by a rise in binge drinking. Researchers from the University of Louisville and Georgia State University compared Uber’s arrival in cities with surveys about alcohol consumption collected by the Centers for Disease Control. The findings indicate overall alcohol consumption, binge drinking, and heavy drinking all tended to rise after Uber’s debut.
After ride-hailing service UberX arrives in a city, the data shows a 3.1% increase in the average number of drinks consumed per day, a 2.8% increase in number of drinking days per month, a 4.9% increase in the maximum number of drinks consumed on one occasion, and a 9% increase in the rate of heavy drinking. The researchers note “the net social impact of ridesharing is more complicated than the existing literature and policy debates suggest.” That effect is even greater in areas with less robust public transit options; the arrival of UberX in those areas was associated with a 17.5% to 21.8% increase in instances of binge drinking.
The Economist synthesized this data into some helpful charts, which also indicate that binge and heavy drinking rates in cities had mostly been on the decline before Uber’s arrival, but that they increased afterward. Anecdotally, the findings check out: In areas without strong public transit, bar-goers might have been reluctant to have an extra drink or two before driving home. With the Uber safety net, there’s less perceived risk in ordering that final round. No doubt public health officials will be thinking further about how Uber’s arrival seems to correspond with a tradeoff between reduced drunk driving and increased heavy drinking.
In case you wondered, yes, Uber has also been good news for bars: The study found its arrival was followed by a 2.4% increase in employment and a 2.3% increase in total earnings at bars.