Carbon-neutral urban mobility is fast becoming an expectation for consumers. What strategies can ridesharing apps use to achieve it?

Most popular ridesharing apps have begun offering carbon-neutral rides, but what are the differences between them? And how can the operators that lag behind catch up as carbon offsetting becomes a basic expectation for users? 

Assessing the carbon impact of ridesharing

On the surface, it would appear that the rise of ride-hailing apps would lower the carbon footprint of urban mobility, since people don’t need to use their own car (or even own one at all) to move around anymore. But the reality is not so clear-cut: because of their low price and practicality, these services often end up being the preferred alternative to public transportation, therefore raising the emissions associated with single trips. This trend accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, as more people avoided crowded public transport.

Additionally, a recent study found that on a per-trip basis, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a ride from Uber, Lyft or other such apps are actually about 20% higher than if the user drove their own car. That’s the result of what the authors call “deadheading”: the driving around that drivers do while waiting for requests, as well as going to pick up passengers.

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From carbon offsetting to electric rides

For this reason, it is crucial that ridesharing operators take steps towards reducing their carbon footprint. Luckily, most of them seem aware of it. Most of their fleets were hybrid almost from the start, but in recent years, they started going further in their commitment to cut emissions. 

Lyft began offsetting the CO2 of its rides in 2018, and in the first year of this program, purchased 2,062,500 metric tons of carbon offsets. But in 2020, the company decided to give up this strategy and focus instead on switching to 100% electric vehicles by 2030. While this is good news for the climate in the long term, it may mean an increase in the company’s carbon footprint in the short term, which Lyft has chosen not to offset.

In the midst of the pandemic, Uber announced a target to become a zero-emission car service by 2040 by switching to zero-emission vehicles, public transportation or micro-mobility options like bikes or scooters for all of its rides. Rather than paying drivers to make the switch, the company will apply an extra fee to rides in electric vehicles, making it more lucrative for them.

In Europe, FREE NOW committed to carbon neutrality in 2020, and targets at least 50% fully electric vehicle rides by 2025 and 100% zero emission rides by 2030 in all key European markets. Meanwhile, Estonian ride-hailing app Bolt announced in 2019 that all its rides were carbon-neutral, with a plan to invest €10 million in five years in carbon reduction measures and carbon offsetting projects.  

In the UK, Canada and Russia, cab-hailer app Gett allows customers to request an electric ride. It also committed to offsetting 7,500 tons of CO2 over the course of 2019 to make its rides carbon neutral. To go further in its commitment, it gives customers an option to pay a little more for their ride as a voluntary contribution to a climate-positive project.

CO2 in micro-mobility

Shared electric scooters and bike operators generally start from a better position than car operators, since they do not need to use fossil fuels. And yet, apps like TIER in Europe and Bird in the US have also made carbon neutrality pledges. For them, carbon neutrality involves offsetting the carbon footprint of the electricity needed to charge vehicles, as well as the transportation footprint of delivering them.

Some even go as far as promising to be carbon-negative: That’s the case of Bolt, which promised to make its e-scooter operations climate-positive by the end of 2020, meaning that it would remove more carbon from the environment than what is produced by the maintenance of its scooters.

What carbon neutrality entails for ridesharing

While switching to electric vehicles is a long-term solution to the carbon problem of ridesharing apps, the transition is likely to take time. Additionally, as seen in the above paragraph on micro-mobility, electric vehicles don’t mean zero emissions, since they still have to be charged. For these reasons, carbon offsetting is and will remain necessary to achieve carbon neutrality.

But what does carbon neutrality entail for urban mobility? First, it requires calculating the carbon footprint of every ride by assessing distance and fuel usage. ClimateTrade offers a carbon footprint calculator for the mobility sector that does that automatically. Get in touch to try it out.

Once a ride’s carbon footprint has been calculated, it can be offset by contributing to climate mitigation projects around the world. The ClimateTrade Marketplace is a great place to find certified carbon offsets for this purpose. It uses blockchain technology for all transactions, making them fully traceable and giving our customers the confidence of knowing that their carbon offsetting activities are generating real impact.

Additionally, the ClimateTrade API can be integrated into ridesharing apps, automatically calculating and offsetting the CO2 of every ride, and informing customers in real time about their carbon footprint and the projects used to offset it.

Best practice: Cabify

Spain-headquartered multi-mobility company Cabify has been carbon neutral in Europe and Latin America since 2018, offsetting 100% of the emissions generated by its corporate activity and resulting from user and company journeys through the app. In three years, Cabify had already offset more than 310,000 tons of CO2 through environmental protection projects, equivalent to the protection of 12 million trees in the Amazon rainforest. 

In 2020, Cabify announced its alliance with ClimateTrade to leverage blockchain technology for carbon offset traceability. This was a step further in the company’s sustainability commitment, digitizing and tracing footprint calculation and offsetting, and demonstrating a clear commitment to transparency.