Ride-Hailing is Increasing Pollution

can be reached at nwakelin@gmail.com
can be reached at nwakelin@gmail.com
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Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are convenient, but they’re having a significant impact on air pollution, according to a report released by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). It found that deadhead miles, which are the miles driven between a drop-off and the next pick-up, are a large part of the problem.

  • Ride-hailing is increasing air pollution.
  • Deadhead miles are largely responsible.
  • Switching to electric vehicles could solve the issue.

While rides in busy areas like cities make it easier for a driver to find a new fare quickly, that’s not the case with longer trips. Driving someone from a downtown airport to their home outside the city often means travelling back into the city without a fare.

Electric vehicles offer a solution to ride-hailing pollution. (Photo: Getty Images)

Electric vehicles offer a solution

The same report shows that ride-hailing services are on average about 20 percent more efficient than the average personal car. It also found that 22 percent of rides were pooled, with passengers travelling in the same direction sharing a ride. Despite that efficiency and the carpooling efforts of riders, it’s not enough to overcome the impact of all those deadhead miles.

They add up with the report estimating that 39 percent of all ride-hailing miles traveled are deadhead miles. Choosing to drive a personal car, use public transportation, or even bike or walk when distances are shorter helps reduce harmful emissions. The ready availability of ride-hailing makes those options less attractive choices.

CARB is working to reduce ride-hailing emissions through legislation that will encourage transportation companies to opt for more efficient vehicles. Nearly 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in California currently come from the transportation sector, making it a priority if the state wants to improve air quality. The Union of Concerned Scientists believes the best solution is electric vehicles.

It analyzed date from California and determined that an EV produces the same emissions as a gas vehicle with a rating of 109 mpg. Switching all those ride-hailing vehicles to electric would mark a 75 percent emissions reduction compared to current gas-powered vehicles.

The numbers are smaller, though still impressive, if an electric replaces a hybrid with a 50 percent reduction in emissions. Figures vary slightly depending on where in the country you live due to the efficiency of the power grid used to charge those vehicles, but no matter where they looked at the data, EVs reduced emissions.

Ride-hailing vehicles cover more miles more quickly than personal vehicles. (Photo: Getty Images)

High intensity travel adds to the problem

Amplifying the effect of switching ride-hailing vehicles to electric is the number of overall miles they’re driven. A study conducted by the UC Davis National Center for Sustainable Transportation looked at the impact of high travel intensity vehicles on overall emissions numbers. It found that the emissions savings of switching these vehicles to electric is three times greater than switching the average personal vehicle.

Buying a new vehicle isn’t something that people do on a whim because cars are not cheap. That makes it a challenge for those who own ride-hailing vehicles to make the switch even with the long-term financial benefit of lower fuel costs.

The International Council on Clean Transportation looked at the potential cost savings for a ride-hailing driver who makes the switch to electric. Due to the large number of miles these vehicles cover in a comparatively short amount of time, it estimates fuel savings accrue 2 to 3 times faster than typical.

As appealing as the idea of switching ride-hailing vehicles to electric may be, there are still significant obstacles. No matter the cost savings over time, if a driver simple cannot afford to purchase an electric vehicle, then he’s not going to make the switch.

Government rebates make EVs more affordable, but that all depends on where you live and the car you purchase. California has long offered some of the most aggressive incentives in the country which, combined with federal incentives, makes EVs easier on the budget. Still, those incentives won’t help everyone and are being gradually phased out.

Additionally, the charging infrastructure and the time it takes to charge an EV are obstacles for those driving lots of miles in a short period of time. Additional chargers and fasting charging are two issues that need to be overcome before mass adoption of EVs for ride-hailing.


While ride-hailing is a convenient option, its negative environmental impact is a problem. Finding a solution to reduce emissions, including the adoption of electric vehicles, will reduce that negative impact, but only if it’s affordable and workable for drivers.

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can be reached at nwakelin@gmail.com
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