Uber sustainable or green car wash? How sustainable is the carsharing industry?

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In the last ten years, taxis went from being the quintessential form of transportation for tourists to a service that serves mainly the wealthy. With companies like Uber and Lyft challenging the way tourists travel, questions arise about the long term effects of commuting software, such as environmental impact, impact on the transportation industry of each city, and the sustainability of the business practices that are contributing to the success of these new companies.

Environmental Sustainability

Each of the various ride-hailing businesses vary in their environmental impact – companies like Blablacar that facilitate carpooling across states and countries, especially in Europe, offer flexible services, for both the driver and the passenger, that allow people to easily communicate and coordinate rides together. As a company that reduces the number of cars on the road, this is clearly a company that encourages environmental sustainability.

However, for shorter distance ride sharing, like Uber and Lyft, the benefits may be reduced. According to Lyft Co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green, all Lyft rides are now carbon neutral. This multi-million dollar investment makes Lyft, which is limited to the US, one of the top voluntary purchasers of carbon offsets in the world. Uber, which is a larger and international operation, has made no pledge to compete with this. While Lyft has demonstrated the desire to reduce their environmental impact, speculation suggests this new policy may be an attempt by Lyft to relieve criticism on the ride-hailing industry, which overall puts more cars on the road.

Due to the ease of apps like Uber and Lyft, people often opt out of public transit for an easier form of transportation that requires less effort, especially in foreign countries where public transit may be more complicated by language barriers. Uber requires drivers to have cars that are within a certain age limit, which may help the overall output of emissions from cars. However, public transit is significantly better for the environment than driving individual cars.  Uber can deter people from learning about public transit, even in areas where it is made extremely accessible, like in many European cities.

Sustainability within Cities

In December 2017, the European Court of Justice voted to consider Uber a taxi service, which would impose the same regulations across Uber drivers as for taxi drivers, as well as apply the same taxes that were otherwise avoided under the simple classification of a digital application. This ruling came after taxi strikes in Madrid and Barcelona that demanded a level playing field for taxi drivers who felt the toll of a new, unregulated form of transportation taking over the city.

Uber is now a large transportation service in over 600 cities across the globe. As with any other large corporation that brings jobs to a new city, Uber has the ability to impact the local economy. In large metropolitan areas like New York City, the portion of business taxis maintain went from 84 percent in April 2015 to 65 percent in April 2016. NYC taxi medallions, worth over one million dollars in 2014, were selling for as little as $250,000 in 2017, leaving independent taxi owners deep underwater.

Business Practices

The creators of Uber and Lyft have married the latest technology to the century old taxi industry, creating a more convenient and cost-effective method of transportation for the 21st century. Although there are many industries where the internet is not wholly necessary, finding ways to bring industries into the internet of things is one of the most modern forms of innovation. People are constantly connected to the internet through their phones, which makes companies more accessible when they find ways to increase user interface on mobile.

Internet accessibility is a step most companies are now taking due to the growing market trends on what keeps the companies in an industry going strong. In the next five years, the internet of things will continue to grow, which is a reason for Uber’s transition into the use of self-driving cars. Even after an autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Phoenix, Arizona earlier this year, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi insists that the company is completely committed to self-driving cars as they are an important technology.

Their public position is that self-driving cars will ultimately be safer than human drivers – once the technology learns enough to work out the kinks. While this may be true in the near future, the concept of technology replacing hundreds of thousands of jobs that people rely on to make ends meet across the world is concerning. Uber drivers, who make up a portion of the 10 percent of self-employed workers in the US, may be replaced, which could boost unemployment rates, further disrupting local economies.

The ride-hailing industry is changing as it adjusts to modern technology and the societal changes that come with it. Whilst it’s environmental impact is questionable, policy changes like going carbon neutral show a desire to reduce the negative effects of large numbers of cars on the road. As an international company, Uber has taken jobs from taxi drivers in metropolitan areas around the world; but their business practices continue to change as the technology learns and grows. This will hopefully lead the ride-hailing industry to a path of green technology and sustainability.

Shelly Bohorquez
Shelly Bohorquez is a writer and animal rights advocate based in Boise, ID. She has a BA in Communication from Boise State University, where she studied German and journalism. She enjoys traveling, photography and outdoor adventures. Follow her and her odd-eyed cat on Instagram @shemovesabstract

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