Written by Jalia Carlton-Carew

Clean cars, cheap fares and nice drivers are all appealing characteristics that Uber and Lyft present to customers to invite them in. At the same time, a significant downside to this luxury is the question of whether Uber and Lyft introduce more harm into the environment rather than good. Dr. Richard Church, a Geography professor at UCSB, proposes that instead of decreasing travel Uber and Lyft may unintentionally be increasing it.

“When a new highway is built or even when several lanes are added, the capacity increases,” Church says. As the capacity increases, traffic congestion and the number of trips people take increase as well. Immediate consequences like noise pollution and CO2 emissions are bound to occur with more cars on the road. For these reasons, transportation engineers are concerned about the environmental impacts Uber and Lyft may contribute in the long run. Church monitors the growth of these rideshare services by studying how they compensate for their growing trip demand. As Uber and Lyft continue to add more drivers on the road to make up for their growing demand, more people begin to use their services.

“What transportation engineers would like to know is when something new is developed is there going to be a change in mode for people?” Church asks. In this case, the change in mode refers to people switching from privately owned vehicles to Uber or Lyft. “Some people probably do not make a lot of trips to downtown [Santa Barbara] because they do not want to hassle looking for a parking space,” Church says. There may be extra trips that people would take if there was a convenient way of doing it without the hassle of parking. This would now result in that individual no longer having to struggle to find a parking space but now becoming inclined to take more trips.

“If we look at this new paradigm of travel the question is are better off? What are the impacts?” Church asks. Church suspects that there will be changes in reducing personal car use in urban areas; however, he questions whether the total number of trips will increase by companies such as Uber and Lyft.