Though most urbanites are liberals with deep concerns about environmental health, cities aren’t necessarily the most sustainable places to live. Large cities, like New York and Chicago, boast lower greenhouse gas emissions per person than smaller metropolitan zones because dense urban areas rely on multi-family buildings, mixed-use developments, and mass transit rather than single family homes and personal cars.
However, such enormous cities must also take responsibility for the vast suburbs that emerge on their fringes ― and those residential communities are closer to brown than green.
However, there is a saving grace for metropolitan suburbs: ride-sharing. By abandoning the concept that every home needs at least one car, cities can diminish their carbon footprints to nearly nothing and prevent devastating harm to our environment. Therefore, it is important for city-dwellers to understand what ride-sharing is, why it helps, and how cities can encourage ride-sharing to ensure a sustainable future.
What Is Ride-Sharing?
Quite like it sounds, ride-sharing is the act of sharing a car ride. Many people confuse ride-sharing with carpooling, but there are important differences to note. Specifically, carpools typically exist amongst friends or acquaintances, and there is usually an agreement to alternate drivers and vehicles on a regular basis. Contrastingly, ride-shares bring strangers together for sole trips, and because there are fewer ride-share drivers than passengers, there is little interchange of roles.
Ride-sharing isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, ride-sharing programs existed in some particularly congested cities for decades before mobile apps facilitated the process. Car-free commuters would use public transit to reach a communal space and connect with drivers heading in a similar direction. The system benefitted everyone: Those lacking cars could reach workplaces not easily accessed by public transit, and those with cars could move faster through traffic using HOV lanes.
Today, ride-sharing is almost synonymous with on-demand car services thanks to mobile devices. Instead of milling around a public space, potential passengers can schedule a ride-sharing pickup outside their own homes using fast and efficient apps. Ride-sharing is only becoming more convenient ― some say even better than most public transportation systems ― which means it might be the best chance cities have at becoming green.
Why Ride-Sharing Helps
Every person who shares a ride to work rather than driving alone in a personal vehicle saves the environment from about a third of a ton of carbon dioxide every month or nearly 4 tons of carbon dioxide every year. Multiplied across the thousands of commuters around the country who already participate in ride-sharing programs, the service prevents more than 220,000 tons of C02 from entering the atmosphere ― and it could stop even more.
The increasing convenience of ride-sharing is a significant boon to the environment because it dissuades many individuals from investing in a personal vehicle. Considering that a car costs thousands of dollars every year ― not only for its initial price but also fees for fuel, insurance, registration, maintenance, and more ― it is much simpler to pay a small ride-sharing rate whenever a person needs to get somewhere quickly. Ultimately, the fewer personal cars are on the road, the lower a city’s carbon emissions, and the greener the environment for the years to come.
How Cities Can Enact Ride-sharing Policies
For now, rates in ride-sharing apps are not cheaper than using a personal car for a single trip, but soon, when ride-sharing apps can make use of autonomous vehicles, which don’t necessitate drivers’ wages, the cost of a single ride-share trip should be close to nothing.
Indeed, driverless cars should do much to help the sustainability of cities, since their moderated speeds, platooning tactics, and increasing reliance on electricity over fossil fuels all tend to reduce carbon emissions.
Still, cities can encourage their citizens to be greener by enacting policies that reward ride-sharing and penalize driving alone. For example, expanding HOV or carpool lanes, offering discounted or free parking to ride-sharing vehicles, arranging ride-sharing programs at multiuse developments, creating a guaranteed ride home program, and more are easy and effective ways to encourage more ride-sharing in cities and surrounding suburbs. With the proper policies in place and sustainable technologies soon to emerge, cities and suburbs could be the greenest places on Earth in the coming years.