The Environmental Impact of Uber and Lyft – Good or Bad News?

What is the impact of ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft on the environment?  After all, as of December 2014, Uber was providing over 1 million rides per day.  By June 2015, Uber was reportedly providing 1 million rides per day in China, alone!  That is a lot of vehicle emissions.

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Though Uber and Lyft would like you to believe that there is an environmental benefit, because it can eliminate the need for car ownership, skeptics say the services could replace eco-friendly alternatives such as public transportation or biking.

Well now we get to find out.  BetaBoston reported that experts from the University of California at Berkeley and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Urban Solutions program were granted the ability to acquire user-survey data from Uber and Lyft passengers.  The researchers hope to gather at least 2,000 pieces of data from at least two cities to measure the environmental impact of the rides, by asking riders information about the car they took, their demographics, and what they would have done if they hadn’t used Uber or Lyft. The ride-hailing companies will send the survey to users and add their own anonymized data on details such as how far drivers had to drive to pick up their passengers.  The study will likely be based in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Austin, and Boston, where Lyft Line and uberPOOL services exist.  The goal is for the research to be completed by the summer or fall of 2016.

Do you think that Uber and Lyft are good or bad for the environment?  Anecdotally, I know of many casual riders who would normally walk or take public transportation, but choose to take Uber/Lyft because it was raining/too cold or it was just easier to spend $5 on the quick ride.  Though a great modern convenience, Uber/Lyft do seem to create more car trips (and emissions).

Related:

Does Uber Manipulate Surge Pricing? Looking Behind The Curtains

Travel Tips and Tricks – How to Avoid Uber Surge Pricing!

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  1. Uber has already been shown to have had a bad effect on the environment in London. TfL has reported that traffic congestion has increased massively in central London in the evening. The number of licensed minicabs had risen close to 50% in the last two years (these cover Ubers but not real cabs), and many of them are just driving around in circles waiting for customers. This causes pollution and congestion.

    The question then is has this encouraged people to abandon buses and undergrounds? There’s no hard evidence that such is the case but plenty of anecdotal evidence.

    • NB –

      If this is the case (and I have no reason to doubt you), then I do wonder why Uber and Lyft allowed for the study to be conducted. It seems like it would only provide bad publicity for them when the findings are released.

    • This is simple economics. When something has a lower price, more of it can be consumed. By lowering the cost of transportation (both monetary and time saved vs. waiting/hailing a cab), it has increased total demand for non-walking/non-biking/non-public transit trips.

  2. Wait another few years when regular drivers will start to realize just how much damage driving around cities all days is causing to their vehicles, and how the repair expenses will wipe out most of their profits. This model is not sustainable for anyone to make a living off of it. It was supposed to be more of a casual once-in-a-while gig.

    • rick b –

      This is a complaint I see often. However, it seems as though the response frequently is that there will just be another driver willing to drive after the first one quits.

  3. Statistics gathered at a major airport indicated that TNCs were pretty much pulling mode share from everyone – including public transit (a 5-10% drop in transit trips, which are already pretty low at most US airports).

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