Studies say Uber and Lyft offload soft costs on drivers and communities

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As the average cost of a ride on Uber, Lyft and other “rideshare” services has risen over the years, it has become clear that these companies were not entirely clear about their business models. Now some studies show that even investor-subsidized prices don’t tell the whole story, the cost of which is borne by drivers and communities.

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One study is from Carnegie Mellon University, which analyzed some of the less obvious costs and benefits of transportation network companies (TNC, the preferred term in public and academic documents).

For example, after collecting a variety of data on the activity of TNC cars and users, researchers found that rideshare vehicles contribute less per ride to air pollution. That’s because, as lead writer Jeremy Michalek explains in a university news release, “When a vehicle is first started, it produces high levels of harmful air pollution until its pollution control system heats up enough for it to be effective.”


Since rideshare vehicles usually don’t require a cold start for a given ride, and newer cars are generally lower emissions, it is estimated that a TNC trip produces about half as much pollutants as yours. Travel done in personal car. This equates to an average of about 11 cents worth in their estimate.

Good news, isn’t it? one of a kind. The problem is that while the car may be more efficient in that specific way, the practice of “deadheading” (driving aimlessly or idling between jobs) and the need to drive to a pickup location largely wipes out those benefits. . Then when you’re not technically being “used” to the increased traffic from cars, even when on the road, accidents, noise, etc., you end up with an estimated 45 cents per trip in cost to the community in general. There are. So there is a net increase in cost per ride of about 34 cents – a cost that is paid for by taxes or in a lower quality of life.

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image credit: CMU

The researchers suggest using pool rides or mass transit whenever possible – although these have their drawbacks in times of pandemic. Electrification of the fleet will help, but also has huge immediate and long-term costs.

The drivers themselves are also bearing the burden of this “decentralized” industry. In a survey conducted among unionized drivers in Seattle, Marisa Baker of the University of Washington found that most felt they received little or no support from the companies they work for.

Nearly everyone was concerned about COVID-19, apparently, and 30 percent thought they had already caught it. Most had lost income, not surprisingly, and had spent their money on PPE – less than a third said they would get masks or sanitizers from the company. And those who stopped driving during the pandemic reported having trouble receiving unemployment benefits. Drivers in Seattle in particular are highly black male, and often immigrant, groups that face complex challenges of their own.

“For workers who are in this kind of employment during the pandemic, they get little support from the companies they drive for, and this is a population that had a very high awareness of the potential risks,” Baker said in release with study. Drivers in Seattle are lucky that extra security isn’t available in many cities, so it could be worse for people in other locations. (delivery drivers were found last year facing many of the same problems.)

These studies are only a glimpse at the hidden costs and soft economics of the “gig economy”. Consumers often hear a version of these things from companies seeing themselves through rose-tinted glasses, so independent investigation, whether it’s just a survey or a rough estimate of unspecified costs and behavior, is incredibly valuable. .

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