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💬 "Taking an Uber or Lyft just makes everything worse"


Photo by Thought Catalog / Unsplash

Host: David Roberts
Category: 💬 Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:25] “Is it better to drive somewhere or to take a ride hailing service like Uber or Lyft? I don't mean better for you personally, faster or cheaper. I mean better for the world, for society, for the air and the atmosphere, better all things considered. A clever new study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University attempts to answer that question.”

[0:51] “Headline one: Ride hailing services carry more external costs than private vehicles. In the paper, […] [they] attempt to tally up the relative costs to the environment in society of taking a trip via a privately owned vehicle versus taking the same trip in what they call a transportation network company, or TNC, like Uber or Lyft in six of the company's biggest markets. This involves two steps in each market. First, they add up how many miles the respective vehicles travel per trip. Then they add up the total externalities in vehicle emissions, congestion, crashes, and noise represented by each mile traveled. These externalities notoriously are not priced into transportation decisions, thus the name.”

[1:48] “To understand the results, you have to understand one key fact. TNC vehicles travel more miles per trip. They have to drive between where they drop off one fare and pick up another, which sometimes involves quite a bit of just wandering around. This time spent with no passenger is called deadheading, and those miles must be added to their trip miles. Those extra miles traveled represent more externalities, more cost to the environment and society. On average, a TNC trip carries 32 to 37 cents more in external costs per trip than a private vehicle trip. There are three countervailing factors, but only the third is big enough to flip the equation enough to give TNCs the advantage in some limited circumstances.”

[2:43] “Headline two: Ride hailing services reduce air pollution. First, though additional miles lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, crashes and noise, somewhat counter intuitively, they lead to less air pollution. The secret here is that the bulk of particulate air pollution is generated from cold starts, i.e. engines turning over to start up for the first time. By contrast, TNC vehicles arrive hot. Their engines are already running so they don't do cold starts. In addition, TNC vehicles are on average newer and thus cleaner. So on average, TNC trips represent a 50 to 60% decline in air pollutants […], that's about nine to 13 cents per trip less.”

[3:38] “If TNC vehicles electrify faster than private vehicles, that advantage will grow, because he EV's generate no particular pollution. But if private vehicles electrify equally fast, the comparative advantage will stay the same. Regardless, the difference is not enough to overcome the other externalities. TNC trips represent a 20% increase in costs from greenhouse gas emissions and a 60% increase in costs from congestion, crashes and noise. All told about 45 cents more per trip. Overall, a nine to 13 cent decrease from air pollution and a 45 cent increase from the other externalities adds up to about 32 to 37 cents more per trip on average.”

[5:42] “Headline five: Shared ride hailing vehicles are better than private vehicles. […] Put two people in the TNC car, i.e. have one TNC trip substitute for two personal vehicle trips and voila, you flip the script and your TNC trip is a net positive for the world. “When a TNC trip is known to be pooled, the paper says, shifting travel from a private vehicle reduces net external costs by a mean value of 60 cents per trip”.”

[6:45] “What if the TNC trip displaces a trip on public transit, where the marginal cost in externalities of an additional passenger is effectively zero? What if it displaces a trip done via walking or biking where the marginal externalities are again, zero? The study looked at that too. “When TNCs displace transit walking or biking rather than personal vehicles, the increase in externalities is about three times larger, or about $1.20 per trip”.”

[7:21] “Headline six: What about avoided vehicle purchases? You might think that with the easy availability of TNCs, it might be possible for fewer people to buy cars, which would count on the positive side of the ledger. However, there is no such comfort. I asked the authors about this and it turns out they did another study, […] which found that the arrival of Uber and Lyft to a market tends to be correlated with a small increase in car ownership, especially in places where car ownership is already high and there's not much population growth. […] In most places, in current circumstances, all things considered, it's worse to take a TNC ride than to drive a private vehicle.”

[11:33] “The only way to tackle all of these externalities at once is to get people out of cars, out of their own cars, out of the Ubers. That means prioritizing multimodal transportation in infrastructure and spending decisions, creating protected walking and biking corridors that connect across town, reclaiming lanes and whole streets from cars and turning them over to transit or simply to neighborhood walking and gathering. Up-zoning and increasing density, especially around transit stops subsidizing electric bikes, basically doing what Barcelona and Paris are doing. Electrifying vehicles will help on climate change, especially as the grid gets cleaner, but it's not a solution to cars. Fancy new kinds of cars, even if they fly or go through tunnels […] are not a solution. Apps are not a solution. The only solution to the problem of cars is fewer cars. That should be the goal of policy, not just transportation policy, but land use policy and urban policy and economic policy and climate policy. For those who care about the public good, Uber and Lyft are a distraction.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 13 min | 🗓️ 09/27/2021
✅ Time saved: 11 min

Additional Links:
Volts Newsletter
Study: “The Energy and Environmental Effects of New and Future Mobility: Econometric and Simulation Analysis of Ridesourcing Services Uber and Lyft”