Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rideshare: Helpful or Harmful to the Environment?

With today's ever changing world, there are more and more alternatives for people to get where they need to go.  Mass public transportation through bus routes and metro systems are not only convenient when traveling through busy cities, but also environmentally friendly.  Recently, there has been a newer trend hitting the streets: ridesharing.  Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar have begun to take their part of the public transportation marketshare.  Although these and other similar companies are still in the early stages of their inception it would seem they are headed on the right path.  We are beginning to see how they are revolutionizing and impacting the public transportation industry.  A 2001 report from the Transportation Research Board in Washington DC concluded that "organized dynamic ridesharing provides households with the opportunity to save money by reducing the number of cars they own, but without sacrificing convenience."  Moreover, these companies have the ability to employ an almost endless number of drivers who provide rides at a much lower cost than a typical taxi. 

      This new wave of transportation does however bring along its share of baggage.  Economically, there is a question of the impact on the taxi businesses, particularly in heavily saturated cities such as New York and Los Angeles.  On a larger scale, it is still unclear how it will effect the global environment.  Opponents argue that the economic impact will be devastating on local taxi drivers, and that these companies only encourage more people to drive rather than using other public transportation options.  However, advocates see hope in the situation.  As one survey study from the University of Berkeley found that while ridesharing did replace some longer public transit trips, it otherwise complimented transit.  This indeed quells fears that people will replace the use of buses and metro systems, particularly in larger cities. 
Admittedly, the most challenging part of assessing the environmental impact of rideshare companies has been the companies themselves.  The majority have refused to make all of their data public, forcing researchers to only guess at what type of results they may produce.  But consider the information as it stands: rideshare is simply an alternative to taxis.  There really should be little to no increase in the number of cars on the road considering most rideshare drivers would have been on the road anyway.  The consumer benefits from the lower cost of the fare, and the driver benefits from being compensated for services.  There is a decrease in car idling since rideshare drivers are only on the road when they are called upon, a significant difference from the taxis we see standing by on the streets. 
In a way, these companies provide a form of organized carpooling which will allow you to reach your destination while paying much less out of pocket.  Furthermore, they are not seeking to dominate the market and put public transportation off of the map.  Metro systems and bus routes will certainly continue to be an eco-friendly way to travel.  However, for the times when you are forced to take a car, remember that there is another option. The next time you're hitting the town with a group of friends, consider all pitching in for rideshare instead.  It'll save time, money, and keep a few extra cars of the streets. 

For more information on what you can do to lower emissions on the road:

-Mandy Alvarado

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