Researchers examine Uber’s environmental impact

A study at UC-Berkeley will compare ride-sharing services like Uber with other forms of transportation.

by Eliana Schreiber

Uber and Lyft can offer a cheap ride home, but researchers are looking into what ridesharing services are costing the environment.


As part of an effort to better understand the environmental and societal impacts of transportation, both companies are helping conduct a survey among their riders. The study will collect data about why riders used the service and how they would have taken the trip without a rideshare platform, said Principal Investigator Susan Shaheen, a civil and environmental engineering adjunct professor at the University of California-Berkeley.


Though Uber and Lyft will administer the survey, they aren’t funding it, said Amanda Eaken, deputy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Urban Solutions and Sustainable Communities, Energy and Transportation Program, which is a partner of the project.


Researchers will also observe when users made the trip, their starting point and destination, trip distance, number of passengers and riders’ proximity to public transit, Shaheen said.


She said investigators will also use the data to understand how services can be improved for users.


“This understanding will also put us in the position to understand what kind of recommendations might be made to make those services even more environmentally impactful,” she said.


She said the team also wants to find out how ridesharing impacts car ownership and public transit.


Accounting and finance senior Shanice Gozali said she uses Uber about once a month and prefers it over public transportation because it’s more convenient for her.


She said because she’s an international student, ridesharing services like Uber make it easier to travel without a car on campus.


The increase in ridesharing has prompted other academic investigations, like one look into how the services affect the car sales and usage led by New York University Information, Operations and Management Sciences Professor Arun Sundararajan.


“There’s a chance that prices could go down because less people want to buy cars,” Sundararajan said. “But, on the other hand, the car now becomes more valuable because it isn’t just an asset that you use — it’s an asset you can make money off of.”


He said he thinks Shaheen’s study will help shape ridesharing policies.

“Something has happened here that hopefully is going to enable us to understand a lot more about this, and move forward in working with these services, to maximize those social and environmental benefits,” Shaheen said.