Ride Sharing May Seem Convenient—But What Is It Really Costing The Earth?

December 18, 2017
Ride Sharing May Seem Convenient—But What Is It Really Costing The Earth?

Next time you jump in that Uber, pause to consider whether the green you’re saving is costing the green planet.

End of year normally means a spike in one’s social calendar for a solid week or more, occasionally spilling into January for the holiday-agnostic. Companies decide to give their employees a boost with some free hors-d’oeuvres and drinks that, when taken advantage of strategically, can even seem to compensate for low wages. Likewise, the hostesses and hosts rise to the occasion, primping even the smallest of spaces with fragrant boughs and sparkles that transform frigid nights into warm memories. It’s a great time to see people we don’t normally in a new light, or even at all, but as the song goes, holiday outings can seem like they take you over the river and through the woods a bit more often that one would like.

Uber and other ride-sharing services seem to be made for this time of year, allowing people safe and accessible modes of transportation when decision-making capacities may be impaired…ahem. Getting a Lyft (pardon the pun) home no longer requires a designated driver or intricate coordination between friends for optimal travel routes. It’s not even an issue of cost since these services often compete with traditional taxis or even public transportation; for me in NYC, the $3 or so I would save by taking the subway instead of a car seems a fair price for avoiding the crowded and delayed underground system.

Surge Pricing the Planet: What's the True Cost of Uber et al on the Environment?

Such was the rationale I used when I mindlessly pulled out my phone the other night following an office holiday party. We’d been blanketed by a surprise snowfall all that day, and in the frigid temperatures, the thin layer of half-shoveled snow was quickly icing over. The two avenues I would have had to walk to the subway, and the six more to get home at the other end, seemed awfully far all of a sudden. A car was a much wiser option, and in a few minutes, a shiny, black, luxury SUV pulled up just for me—a car that got me home in half the time as the train–and one I’d never consider ever owning myself

Sounds like a win-win situation, no? Comfort and ease of access are of course among the biggest selling points of ride shares, but as with most things that seem fast—fast fashion, miracle detox diets, WiFi devices—that speed comes with unseen costs that slow everything down under the surface. We’re all familiar with the human costs of these companies—nearly every day there are new reports of abuse among riders and drivers who don’t receive proper compensation or treatment.  And there’s yet another way we can get hooked on our phones in order to function in a way people used to by pure instinct (ie, figuring out which direction to go and going).

One of the lesser discussed costs of more people in cars is that which the earth pays in absorbing more carbon emissions. With Uber in 633 countries and counting, aside from competitors’ vehicles, there is simply an increase in vehicles on the road no matter how you count. In July, Uber recorded an average of 289,000 rides each day compared with 277,000 taxi trips. In October of this year, The New York Times also got special access to Uber’s stats in 50 sample residential areas throughout the boroughs that normally don’t have access to subways and busses; Uber “made a total of 167,194 weekly pickups in these areas in August, nearly triple the 56,721 weekly pickups from the year before.” And as of last January (2017), there were more than 46,000 cars in NYC connected to a ride-sharing company.

Transportation is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and in the U.S., 89 percent of that emission comes from cars directly. On average, a passenger car emits 4.7 metric tons of CO2 per year—which means more for an SUV like those used for multiple passenger riders. Simple math tells us that the more fuel-guzzling cars there are on the road, that much more CO2 eeks into the air per year, adding to the stress in our atmosphere.


It felt like a cruel irony to be complaining about a typically snowy night in December by supporting one of the threats to winter’s future. Were the ten minutes of mild discomfort I’d have endured by walking to the subway worth not having the snow—or the island city where I live—exist? I’ll choose the slower route, thank you—and make the next walk home at night in the snow one where I appreciate the beauty of nature instead of blazing through and around it, head bowed to a machine instead of turned up to the sky.


Also by Jennifer: I Tried A Life Without Plastic For One Week & It Was Eye-Opening

Related: Is Your Bank Funding Atrocities? 3 Reasons To Switch Plus Where To Put Your Money

PSA: One Super Simple Way You Can Fight Climate Change & Desertification At Your Desk

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Features Editor Jennifer Kurdyla is a New York City girl with Jersey roots and a propensity for getting lost in the urban jungle. An experienced publishing professional, yoga instructor, home chef, sometimes-runner, and writer, she adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in 2008 and became vegan in 2013. She has written for The Harvard Review Online, The Rumpus, and Music & Literature and maintains a wellness-based website, Be Nourished, which features original writing and recipes. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram @jenniferkurdyla, Twitter @jenniferkurdyla, and Pinterest.


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