As ridesharing companies attempt to reshape the way we travel, the potential upsides for society seem innumerable. For example, fewer cars on the road could reduce emissions, fewer overall miles traveled could reduce congestion, and personal vehicle ownership could become a thing of the past.
But a new Carnegie Mellon study finds that transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft are negatively impacting traffic, noise pollution, and vehicle emissions so much that a private car may be a better option.
The main problem with TNCs is ‘deadheading,’ the miles a rideshare vehicle drives without passengers. According to a 2018 report from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), 38.5% of TNC distance traveled is with the driver alone in the vehicle. The Carnegie Mellon study finds deadhead miles cancel out any environmental benefits gained by reducing private vehicle cold starts. By traveling alone, rideshare drivers increase fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 20%. TNCs also increase traffic congestion, vehicle crashes, and noise pollution by up to 60%.
Pooled rides prove less detrimental, but long wait times, roundabout routes, and privacy concerns lead most consumers to choose exclusive rides over pooled services.
By electrifying their vehicle fleets, the study says TNCs like Uber and Lyft can eliminate much of their negative environmental impact. Currently, Uber is encouraging its drivers to transition to electric vehicles by 2025 with a Green Future program that offers up to $800 per vehicle to buy an EV. In addition, Lyft has committed to a 100% electrified fleet by 2030. These programs are imperative for Uber and Lyft to comply with California’s Clean Miles Standard, which calls for all TNCs to operate zero-emission fleets by 2030.
With additional EVs entering the market, Uber and Lyft drivers and consumers alike will have plenty of options. Mainstream automakers such as General Motors and Ford are aggressively rolling out new electrified vehicles, while luxury brands Jaguar and Volvo have already committed to fully electrified lineups by 2025.