Studies indicate that Uber and Lyft offload indirect costs on drivers and communities – TechCrunch

As the average cost of a ride on Uber, Lyft, and other “ridesharing” services has increased over the years, it has become clear that these companies have never been completely honest about their business models. Now, two studies suggest that even investor-subsidized prices don’t tell the whole story, with the costs borne by drivers and communities.

A study comes 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 various data on the activity of cars and TNC users, researchers found that carpooling vehicles tend to contribute less to air pollution per trip. Indeed, as lead author Jeremy Michalek explains in an academic press release, “When a vehicle starts for the first time, it produces a high level of harmful air pollution until its control system. pollution heats up enough to be effective “.

Since carpooling vehicles generally do not need a cold start for a given trip and are generally newer cars with lower emissions to start with, it is estimated that a TNC trip produces about half of the pollutants that it does. the same trip made in your personal car. This equates in their estimate to about 11 cents of average value.

Good news, right? Good kind of. The problem is that, while the car may be more efficient in this specific way, the practice of deadheading (driving aimlessly or idling between jobs) and the need to get to a pick-up location erases the problem. roughly those gains. Then when you factor in the increase in traffic due to technically unused cars still being on the road, accidents, noise, etc., you end up with estimated costs of 45 cents per trip to the community. in general. So there is a net increase in costs of around 34 cents per trip – a cost that is paid for by taxes or a lower quality of life.

Infographic showing the benefits of carpooling cars (lower emissions) versus costs (many).

Image credits: UMC

The researchers’ suggestion is to bundle trips or use public transportation where possible – although, of course, during a pandemic these have their own drawbacks. The electrification of fleets would be useful, but this too has significant immediate and long-term costs.

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

Almost everyone was obviously worried about contracting COVID-19, and 30% thought they had already caught it. Most had lost income, unsurprisingly, and spent their own money on PPE – less than a third said they received face masks or disinfectant from the company. And those who stopped driving during the pandemic have said they are struggling to get unemployment benefits. Particularly in Seattle, drivers are predominantly black men and often immigrants, groups who face their own aggravating challenges.

“For workers who have these types of jobs during the pandemic, they receive very little support from the companies they drive for, and this is a population that was very aware of the potential exposures they might face,” said Baker. in the press release accompanying the study. In Seattle, drivers are fortunate enough to have additional protections that are not available in many cities, so people in other places can have a worse situation. (Delivery drivers were found to face many of the same issues last year.)

These studies are just a glimpse of the hidden costs and soft economy of the “gig economy”. Consumers most often hear from companies themselves a version of these things seen through rose-colored glasses, hence an independent investigation, even if it is only a survey or a rough estimate of costs and undocumented behavior, is incredibly valuable.

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