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Op-Ed: For Uber and Lyft, the rideshare bubble bursts


Piece by piece, the mythology around ridesharing is falling apart. Uber and Lyft promised ubiquitous self-driving cars as soon as this year. They promised an end to private car ownership. They promised to reduce congestion in the largest cities. They promised consistently affordable rides. They promised to boost public transit use. They promised profitable business models. They promised a surfeit of well-paying jobs. Heck, they even promised flying cars.

Well, none of that has gone as promised (but more about that later). Now a new study is punching a hole in another of Uber and Lyft’s promised benefits: curtailing pollution. The companies have long insisted their services are a boon to the environment in part because they reduce the need for short trips, can pool riders heading in roughly the same direction and cut unnecessary miles by, for instance, eliminating the need to look for street parking.

It turns out that Uber rides do spare the air from the high amount of pollutants emitted from starting up a cold vehicle, when it is operating less efficiently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found. But that gain is wiped out by the need for drivers to circle around waiting for or fetching their next passenger, known as deadheading. Deadheading, Lyft and Uber estimated in 2019, is equal to about 40 percent of rideshare miles driven in six American cities. The researchers at Carnegie Mellon estimated that driving without a passenger leads to a roughly 20 percent overall increase in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions compared to trips made by personal vehicles.