In 2017 there were 159 million rideshare trips in New York City- with 66 million coming solely from Manhattan. In the same time period, globally, Uber facilitated four billion rides and created a $6 billion business with Uber Eats. This new influx of transport options has not gone without controversy, with rideshare companies being blamed for increased levels of traffic congestion in major cities, which leads to increases in pollution and carbon emissions and a decrease in public health.
These companies aren’t going anywhere any time soon and have cemented themselves within the global infrastructure. Efforts to curtail the amounts of drivers able to work for rideshare companies, limitations on hours, and even so far as Lyft’s self imposed offer to purchase carbon offset credits, are all examples of efforts to reign in the new technology of on demand ride hailing. It is clear that technology has gotten ahead of regulation when it comes to ridesharing, and as these companies near their anniversary for a decade of existence, it is also clear that they are in deep need of an update to our current climate reality.
When Uber and Lyft were founded, they were considered upstarts challenging the status quo of the much entrenched taxi industry. There is absolutely no feasible way to consider these companies as upstarts anymore. They are both filed to go public, have more money available to them than potentially ever in the history of corporations, and have blown their local competition of taxi medallions out of the water. At some estimates, when both of these companies go public, there will be 10,000+ more millionaires in San Francisco— alone. These companies are the new status quo.
So how does all of this relate back to climate change?
If these companies are the new status quo, then they should act like it. It is an unavoidable fact that extreme climate change is happening, and that global corporations are a monumental perpetuator of the existential crisis that is currently facing the entirety of Earth.
At least with Uber, this is a company that has had to spend untold amounts of money, undergo numerous executive departures, and even changed their logo to seem more friendly. While historically less cutthroat, Lyft is also a company that really, really, wants you to think that they’re just your friendly neighborhood cab— despite the fact that they’re suing New York City over the city’s decision to make rideshare companies pay a minimum wage.
This is all to say that these companies clearly care about their public image, and have (since their inception) garnered enough economic standing to make global economic decisions. Elon Musk recently mused that Tesla’s mere existence speeds up the transition to the ideal of sustainable transport by at least 10 years. This makes total sense, given that when Tesla started out, oil and gas companies were actively lobbying electric cars out of existence. If Uber and Lyft gave their riders an option to filter their trips in a way that they only took their rideshare trips in electric vehicles, this could incentivize a similar electric acceleration in the rideshare market.
66% of global consumers, and an astonishing 73% of millenials have reported that they would spend more money on sustainable products in comparison to less eco-friendly products of the same type. While an ‘Electric Only’ option might not be necessarily more expensive, there’s a chance for it to be slower. This could be a stretch of the imagination, but since time is money (or as the idiom goes), rideshare passengers might not mind the extra few minutes at pick-up, it they know that their trips are lessening the burden on the environment.
Neigh-sayers will say that electric cars still need electricity from somewhere, and that the majority of that electricity comes from non-renewable resources. This is true in one sense, that both ends need to be renewable for an electric car to be fully sustainable, but it is also usually a disingenuous attack. As more and more renewable energy capacity comes online, that electricity needs to go somewhere, and if a global rideshare corporation was to set a goal of having more riders go electric, then it very much stands to reason that is we can incentivize a transition— we should.
In conclusion, the argument boils down to this: are global corporations going to step up and take the climate crisis head on? In the case of rideshare companies, they have a potential to expedite the shift to electric transport. They currently aren’t doing much about this gleaming opportunity, despite setting mountains of cash on fire subsidizing the actual trips that they sell. If these companies really want to consider themselves the companies of the future, then they should better realize the reality of climate change.