Uber, Lyft vs. Climate Change

by Alexandra Pacurar

The two ride-hailing giants have recently restated their commitment to sustainability, after the Union of Concerned Scientists published a report on how ride-sharing services are increasing overall carbon emissions. So, what are Uber and Lyft doing to reduce the effects of climate change?

The USC’s report on the risks of ride-hailing’s climate risks highlights the fact that a typical trip is about 69 percent more polluting than the trips it replaces—mainly public transportation, biking or driving. At the same time, the UCS estimates that a non-pooled ride-hailing trip generates about 47 percent greater emissions than does a private car trip in a vehicle of average fuel efficiency. This further questions the sustainable efficiency of ride-sharing, which was expected to lead to fewer cars the roads.

Still, this matters even less considering that as much as 40 percent of all miles driven by Uber and Lyft across six major U.S. cities were without passengers, according to a joint study released by the two companies last year.

In response to the data, Uber outlined its goal to be part of the solution and work with cities for a “low carbon transportation future,” while Lyft representatives claimed the research was “misleading,” since it did not include any reference to what the company did do for sustainability and did not mention that ride-sharing emissions are just a small part of the transportation pollution problem. The report included a few recommendations and solutions for operators to reduce their emissions. For example, offering incentives for riders to choose more pooled trips, creating a fully electric fleet, displacing single-occupancy car trips more often and encouraging low-emissions modes such as mass transit, biking and walking.

As a response to that last recommendation, a Lyft spokesperson mentioned that this was the first ride-share app to provide its users with public transit information. Actually, when Lyft was founded, in 2012, it was based on the concept of reducing the use of personal cars. Since then, it took several steps towards sustainability. In 2017, together with Uber, state and local government organizations and other major corporations, it signed the “We Are Still In” declaration—a pledge to uphold the U.S. carbon emissions reduction goals set by the Paris climate agreement after President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw the country’s commitment. That same year, the firm announced that it planned to make its fleet autonomous and electric by 2025.

In 2018, Lyft promised to offset the carbon emissions of every ride around the world, making all its rides carbon neutral and making the company one of the largest voluntary purchasers of carbon offsets in the world. In 2019, Lyft launched 200 long-range electric vehicles into its Denver Express Drive rental program, created for drivers who want to join the company but need a car. This was one of the largest EV deployments in the country, and company representatives outlined the fact that the move was made possible by the “forward-thinking policy in Colorady, where state and local leaders are accelerating EV adoption by improving existing EV incentive programs to allow ride-share rental programs to participate at scale.”

At the same time, Lyft is ramping up the expansion of its e-bike and e-scooter businesses. At the end of last year, the ride-share giant announced it will expand its e-bike fleet with 4,000 vehicles by the end of spring in San Francisco alone.

Lyft also has a dedicated online platform named Lyft Impact that is focused exclusively on the company’s sustainability efforts. It also restates the firm’s mission to fight climate change through partnerships and active collaborations meant to redesign cities by putting people first, not cars.

Uber launched its Green program in 2016, which offers rides in all-electric or hybrid cars in select cities. In 2019, the company announced its Clean Air Plan for London. The goal is to make every car on the app electric by 2025 and for this it will be charging a fee of 15 pence ($0.19) per mile for all rides in London. Speaking of fees, Uber just announced that it will increase prices for trips in city centers to decrease congestion. The project will be launched in 10 U.S. cities—Charlotte, Phoenix, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Honolulu, Cleveland, Charleston, Richmond, Nashville and Grand Rapids. Here, rates will rise by about 5 percent for trips starting in city centers and decrease by about 10 percent for those starting in outer areas. The fees will apply to both driver earnings and passenger fares.

Uber also commuted to investing in products and lobby for policies that reduce the use of personal cars and promote pooled trips. Currently, about 20 percent of Uber trips are pooled where the option is available. So, maybe a first step would be expanding the availability of the option. The company is also pumping money into its electric bike and scooter business—JUMP. Just recently, it unveiled new, more reliable scooter models that are made to last longer, further reducing this branch’s emissions, which are linked to production and maintenance.