Uber and Lyft create more pollution than they cut from trips they displace, according to new data from a study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists. These trips produce an estimated 69% more carbon emissions than driving by yourself.
The idea of using services like Uber and Lyft instead of using your own vehicle is typically considered a green or clean way to travel. After all, more people using “rideshare,” taxis, and public transit is supposed to be good, right? The reason, the study suggests, for the increased pollution is deadheading. This is the time when vehicles travel in between trips with passengers. Also, Uber and Lyft replace modes of alternate transportation such as biking, walking, and public transportation.
Researchers have concluded that taking Uber or Lyft generates 69% more pollution than driving your own vehicle.
Meanwhile electric ride hailing generates just a fraction of the emissions, even when not powered by renewables. pic.twitter.com/KSFJ66Wy2J
— Third Row Tesla Podcast (@thirdrowtesla) February 28, 2020
The study also says that this increases congestion during peak periods — the time when these apps are busier, such as rush hour or if there is an event like a football game, Mardi Gras, or something else going on. The researchers looked at the estimated emissions from private car trips, using average trip length and fuel economy, and compared it to an estimated trip distance for ride-hailed trips.
Don Anair, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Transportation program, told The Hill, “While ride-hailing trips today are higher emitting than other types of trips, we were encouraged by the fact they can be significantly lower polluting with efforts to electrify and pool rides. This outlook could be positive with some concrete steps by the companies to move forward, as well as policymakers to support that.”
What happens during the deadheading? I have a few friends who drive for Uber and Lyft in quite a few cities, and they have told me that sometimes they will sit in their cars waiting on a trip. This could be an hour or a few minutes depending on the time of day. Some will go into a Starbucks and have coffee while waiting on rides. Others will sit in a parking lot or even at home. If a driver is in a parking lot, chances are, their car is on and idling, meaning that the driver is wasting gas by sitting and waiting on ride requests. Multiply this by the thousands of drivers out there trying to make an extra buck or two driving for Lyft and Uber full time.
A Lyft spokesperson told The Verge that this was misleading. “This report, like many before it, makes misleading claims about rideshare. Lyft encourages the use of shared rides, was the first rideshare company to put public transit information into our app, and last year, made one of the largest single deployments of electric vehicles in the nation.”
I think that instead of taking this as a personal attack against Uber and Lyft, these companies should see this as constructive criticism. How can your service be better for drivers, riders, and the environment? This study definitely provides a tool for that. Instead of saying, “You’re wrong because I’ve done all of these great things,” perhaps be open to the idea of making your product even better. It’s good that these companies exist — they’re worth so much because they provide a great service. The study is simply trying to show how they could be better, and this is a good thing.