Is Uber Actually Good for the Environment?
January 25, 2018

Is Uber Actually Good for the Environment?By Nicole Epstein, Associate

{Read in 3:25 minutes} In 2011, the number of people using public transportation in New York City was soaring. This was also the year that Uber first entered New York City’s market. Back then, hardly anyone knew who they were. Fast forward to today, and public transit ridership levels have dramatically decreased. People have switched to Uber because of convenience: With a touch of a button on your phone, there’s a car in front of you within five minutes, ready to take you to your destination.

Because of this, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is suffering from a huge budget deficit, due in part to a rarely acknowledged fact: Every single yellow or green taxi trip in NYC includes a 50 cent MTA surcharge that’s automatically included in your total. The loss of this small amount per ride alone has created a $12 million budget deficit.

Two other beneficial mandates by law: Every single yellow and green taxi cab has to either be a) a hybrid, or b) wheelchair accessible. Meanwhile, the 90,000 Uber vehicles in New York City have no such mandates.

In 2015 when there was debate over whether Uber was harming our environment or making traffic worse, the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), which regulates the yellow taxi industry in New York City, decided they wanted to sell or auction off 2,000 new medallions. That means 2,000 new yellow taxis on the road had to go through an environmental impact study.

Somehow, for those 2,000 vehicles, it was found that there was going to be a devastating impact on traffic and pollution levels. Ironically, there are 90,000 Uber vehicles and no one says a word. What’s even more ironic is that in 2015, the NYC Mayor’s Office paid a couple of million dollars for a traffic study, done by Bruce Schaller, the former NYC Deputy Commissioner, Traffic & Planning. The study found that Uber would not have an impact on the environment.

That study, which took over a year to complete, ended up being only 12 pages long, was heavily redacted, and no one wanted to sign off on it. The whole thing was very suspicious. Everyone in the industry knew that it was a political document. And now, in 2017, Bruce Schaller says ‘Oops, hold the phone, I was wrong, Uber is causing extreme traffic and congestion and pollution.’

With Uber’s business model hinging on the ability to have a critical mass of cars constantly circling around every single corner, it makes sense that along with that comes gridlock, pollution, and other things that environmentalists would typically be concerned about — but have surprisingly been silent on.