Ride-Hailing is a Problem for the Climate. Here's Why.

Published Feb 25, 2020

Ride-Hailing is a Problem for the Climate. Here's Why.

What if we could live our lives without being tethered to owning a car?

In 2020, getting around without the hassles and expenses of individual car ownership is becoming more plausible. For those who do own cars, there are many reasons to leave your car at home and use either public transportation, a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft, or a combination of both. Maybe you’re traveling for work and don’t want to drive to the airport or deal with parking expenses. On that same business trip, maybe the ease and economy of cutting out a car rental are appealing. Maybe you don’t want to deal with traffic, parking, or navigating around an unknown place. Maybe you’re concerned about the environmental impacts of car emissions and want to lessen your carbon footprint.

Whatever the reason, leaving your car at home—or not owning one in the first place—can offer a lot of benefits. But according to a groundbreaking UCS analysis, it also comes with a cost.

The impact of ride-hailing services

As humans, we crave mobility and are wired to choose what’s most convenient while seeking the path of least resistance. These inclinations are behind the exponential growth rates ride-hailing companies are experiencing. In the US, ride-hailing services now provide far more trips than taxis. On a typical day, Uber completes nearly 14 million trips; in 2018, Lyft celebrated one billion rides.

With odometers running day and night around the globe, it’s hard not to think about what those many, many miles mean for our environment, and what impact they’re having on our changing climate. Today, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While it’s tempting to think of ride-hailing services as a climate-friendly option, our analysis shows that ride-hailing trips today are about 69 percent more polluting than the types of trips they are replacing.

Why is that?

There are a couple of reasons. One is a phenomenon known as deadheading: the miles driven with no passengers in the car. This occurs quite often between dropping off Passenger A at the airport and picking up Passenger B who may be several miles away. As a result, a non-pooled ride-hailing trip on average produces almost 50 percent more carbon emissions than the same trip in a privately-owned car.

However, ride-hailing trips are not just taking the place of car trips—they’re also displacing other lower-carbon modes of transportation like walking, biking, and transit. When these are accounted for, the average ride-hailing trip produces an estimated 69 percent more emissions than the trips it replaces.

That’s right: while these services represent a major shift in the way we get around and offer real convenience for consumers, our analysis of the data shows that ride-hailing companies are increasing climate pollution.

Solutions

In light of our findings, we recommend that ride-hailing companies and policymakers begin to make smart choices that will minimize the negative climate impacts of ride-hailing services, especially as policymakers are struggling to keep up with the fast growth and changes ride-hailing companies are bringing.

So, what solutions will help alleviate some of these problems? The good news is that pooling trips and accelerating the transition to electric vehicles can?reduce emissions. Compared to an average private car trip, a pooled ride-hailing trip has similar emissions; an electric ride-hailing trip can cut emissions?by?about 50 percent; and an electric and pooled ride-hailing trip can reduce emissions by nearly 70 percent.??Consumers can do their part too: if you use ride-hailing services, you can push these companies and your local policymakers to do better.

Key findings

  • Ride-hailing trips have a much higher carbon impact than the trips they replace—the average ride-hailing trip produces an estimated 69 percent more carbon emissions than the trips it replaces.
  • Compared to a private car trip, a non-pooled ride-hailing trip produces about 47 percent more carbon emissions.
  • A pooled ride-hailing trip shared between two passengers is similar in emissions to a private vehicle trip, and about 33 percent lower polluting than a non-pooled ride-hailing trip.
  • Electrifying ride-hailing vehicles would dramatically improve the climate emissions of ride-hailing trips. An electric ride-hailing trip would cut emissions by about 50 percent compared to a private vehicle trip; a pooled, electric ride-hailing trip would lower emissions by nearly 70 percent compared to a private vehicle trip (or about 79 percent compared with a non-pooled ride-hailing trip).
  • On average, bus and rail travel have lower carbon emissions than car travel in either a private vehicle or in a pooled or non-pooled ride-hailing vehicle. However, using ride-hailing to connect to transit can be a good low-carbon choice. For example, a pooled ride-hailing trip connecting to the train, where the ride-hailing trip is a quarter of the total trip length, can be more than 50 percent less polluting than a private vehicle trip.

Related resources