Sharing the road to a greener transportation future

Every year, Earth Day reminds us to think about our individual environmental impact — including how we travel. If we take the 1.2 billion people living in 35 of the most developed countries (OECD) alone, they cover more than 11 trillion miles (17.7 trillion kilometers) every year. That’s the same distance as making more than one thousand round trips to Pluto. What’s more, eighty percent of those miles were traveled by car (1). Given the considerable costs and environmental consequences of all of this transit, it’s no surprise that cities and governments around the world are increasingly seeking ways to reduce personal, fossil fueled car use.

At Uber, we are are committed to driving sustainable transportation and finding solutions that can green our lifestyles and our cities.

We applaud the efforts of cities and governments who focus on reducing our dependence on personal, fossil fueled cars and increasing the use of shared and active transportation modes, including walking and biking. In celebration of Earth Day, we encourage people everywhere to walk, bike and take mass transit or other shared transportation options.

Going Lightly: A Green Mobility Ladder

At Uber, we support cities’ efforts to drive more trips up the Green Mobility Ladder. To get there, we consider the average climate impact of every mile (kilometer) traveled by mode.

The Cost of Personal Cars

Just as the invention of the personal car had an fundamental impact on mobility in the 20th century, new mobility revolutions will reshape 21st century living. These trends also have the potential to help us meet future mobility and mass urbanization demand without further sacrificing our environment.

The consequences of our current transportation system to the climate cannot be understated. According to a growing number of prominent sources, (e.g. from IPCC, ITF, IEA, ICCT and EIA) transportation emissions account for up to a quarter of worldwide energy-related carbon footprint. When you zoom in and look at city-level figures, transportation can account for a third to half of the urban carbon footprint. Fossil fueled cars consume more than 60% of total transportation related energy and contribute the greatest climate burden of all road users.

While climate change affects everyone everywhere, local air pollution — including oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter — poses more direct human health hazards. Too often urban air pollution disproportionately affects children, the elderly and communities of color. The World Health Organization names air pollution as the single greatest health risk to humans and reports 3.7 million premature deaths per year due to outdoor air pollution. Once again, emissions from personal vehicles are a key culprit and can account for 50 to as high as 90 percent of urban air pollution, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. According to Transport & Environment, in London, England, private, gas fueled vehicles cause 80% of particulate matter and 46% of all oxides of nitrogen emissions.

Changing How We Travel

Helping people shift away from individual, fossil fueled car use is essential to establishing a more sustainable transportation future. At Uber, we want to help cities drive more trips up the Green Mobility Ladder (see above). We’re encouraged by early indications that some riders are reconsidering car use all together, such as a Pew Research Center study showing that the more Americans use ride-hailing apps the less likely they are to own a car. A European study by ORB International found that over two-thirds of ridesharing app users who own multiple vehicles think these services could be an alternative to owning a car.

The vast majority of the 1.2 billion consumer cars on the road are built with fossil fuel burning engines and are generally used for personal, single occupancy trips. In car dominated societies such as the US, personal car owners typically leave their vehicle parked 95% of the time and generally drive alone. To illustrate the inefficiency of this preferred form of transport, at any given moment, personal vehicles globally could be driving around with 200 million seats left empty (2), all while consuming more than half of the global oil supply.

Uber’s platform fundamentally seeks to help drivers everywhere turn their personal car into a shared one, to make it easier for riders to fill empty seats and create shared journeys. Today, over 3 million drivers around the world actively share their cars with more than 75 million riders on our platform.

Getting even fuller cars is the next key step to helping more people move with fewer cars. We’re working to get more people into additional empty seats with product innovations such as POOL, ExpressPool, XL and features like Split-Fare and Multiple Destination Trips. These efforts can add up. For example, the collective efforts of 37 million riders taking POOL trips last year, and their drivers, may have helped cities avoid as many as 314 million vehicle miles. If POOL riders had taken those trips in personal cars instead, they would have emitted around 82,000 more metric tons of greenhouse gases (3). For a sense of scale, it would take Yosemite National Park a month and a half to absorb that much carbon emission. Clearly, drivers and riders can deliver substantial positive impact in their cities by pooling.

Greening Every Mile

When drivers realize even minor fuel savings with each mile they travel, the potential for efficiency gains magnifies with the many passengers they can move. Research shows that our platform increases the movement of people while minimizing that of vehicles by nearly 40% over alternative point-to-point services.

Uber applauds the efforts of drivers working to save on fuel and manage their vehicles safely and efficiently. We especially cheer on those who go even further to upgrade to higher efficiency vehicles, including alternative fuel, hybrid and even electric cars. Last year, 6% of all miles on our U.S. network were driven in hybrid electric cars nationwide, which is significant given that only 2%-3% of cars sold nationwide are hybrids.

We continue to expand our efforts to assist drivers seeking more efficient vehicle options. We’re working with non-profit and commercial partners around the world on more than a dozen Uber EV (electric vehicle) pilots. While electrifying shared mobility services poses significant challenges, we’re focused on finding ways to unlock the enormous potential environmental benefits of these technologies. In fact, the International Transport Forum, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have found that when shared and electric mobility are properly combined, along with automation, we can shrink the number of vehicles on the road by 90% or more and reduce transportation’s climate footprint by as much as 80% from today’s levels.

Learn more about our EV-related pilots around the world: Amman, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Dubai, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Munich, Paris, Pittsburgh, Portland, Salt Lake City, and Zurich

Supporting Sustainable Solutions

In dense urban areas and key travel corridors, the easiest and greenest way to travel is often public transit. Research from UITP shows that increasing the share of trips in cities served by transit can significantly reduce per capita climate emissions. While there are approximately 20 cities in the world whose public transit systems achieve more than 40% of all local trips, most transit agencies are looking for new ways to fill empty bus and train seats.

Research from the American Public Transit Association shows that the more people use ridesharing services, the more they take transit. That’s why we’re working with transit agencies and advocates to build first-and-last mile partnership solutions that help connect commuters with mass transit. We are also partnering with the International Association of Public Transportation (UITP), which has represented the interests of public transportation around the world for more than 135 years. Just last week we announced a partnership with Masabi, the global leader in public transit mobile ticketing, to let riders book and use transit tickets in our app. Working together, we believe we can find more ways to get people out of their personal car and use a combination of shared transportation options.

Walking and biking remain the greenest, and healthiest, ways to get from A to B in cities by a wide margin. While these means of travel may not work for everyone at all times, we continue to look for ways to encourage active transportation modes. For instance, with ExpressPool riders pay less, walk more and help increase pooling efficiency. Since ExpressPool’s launch in 8 cities in the United States over the last several months, riders have already completed more than 1.4 million kilometers of walking, a distance close to 2 roundtrip journeys to the moon. Our recent expansion of Uber Bike provided by JUMP means more riders and Eats couriers have new active options for moving around cities.

Cities for People, Not Cars

Ultimately, we see the shift from fossil fueled, personal vehicle usage towards more shared and active transportation modes as part of a larger transformation. This is a change that innovative cities around the world have been pioneering for decades: designing where we live for people rather than cars.

We signed on to the Shared Mobility Principles to join a coalition of nonprofit and commercial partners committed to more human-centric and sustainable urban design. We recognize this is just the beginning and we have a long way to go to learn how we can help cities who have faced these challenges for a long time. We’re excited to work with cities everywhere to bring new tools to the long standing and important effort of greening our lifestyles and mobility.

END NOTES

(1) Including other light-duty vehicles, such as trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs)

(2) Thanks for checking our math: here we assume 5% of the 1.2 billion cars around the world are on the road at any given time, with each having at least 3 empty seats (e.g. according to the US Department of Transportation’s 2017 National Household Travel Survey, about 60% of miles driven in the US are by a solo-drivers) and round up to the nearest hundred million.

(3) Again, calculations depends on assumptions. These numbers are estimates of the additional impact that would have occurred if every Pool rider had instead taken a trip by driving themselves in an average personal car instead of riding together in fewer vehicles, adjusting for the extra blocks we routed drivers to pick up additional riders. Vehicle fuel economy assumptions and climate impact information were sourced from GFEI and the US EPA, respectively.

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Adam Gromis

Adam Gromis

Adam is Uber’s global lead on sustainability and environmental impact with the Policy & Communications team, based in San Francisco.