Sustainability Climate Change

Study: Uber, Lyft generate more pollution than trips they displace


Story at a glance

  • The report attributes the increase to “deadheading,” the time the vehicles travel in between trips with passengers.
  • The study says ride-hailing trips also replace modes of transportation such as biking, walking and public transportation.
  • Lyft pushed back against the report, calling it misleading and incomplete.

A new report claims ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are contributing more to daily carbon emissions than the transportation they replace.

The analysis released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists claims ride-hailing trips result in an estimated 69 percent more climate pollution on average and can increase congestion during peak periods. 

The study says the reason is due to “deadheading,” the miles a vehicle travels without passengers between hired rides, which result in much of the emissions and congestion.

Researchers estimated emissions from private car trips, using average trip length and fuel economy, and compared it to estimated trip distance for ride-hailed rides.

The study also notes that ride-hailing services not only replace private car trips, but also trips where people would have walked, biked or taken public transportation. 

The report also lays out a bunch of recommendations for ride-hailing companies and policymakers, saying if Uber and Lyft increased pooling and electric car use they could become greener than the modes of transportation they replace. 

“While ride-hailing trips today are higher emitting than other types of trips, we were encouraged by the fact that they can be significantly lower polluting with efforts to electrify and pool rides,” Don Anair, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Transportation program, said. 

“This outlook could be positive with some concrete steps by the companies to move forward, as well as policymakers to support that,” Anair said.

Uber and Lyft both have a variety of sustainability and electrification programs, and Lyft pushed back against the methodology of the study, calling it “misleading.” 

“This report, like many before it, makes misleading claims about rideshare,” a Lyft spokesperson said, according to the Verge. “Lyft encourages the use of shared rides, was the first rideshare company to put public transit information into our app, and last year, made one of the largest single deployments of electric vehicles in the nation.”

Meanwhile, Uber pointed to its own ongoing efforts to cut emissions. 

“To unlock the opportunities we have to reduce emissions, we will continue to invest in products and advocate for policies that reduce car ownership, promote more pooled trips and support greater adoption of bikes, scooters, green vehicles and the use of public transit,” an Uber spokesperson told the Verge