Ridesharing Produces More Emissions Than Driving, Cities are Working to Fix This

As Jigar Shah wrote for Fast & Company last month, research shows that the average ride-hailing trip creates about 50% more pollution than the average traditional car trip. Even more staggering is that over half of all ride-hailing trips in major cities are made by people who would have otherwise used cleaner means of transit to get to their destination.

Now Los Angeles is looking to forge the way and enact a mandate requiring rideshare companies to use electric vehicles which could likely encourage other cities to follow suit.

Can The Industry Move On Its Own: Mandates are often seen as government overreach but there could be immense public health and climate mitigation benefits that come with requiring Uber and Lyft to make the switch. However, while Uber rolled out a previous effort to help its drivers transition to electric vehicles the effort was abruptly abandoned without much explanation.

Electrek explained,

  • In June 2018, Uber announced a pilot program providing subsidies for drivers who use electric vehicles. The pilot program, called the EV Champions Initiative, included seven cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, and Montreal.
  • In the program, drivers accrue a dollar-per-ride bonus for using plug-in hybrids or full battery electric vehicles, with a maximum payout of $20 per week. The incentives were designed to allow drivers to buy an EV. But the program, which was supposed to last for one year, ended without any announcements from Uber.

Rideshare companies already fail to turn profits and with the pressure from their investors to limit costs, subsidizing EVs for drivers is a challenge. Additionally, because these companies aren’t profitable, they also struggle to receive the financing necessary to purchase an EV fleet–something the Energy Gang broke down in their podcast last week.

Bring On the Mandates: Los Angeles feels confident in its standing to regulate the rideshare industry as the pollution produced by Uber and Lyft’s fleet runs counter to the city’s plan to go carbon neutral by 2050.

The Los Angeles Times recently wrote that,

“The increased pollution comes primarily from “deadheading,” that is, drivers traveling to pick up a passenger or cruising the streets while waiting for a ride request. Deadheading accounts for about 40% of the miles logged by Uber and Lyft vehicles in California, according to recent analysis by state air quality regulators.”

And now the State of California is also getting involved,

“The California Air Resources Board is now developing the world’s first regulations to reduce the climate impacts of ride hailing. The rules, expected by year’s end, seek to rein in traffic and pollution from an industry that has quickly risen to overtake taxis, in large part by avoiding regulation to begin with.”

Why This Matters: While rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are convenient, they’re far from being sustainable. Aside from adding to emissions, they also add to gridlock–an issue that cities are grappling to curb. However, it’s difficult to get the genie back in the bottle as people likely won’t give up the convenience and ease of hailing a rideshare. Working to make these services greener and to fill in gaps in public transportation instead of replacing it outright will be an important policy mechanism for cities to get right. Encouraging pooling and expanding options for drivers to purchase or lease EVs is low hanging fruit and a good first step.

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