How Ridesharing Impacts the Environment
Thu, April 22, 2021

How Ridesharing Impacts the Environment

The ridesharing market is forecasted to reach a market size of $218 billion by 2025, up from $61.3 billion in 2018, according to Markets and Markets, a market research company. Growing at a CAGR of 19.87%, the ridesharing industry relies on its major drivers to expand, which are the growing need for personal mobility amid urbanization and the decline of car ownership. Moreover, the popularity of the internet and the proliferation of smartphones as well as fulfilling CO2 reduction targets are the catalysts of growth for the ridesharing market.

Currently, 36% of US adults said they have used a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft, per the findings of a 2018 survey conducted by Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think tank. In contrast, only 15% of Americans reported using these services in late 2015 while one-third have never heard of such a service before. Roughly half of 18- to 29-year-old Americans (51%) said they have used a ride-hailing service while 24% of those ages 50 and older have used it. The statistics showed that ride-hailing rose across most demographic groups, but adoption depended on age, educational attainment, and income.

People who have an annual household income of $75,000 (53%) or more are roughly twice as likely as those earning less than $30,000 (24%) to have used ride-hailing services. Additionally, 55% of adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree said they have used these services while 20% of adults who have a high school diploma or less have hailed a ride.

While ride-hailing is a growing industry, we must be aware of the effects of such services on the environment.


A Case of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Caused by Ridesharing Services

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities investigated the impact of Uber and Lyft in CO2 emissions, stated Chris Bowers of Transport & Environment, a European umbrella for non-government organizations working in the transportation sector.

The department found that TNCs (transportation network companies) had a net carbon footprint of nearly 100,000 metric tons of CO2. It reckoned that it will be difficult for Massachusetts to achieve its emissions reduction targets if growth in ride-hailing emissions is unchecked. The number of ride-hailing trips rose by 25% between 2017 and 2018, from 64.8 million to 81.3 million.

T&E’s new mobility officer Yoann Le Petit noted that Uber and Lyft are increasing the number of cars on the road, thereby increasing air pollution and CO2 emissions.

Some US Cities Attempt to Curb the Impacts of Ridesharing

San Francisco officially banned private cars last week from driving on Market Street, including vehicles used for ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft, according to an article in Resources Magazine. The city followed the lead of New York City, which prohibited the use of private vehicles across Amsterdam and Times Square as it hoped to ban all gas and diesel cars by 2030. Municipal restrictions are formulated to bolster transit. After New York City banned cars, bus travel times decreased by 38%, averaging 10.3 minutes, down from 10.7 minutes in 2018. Weekday ridership even increased by 17%, approximately 31,000.

Last month, California announced to formulate new rules that will promote more shared trips among riders and boost the proportion of zero-emissions vehicles in ridesharing fleets. The plan was created after a recent report from the California Air Resources Board estimated that rideshare vehicles emit nearly 50% more greenhouse gases per passenger-mile traveled than regular cars. This is due to rideshare drivers spending most of their time driving without a passenger, polluting the air without driving to a particular destination.

Impacts of Ridesharing Depend on the Availability of Other Modes of Transport

Apparently, the repercussions of ridesharing are complex and cannot be resolved by limiting “cruising” time. Benjamin Leard and Jianwei Xing of RFF (Resources for the Future), an American non-profit organization that independently researches on environmental, energy, and natural resource issues, said ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are an increasingly popular option for many travelers.

Leard and Xing found that the environmental impact of ridesharing in US cities has been relatively small, wrote Cole Martin on RFF. For example, national vehicle miles traveled rose to 0.08% and CO2 emissions by 0.14%.  

The abovementioned figures reflected how ridesharing can be costly depending on the route, comprising less than 1% of all trips taken in one year. However, the impact of ridesharing on vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions were negligible in cities with low public transit use or where walking is not feasible. On the other hand, ridesharing has a more profound impact on emissions where modes of travel besides cars are ubiquitous.

Since ridesharing was introduced, it is estimated that vehicle miles traveled rose by 1.38% and greenhouse gases by 2.21% in San Francisco than in any other city. Moreover, Leard and Xing found that nearly 80% of ridesharers in Houston would have ridden private cars or taxis if ridesharing was unavailable. Less than a quarter of ridesharing trips in New York would have been taken with a car.

Leard and Xing concluded that the environmental effects of ridesharing depend on the availability of other modes of transportation. Further, ridesharing service will cause pollution if it is used by those who would have walked or used public transit. If more vehicles are deployed, ridesharing can worsen traffic, lengthen commute times, and increase emission.

However, it doesn’t mean cities with functioning mass transit systems should penalize ridesharing companies. The authors emphasized that ridesharing can synergize with conventional modes of transport to address the “last-mile problem” to enable users to quickly hitch a ride to a train trip that would have been prohibitively distant.

Policies Must Be Tailored to Each City

Leard and Xing’s research suggested that policy solutions should be tailored to each city as the environmental impact of ridesharing is heterogeneous. The authors stated, “[Policymakers] considering restricting access to ridesharing as a way to reduce traffic congestion should do so at a local, city-by-city level and account for the substitution patterns that we uncover.”

Their research also implied that policymakers have a valid reason to study and analyze the environmental costs of ridesharing and if they need to impose regulations to curb such costs.

Assessing the impacts of ridesharing or ride-hailing services to the environment can be complex since it is dependent on the availability of other modes of transportation. For example, these services cause environmental repercussions if more cars were added in cities that rely on walking or public transit. Ridesharing/ride-hailing services can work in tandem with public transit, but cities must formulate their own policies and regulations since their impacts on the environment vary.