A Deep Look at Alternative Transportation
For decades, authorities have taught us that sharing benefits the environment. Instead of throwing out old items, we give them to friends and donate them to charities, hoping to decrease waste in landfills. Instead of buying new-construction houses, we flock to older properties, and increasing numbers of families are opting for multi-family homes that economize land and resource use.
Finally, instead of buying personal vehicles, we use public transit systems and carpool to conserve energy and reduce pollution.
Yet, the compulsion to share has produced a new transportation option, ridesharing, that has many wondering if sharing is truly as environmentally friendly as we thought. To understand the situation, we must evaluate the changes ridesharing has wrought on our cities and whether those changes help or hurt the environment we must protect.
Impacts on Individual Carbon Emissions
Though ridesharing is hardly a new phenomenon―ridesharing programs have existed for decades without the aid of digital technology―its widespread use is only a few years old. Thus, only a handful of groups have studied the environmental impacts of the service, and none have reached any concrete consensus. Until the National Resources Defense Council, UC Berkeley, and others conclude their research, prospective ridesharers can be guided by viable hypotheses.
For example, some argue that ridesharing reduces an individual’s carbon emissions. A single commuter, driving a personal vehicle that gets an average 25 miles-per-gallon, could release 16 pounds of carbon driving 10 miles to-and-from work every day. Instead, that commuter could rideshare, splitting those emissions with commuters heading the same direction. This is becoming more common as rideshare services encourage group rides, as uberPOOL does.
Further, anecdotal evidence demonstrates that some rideshare users have abandoned personal vehicle ownership and taken to greener transportation, including public transit and cycling after recognizing that ridesharing provides them the swift, safe, and certain conveyance they might occasionally need.
Still, while much data remains to be crunched, some emerging signs may indicate that, at least for now, ridesharing isn’t as eco-friendly as some ridesharers expect.
Impacts on Traffic Congestion
Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder, argues that ridesharing―particularly that offered by his company―has reduced traffic congestion around the world, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and generally benefitted the environment in significant ways.
His reasons are sensible: Ridesharing allows commuters to gain the independence of a car without the expense of ownership, so it follows that fewer people would invest in personal vehicles and make use of ridesharing opportunities instead. This would result in fewer cars on the road, less traffic, less air and noise pollution, and a healthier environment.
Unfortunately, it seems that this is not the case. The earning opportunities for ridesharing drivers has actually increased the number of cars on the streets in many cities, including San Francisco, where Uber and Lyft have added at least 15,000 automobiles. It seems that instead of relying on greener modes of transport, such as existing public transit, bicycles, or comfortable walking shoes, people are calling upon ridesharing.
This is to both the environment’s and the commuter’s detriment: It produces more toxic emissions as cars increase and decrease speed more frequently, and it increases commute times, sometimes by several precious minutes. Though ongoing studies have yet to provide hard data on the effects of ridesharing on urban environments, recent reports seem to disprove Kalanick’s ideas about Uber’s global eco-friendliness.
Future Impacts of Ridesharing
As ridesharing becomes more widely accepted, it is possible that traffic congestion will diminish and urban areas will flourish thanks to environmental improvements. Progressive technology, such as increasingly fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel engines, will reduce emissions, especially if ridesharing companies incentivize their drivers to use them.
Further, autonomous vehicles have been shown to reduce emissions with more resourceful driving patterns, and the likelihood that driverless car manufacturers will add advanced engines is high. Already, several ridesharing organizations, including RideCell, are working alongside vehicle manufacturers to develop autonomous fleets, which might be the environmental solution cities need.
Though critics claim the convenience of automated personal transportation might drastically increase miles driven ― since the tech has the potential to give wheels to the young, old and infirm who otherwise wouldn’t drive, adding ridesharing solves that issue: Instead of owning autonomous vehicles (which is a notable expense), people can use autonomous rideshare fleets to get around. Slowly but surely, manual vehicles could be abandoned in favor of the cheaper, safer, and eco-friendlier rideshare. However, this potential future depends on rideshare companies adopting environmental tech, rideshare users relying on green transportation, and the population as a whole forsaking personal vehicle ownership. Still, ridesharing can be incredibly eco-friendly ― if we share the effort.
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