Sunday, June 16, 2024
 
 

Ridesharing is far from eco-unfriendly

EPA-EFE//WILL OLIVER
An Uber app on a mobile phone in central London.

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Just over a decade ago, a public transport revolution occurred when several technologically savvy start-up companies began using smartphone technology that offered carpooling services to the general public.

First dominated by ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft, the companies later evolved into a wide range of options that gave consumers the option to use peer-to-peer ridesharing as a way to commute, but also revolutionised the food delivery industry, and gave a major boost to a micro-mobility system that included for-hire electric bikes and scooters.

After more than 10 years as an essential part of the average person’s life, it is impossible to argue that the advent of platforms like Uber and Lyft were nothing short of a watershed for the global transportation industry as they have given the public new ways to rent from and temporarily hire other private citizens – none of whom are salaried employees but are instead independent contractors paid by consumers – for a ride.

For many, ridesharing apps are their go-to method of transportation because of the convenience they offer. But in an era when green economy consciousness has become paramount, some have become increasingly concerned that the still-ongoing transportation revolution may have had a far greater negative impact on the collective carbon footprint than was ever imagined.

According to a report released by the nonprofit research group Union of Concerned Scientists, found that ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft have not only failed to reduce the number of cars on the road but have, in fact, increased the total number of car trips that the average person takes on a daily basis, causing an estimated 69% more emissions than the trips they displace.

Most tellingly, the report noted that while ride-hailing may be more fuel-efficient than the average personally owned vehicles, it has, however, significantly increased the amount of pollution and congestion in most of the cities where they operate to the extent that such services now account for up to 13% of all vehicle traffic in major urban areas.

“Ride-hailing is not just replacing personal car trips; instead, it is increasing the total number of car trips,” the report states.

As of 2018, Uber had more than 10 billion trips globally since its introduction to the market in 2010. Its main competitor, Lyft, had by 2019 made over 1 billion trips since its launch seven years earlier.

Taxi traffic in central London. EPA-EFE//ANDY RAIN

According to the report, ridesharing trips are far more polluting than personal cars because of what the finding called ‘‘deadheading’’, which refers to rides being done without a passenger. In addition, there has been a sharp increase in the total number of car trips made by passengers who would have previously used mass transit or any other type of transportation.
Ride-hailing, though similar in many ways to traditional taxis, has come under greater scrutiny in recent years as regulations governing how the services work continue to be a work of progress. Interestingly enough, traditional taxis, which were initially demonised by ridesharing advocates, are not responsible for nearly as much pollution due in part to decades-old regulations, the researchers said.
Both Uber and Lyft are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. Some countries in Europe have Uber GREEN, which brings riders an electric ride that is completely free of carbon emissions. Both companies have rolled out bike and scooter shares and, in 2018, Lyft announced that it buys enough clean energy to make up for its harmful emissions.
The study, which was carried out by an American science advocacy nonprofit known as Union of Concerned Scientists, stated that the industry should move on to greener strategies and contribute to a low-carbon transportation future, by making a turn to, among others, vehicle electrification and pooled trips.
The report differentiates between non-pooled trips, in which passengers ride straight to their destination, and pooled trips, in which the car picks up other passengers on the way. Ride-hailing trips, as stated by the nonprofit, should be chosen over personal car trips as the former has a carbon footprint that is roughly the equivalent to that of private car travel.
Carpooling is 47% more polluting than a private car ride of the same length, while the best lowest-carbon option for ride-hailing is a pooled trip in an electric vehicle. The latter can cut emissions by 68% in comparison to a trip in an average personal car, or about 79% compared with a non-pooled, ride-hailing trip.
To become more climate-friendly, the report says that ridesharing services could electrify their fleets and improve the pricing and convenience of pooled rides, while also encouraging the use of public transit.
“For ride-hailing to contribute to better climate and congestion outcomes, trips must be pooled and electric, displace single-occupancy car trips more often, and encourage low-emissions modes such as mass transit, biking, and walking.”
Lyft and Uber already have electric scooters and bikes, while in several markets the companies have started including mass transit information in their apps. However, the study urges that more needs to be done to efficiently integrate ride-hailing and mass transit.
“Governments must provide the public with access to high-quality, multimodal transportation choices, prioritise the movement of people over cars, and ensure that all modes reduce pollution,” the researchers state. “They must adapt the rules of the road – for ride-hailing companies, mass transit, and other road users – to ensure access for everyone to safe, equitable, efficient transportation.”
Industry giants like Uber and Lyft say they are willing to accelerate their transition to electric vehicles and connect passengers to mass transit with first- and last-mile solutions, which replace a part of a journey that a train or bus won’t cover. The ridesharing companies also say that they are ready to work with local authorities so long as the latter does more to support and incentivise these efforts by investing far more resources into mass transit and other types of transport.
“Ride-hailing trips are increasing emissions today,” one of the report’s co-authors was quoted as saying. “But if companies take meaningful actions to expand electric vehicles and pooled rides, and policymakers and consumers can help, then these services can be part of a low-carbon transportation future.”

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