Uber’s environmental impact in Europe revealed

The true environmental cost of Uber and similar app-based taxi services has been laid bare by T&E. Based on data compiled by Euromonitor, T&E estimates that in Paris and London alone Uber has been responsible for 515 kilotonnes of CO2 in the few years since it started operating those cities, equivalent to adding the CO2 emissions of an extra 250,000 cars. A new international coalition has been formed to fight a #TrueCostOfUber campaign.

Uber report cover image - Rue de la Loi Brussels traffic

The American ride-hailing company has revolutionised the taxi and private vehicle hire market in the 10 years it has been operating. Its model in Europe of digitally matching professional drivers with riders, coupled with fare estimates communicated in advance, and the ability to provide feedback on drivers’ services, has offered people in cities around the world a more convenient alternative to traditional taxi companies, some of which operate with poor reputations. But only now is the environmental cost of Uber becoming clear.

Fears that Uber has been increasing road traffic in the cities where it operates, and taking people off public transport, were confirmed in a couple of American studies. One study found that companies like Uber and Lyft added 5.7 billion miles (9.2bn km) of driving. Some 60% of Uber and Lyft users said they would have walked, cycled or used public transport if Uber/Lyft had not been available. Other research found that in some of the US cities where ride-hailing is most popular – Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago – the number of vehicles has grown faster than the population

The evidence that Uber and Lyft add to traffic and congestion levels has been growing for some time, but T&E’s analysis is the first attempt to assess the emissions impact of the Uber trend in Europe. Since Uber’s arrival in London, its biggest European market, taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) trips have increased by roughly 25% in the city. This strongly correlates with a 23% increase in overall CO2 emissions for the taxi and PHV sector in the UK in the same period.

What is worse, most of the additional kilometres (90%) driven by Uber and equivalent drivers in France are done in diesel-fuelled cars, exacerbating air pollution in cities.

T&E’s expert on new mobility Yoann Le Petit said: ‘Uber has been a great business success story because it has shaken up a traditional industry that hadn’t changed much over the years. But it’s now abundantly clear that this business model is adding to the problem of climate change and air pollution. Uber’s chief executive tells us his company “does the right thing, period”, so if he wants to do the right thing now, Uber must stop using petrol and diesel cars and rapidly shift to 100% electric vehicles.’

As much of the assessment of Uber and Lyft has come from the US where the companies began in 2009 and 2012, T&E launched its data analysis together with the American NGO, the Sierra Club. Both are members of a new coalition leading a #TrueCostOfUber campaign, aimed at telling concerned citizens and city authorities that Uber needs to address its emissions in order to operate in cities across Europe and the US. The coalition includes NGOs from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany, a country which Uber is targeting for expansion.

The campaign’s specific aim is for Uber to ensure that all its vehicles operating in European cities will be zero-emission by 2025. Uber has already started a transition to e-vehicles in London, prompted by the city’s low-emissions zone. The Sierra Club has started a petition as a call for Uber and Lyft to ‘clean up their act’.

• Uber is already in trouble in London, having had its licence to operate revoked after authorities found that more than 14,000 trips were taken with drivers who had faked their identity on the Uber app.. The London transport authority TfL said the false identities put passengers’ safety at risk. Uber has appealed the decision, and is allowed to continue operating while the appeal is being considered.