Ridesharing apps are gaining in popularity, both for those who need cheap, safe transportation and those who could use the extra few bucks that driving for a ridesharing company can bring in. But can using rideshares, instead of owning your own car, reduce your carbon footprint? Research suggests that it can.
Of course, the best way to reduce the carbon footprint of your transportation needs is to avoid using a car at all, and walking, biking or busing to more of your destinations.
But the convenience, ease and low price point of ride sharing is encouraging some people to ditch their personal cars or not to buy one in the first place. And it’s not just individual riders who are making the difference — Lyft has been carbon-neutral for almost a year, and as ridesharing companies fold more autonomous and electric cars into their fleets, harmful emissions will continue to decrease.
Skip the Traffic Jam
According to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, transportation is the top cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s sat in traffic; traffic congestion in the U.S. alone accounts for the waste of 3 billion gallons of fuel each year.
Congestion is a major cause of carbon emissions, especially because many of those cars stuck in traffic every day contain only one occupant: the driver.
Ridesharing apps allow commuters to carpool, with drivers able to transport between two and four people at one time.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has found that just 3,000 standard-sized, four-passenger cars could cover 98 percent of the demand for taxis in New York City, with riders waiting an average of 2.7 minutes for each ride. That would take 11,000 taxis off the road in New York City, a number that would significantly reduce both emissions and congestion.
CSAIL researchers hope to do more than reduce traffic congestion and improve carbon emissions; they’re also working on solutions to common transportation problems, like rideshare software that would change routes and redirect cars in real time to make service up to 20 percent faster.
MIT’s new algorithm can reroute cars to areas with high demand or alter routes based on incoming ride requests.
Ridesharing lowers carbon emissions from cars, especially when riders carpool. A single rider hailing a ride may not reduce emissions, especially if they would have driven their own car anyway. But when two or more riders share, that’s at least one other car that’s not on the road because of ridesharing.
In fact, ridesharing is encouraging some commuters to give up personal car ownership altogether. While the end of car ownership may be a few years off, one study has found that 2 to 5 percent of ride- and carsharing users sell their personal cars because it’s easier, cheaper and more convenient to use a shared car. Seven to 10 percent more have refrained from buying a car at all, for the same reasons.
While that doesn’t seem like a huge number of people giving up car ownership, it amounts to removing more than 28,000 cars from the road — and those are cars that won’t be sitting idling in traffic, wasting gas to transport a single person to and from a destination. And, while individual drivers aren’t adopting electric vehicles at a stellar rate, ridesharing services are already deploying fleets of electric or driverless cars in cities around the country.
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Lyft’s new Green Mode lets riders specifically request a hybrid or electric car. And, as autonomous vehicle technology advances, autonomous vehicles capable of transporting larger numbers of people — think 10 or more — will cut down even further on transportation-related emissions.
The transportation sector is the biggest culprit when it comes to CO2 emissions in the United States – trucks, trains, cars, planes and boats emit 1.9 billion tons of CO2 each year. But ridesharing offers individual commuters another option for reducing their carbon footprint, even in communities where public transportation infrastructure isn’t as robust.
By taking more cars off the road, and encouraging more widespread adoption of electric and autonomous vehicles, ridesharing can help slash carbon emissions related to transportation without turning anyone into a shut-in.