As an environmentalist, my feelings were as torn regarding the environmental impacts and benefits of rideshare programs such as Lyft and Uber.  As a consumer, I have used both as a passenger and a driving partner up to recently on a relatively limited basis.  As a passenger, I enjoy the benefits of being able to gain affordable transportation to and from airports, hotels, restaurants, and more.  As a driving partner, I can  earn extra cash while errand running, allowing me to gain first-hand insights through insightful conversations with my passengers as to why and how they use rideshare programs. As an ongoing learner, I decided to do a little more research.

     Lyft and Uber are platform based ridesharing programs that are also known as “carpooling,” “Transportation Networking Companies” (TNC’s), and “Peer-to-Peer” (P2P) Services, all of which tap into and capitalize on the idea of a “sharing economy.” 

Here’s what I found ...

Tracy Peterson  -- March 4, 2018

Rideshare: An eco-friendly travel solution?

Who are rideshare users?

My experience with rideshare ... 

     Although I have participated in rideshare as a driver partner on a limited basis for almost two years, to gain more insights, I recently chose to drive Lyft and Uber on a "full-time" basis in the Knoxville, TN area.  Starting with Lyft, it seemed like the “pings” were few and far between, leaving me with a lot of “sit” time.  During these breaks, I would sit and read in the closest park or parking lot to my last drop off that I could find.  Next, I spent a few days driving Uber, of which the “pings” nearly doubled.  For those who have never used rideshare, a “ping” is a notification of a rider request of which a driving partner has seconds to accept before the ride gets passed on to the next closest driving partner.  

     Almost anyone!  Rideshare users are often individuals that do not own a vehicle or are no longer able to drive for a wide variety of reasons. They use rideshare because other forms of public transportation may not be available where they live. As a driving partner, I have driven persons with and without their owning cars or holding driver’s licenses. Riders are those going to work, college, high school, and various events.  Some riders claim that they are frugal or wish to leave their vehicles at home when planning to consume alcohol. Other passengers have been persons that are legally blind, elderly, on crutches, or have other disabilities.  And, I was happy to hear from several passengers who stated that using Lyft/Uber helps them to lead a “less is more” minimal lifestyle and or to reduce their carbon footprint/be “green.”  The point is if a person is an adult with a smartphone they have the potential to be an occasional or regular user of rideshare programs and tap into the concept of the shared economy.

     It should also be mentioned that rideshare programs have rules that must be followed to qualify as a driving partner. These rules require that the vehicle must be less than ten-years old, which helps to keep less fuel-efficient cars off the road, and car maintenance which increases fuel efficiency and of course, rider and driver safety. Additionally, because rideshare programs make it possible for a higher number of individuals to access transportation in areas that lack public transportation services, the need for car ownership and overall GHG’s are reduced. 

     I feel that it is important to mention that I live in a rural area outside of Knoxville, TN and that multiple variables can and will impact the number of rides and miles one might drive in different geographies.  The first ping of the day may be as close as five or as far as thirty minutes away.  As a person working to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, I struggled with my increased time on the road and total mileage and carbon emission output, challenging my morals and ethics of environmental stewardship. However, all my issues and concerns were resolved when I learned there were more environmental benefits than disadvantages, even when driving from city to suburb to rural communities.

Why I use rideshare: A few comments from passengers I have driven ...

Conclusion ...

      To keep rideshare clean and green, it is my opinion, that driving parters use the Lyft and Uber platforms on a part-time basis when they are already “out and about” using destination settings that allow for riders to hitch a ride in the same direction the driver is already going. If a driver is between jobs or working the platforms on a full-time basis, that is OKAY too. One car driving 15-20 or more passengers a day is helping to keep 15-20 or more cars off the road and is even more eco-friendly when the one ride is carrying multiple passengers to maximum capacity! However, to maximize profits and reduce emissions, it is recommended that driving partners utilize both Lyft and Uber platforms simultaneously (just make sure to turn off the other app when a ping is accepted).

     A study conducted by Stemler (2017) found that 76% of adults familiar with the “shared economy” concept agree that rideshare is better for their community and is good for the environment. However, as Stemler (2017) also points out, this concept can be misleading. Transportation is responsible for 34% of GHG’s that lead to climate change (Erdoğan, Cirillo, & Tremblay, 2015). Of that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 27% comes from automobile use that emits (on average) about 4.7 tons of carbon each year dependent upon fuel economy and mileage drove (EPA, 2017, Nov 17). Based on the nature of ridesharing, drivers increase their average drive miles, especially if they choose to operate as a full-time Independent Contractor.  However, ridesharing helps reduce the number of vehicles on the road at any given time.

     Interestingly, a study conducted by MIT, demonstrated that by using sophisticated algorithms, rideshare could reduce the number of cars in major cities by up to 75% using an estimated 2,000 four-person cars to meet 95% of the demand for taxis with a wait time of fewer than three minutes (Darrow, 2017, Jan 3).  Can you imagine how rideshare can contribute to reducing traffic and vehicle emissions if adopted and popularized by consumers in every major city and within suburbs and rural communities?

     Between the two, I found that I averaged the same mileage of about 150-200 miles a day.  With Lyft, there was more distance between rides, and with Uber, the trips were closer but much more of them.  However, I found that when I logged into both Lyft and Uber at the same time (turning one off as I accepted pings from the other), I was still averaging the same mileage of 150-200 miles per day.  I also found that my sit time was significantly reduced or eliminated as  both Lyft and Uber were automatically adding new passengers to my queue before drop offs during times of high demand, keeping me constantly on the go.

  • “I’m legally blind, can’t drive myself, and public transportation is not available where I live.”
  • “I can’t afford a car.”
  • “I’m saving to buy a car.”
  • “I'm frugal and it’s affordable transportation.”
  • “Public transportation doesn’t come this far; this helps me get to work.”
  • “I’m meeting up with friends and don’t want to drink and drive.”
  • “It's better for the environment” (I openly admit that I was very happy to hear this statement - several times!)

     The premise of rideshare is that a car carrying two or more passengers to the same destination uses the same amount of fuel as if the driver was alone (Toth, 2015). It eliminates the need for additional cars traveling to the same location, therefore reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  If a driver uses a destination setting of which a passenger is picked up and dropped off on route to the drivers destination, they both reduce carbon emissions.  

      To keep rideshare clean and green as a passenger, it is my opinion that riders use the Lyft and Uber platforms as responsibly and sparingly as possible. It is one thing to be driven several miles to get where you are going. It is another situation when one who is physically able is too lazy to walk a block or two. As an example, I recently had a passenger that waited more than half an hour for me to drive 18 miles to reach her, only to take her around the block. Why? She didn’t feel like walking in the rain, even with her umbrella. Of course, to each his/her own. But, a little common sense and responsibility can and do go a very long way. What it comes down to is as with most everything about consumption, moderation is the key. How we use or abuse something is the difference between sustaining or exploiting our resources, and I urge you, as the reader, to make your decision based on your circumstances, knowledge, and experience.

How well does rideshare help your community? Try it yourself and see!                                                                                            

Darrow, B. (2017, Jan 3). Uber and Lyft Carpooling Services Could Replace 75% of Vehicles. Fortune. Retrieved from

Erdoğan, S., Cirillo, C., & Tremblay, J. (2015). Ridesharing as a Green Commute Alternative: A Campus Case Study. International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, 9(5), 377-388. doi:10.1080/15568318.2013.800619.   Retrieved from

EPA (2017, Feb 14). Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG's). Retrieved from

EPA (2017, Nov 17). Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle. Green Vehicle Guide. Retrieved from

IRS (n.d.). Independent Contractor Defined. Retrieved from

Lyft  Referral Link

Stemler, A. (2017). The Myth of the Sharing Economy and its Implications for Regulating Innovation. Emory Law Journal, 67(2), 197-241. Retrieved from

Tedx Talks (2014, Nov 26). Creating Opportunity Through the Sharing Economy | Emily Castor | TEDxSacramentoSalon [Video file]. Retrieved from

TEDx Talks (2017, Jan 10). Cars Almost Killed Our Cities, But Here's How We Can Bring Them Back | Gabe Klein | TEDxMidAtlantic. [Video file]. Retrieved from 

The Federalist Society (2017, Jan 5). The rise of the sharing economy [Video file]. Retrieved from

Toth, C. (2015). Carpooling in Hungary: Can It Reduce the GHG Emissions of Personal Transport?. European Transport/Trasporti Europei, (58), 1-25. Retrieved from

Uber Referral Link

Citations, Links, & References ...

Kunsman, C.G. (2016). Ride-sharing-company drivers: Employees or Independent Contractors?. California Interdisciplinary Law Journal, 26(1), 137-166. Retrieved from

Marr, B. (2016, Oct 21). The Sharing Economy - What It Is, Examples, And How Big Data, Platforms and Algorithms Fuel It. Forbes. Retrieved from orms-and-algorithms-fuel/#205fc717c5af

The Federalist Society (2017, Jan 5). The rise of the sharing economy [Video file]. Retrieved from

University Writing Center (2013). Credible versus Non-Credible Sources.  Retrieved from

USDL (n.d.) Anti-Discrimination Laws. Retrieved from
USDL (n.d.). Compliance Assistance - Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Wage and Hour Division.  United States Department of Labor. Retrieved from

Additional Insights ...

More Blogs Coming Soon by Tracy Peterson

Clever Household Recycling

Consumer Choices

Product Packaging

Composting for Beginners


Thanks for reading and for sharing ~ Tracy 

TEDx Talks (2017, Jan 10). Cars Almost Killed Our Cities, But Here's How We Can Bring Them Back | Gabe Klein | TEDxMidAtlantic. [Video file]. 

Tedx Talks (2014, Nov 26). Creating Opportunity Through the Sharing Economy | Emily Castor | TEDxSacramentoSalon [Video file]. 

     Some critics of rideshare platforms argue that the sharing economy is driven (pardon the pun) by profit over altruism (Stemler, 2017). I argue that this is true of ALL industry. Most people are looking for what they can gain the most for the least amount of cost or effort. We do not live in a free economy; we live in a capitalistic one.  Rideshare programs such as Lyft and Uber make it possible for consumers to access travel services in locations where transportation may otherwise not always be possible or affordable and help to reduce costs and greenhouse gases (GHG’s) in process.

Rideshare programs such as Lyft and Uber make it possible for consumers to access travel services in locations where transportation may otherwise not always be possible or affordable and help to reduce costs and GHG’s in process.

Rideshare helps users lead a "less is more" minimal lifestyle