when sharing is not caring (part 1)

I have actually been a bit reluctant to write this post because I don’t want to give the impression that I think I know everything about this matter (which I don’t) but it’s something that I think about a lot, so I wanted to just put this out there and see what other people think. I was going to just make this a singular post, but it ended up being so long, I’ve decided to split it into two separate posts. [Part 2 will be published next week.]

People who know me well will know that I care a lot about environmental conservation. I spend a great deal of time reflecting on how my actions affect the environment (quite possibly as a result of getting this drilled into me in Grade 4). Lately I’ve taken to pondering about the impact of societal changes on energy usage and waste production. 

It doesn’t require any great power of observation to see that ride-share apps (like Uber) have become very popular over recent years. And I do see that it has many benefits, like coincidental carpooling with randoms who you’d never meet and hence never carpool with otherwise (and being paid for said carpooling, of course), but I feel like there is a downside that some people might not necessarily consider. This particular downside, which I have been mulling over so much, is the potential environmental impact of ride-sharing apps and related modern conveniences.

I will acknowledge firstly that, yes, if you’re going from A to B for something, and C happens to be close by or along the way, then it’s great that you can help this other person get to C without much trouble for you or them.

If, however, you’re not really going anywhere, and just want to supplement your income, then you might end up doing all this extra driving that you wouldn’t usually do. Yes, I realise this depends on whether your passengers would’ve just caught a taxi anyway (in which case you’re just substituting the driving of taxis and there’s negligible net change in energy usage, etc) but maybe this other person would’ve caught public transport if ride-share apps didn’t exist.

But any good Economics student knows that there’s always an interplay of supply and demand in a free market, capitalist economy, so we have to look at consumer factors too.

My concern in this regard is that the affordability of ride-sharing compared to getting a taxi means that people are less inclined to find alternative modes of transport. The cost of a taxi can be a disincentive to use the service even if one is tired or it’s late at night, so one might decide that getting the train and taking a walk is not so bad after all. On the other hand, although using a ride-share app might still cost more than public transport, it’s still a fair bit less than getting a taxi, so one would get convenience with mid-range cost. Depending on how one feels, this might be an appealing middle ground.

It makes me wonder, also, if people are more likely to consume in general because they are more inclined to go out because they now have this convenient, moderately affordable means of transportation. And that might be good for businesses and the economy and whatever, but these consumables need to be produced somehow, and then packaged and transported to retailers and vendors somehow…

Is it just me, or is it not possible (in a broad sense) to protect both the economy and the environment? One depends on consumerism, while the other is dying because of it (?)

Above, when I said “related modern conveniences”, I was referring to food delivery apps such as Uber Eats or Deliveroo. Where I live, these apps usually involve people on scooters, driving meals from restaurants to homes. This means that instead of walking a few blocks to buy dinner, you can now order it via an app, and have someone deliver it to you.

On the surface of it, yes, it means you have all these people on scooters driving around where there perhaps were no scooters before, but, at risk of making it seem like I overthink everything, there is more to the story. [More of this in Part 2, to be published next week.]

13 thoughts on “when sharing is not caring (part 1)

  1. You bring up some good points about the assumptions that underpin the use of ride-share apps & food delivery services. I’ve no answers, of course.

    I do remember learning that one assumption about Daylight Savings Time was that people would walk and exercise outside more because of the extra sunlight. Instead what happened is that people drove cars to go to stores to go shopping later at night. Those two variables increased energy use, instead of reducing it– and did little to help people get more healthy.

    My point being, human behavior is never completely predictable, I guess.

    • That thing about daylight savings was good in theory, but the actual result is (sadly) kinda unsurprising. But, to be fair, when I was a kid, and my family visited other family interstate where they did have daylight savings, I thought it was great that I could still play outside at 8pm. It was amazing. (I never liked shopping though.)

  2. Interesting thoughts here. Uber and these food delivery services are an interesting trend emphasizing I guess hedonism, comfort and freedom of choice, some of the things that people these days value. The environmental consequences aren’t trendy enough anymore for people to care, perhaps, after a certain orange person denied climate change existed?? Don’t know.

    As a side note, over here, in Finland, Uber isn’t a big thing (yet?) because there are so many laws on labor, taxation, entreprising and transport laws. Not anyone can (legally) start driving Uber rides just like that. Also not many people I know would just hop into a stranger’s car. Carpooling doesn’t exist here, people use public transport and walk. Obviously some drive, too, but car owners pay higher environmental taxes.

    • It’s a shame when people think too much of the present (instant gratification) and don’t consider the broader implications of their actions.

      Interesting how different it is in Finland though. Do you reckon people use public transport and walk because they care more or because of the environmental taxes? Maybe a mix of both, like when they increase taxes on alcohol and cigarettes…?

      • Well the cities here are so tiny compared to for example American cities, so you don’t really need a car, also finding parking space is difficult in Helsinki for example. The distances downtown are completely walkable, our capital is like a small town (population half a million). Also taxation makes buying a car very expensive! Hubby and I just got our first one now and we are kn our forties!! (We got a car only because we have 1-year-old twins and it does make life easier. Still, I walk everywhere and he takes the tram to work. The car is for the weekend when we visit the kids’ grandparents). So to sum it up, I think it’s a cultural thing. (In rural areas of Finland they drive more than we do in the city, distances are larger)

        • Wow, I didn’t realise the cities/towns were so small there! Even Helsinki! It really sounds like a lovely place – the kind of place I’d like to live.
          Such a contrast to here (Australia, and I suppose the same in the US too) where people can start learning to drive at 16 years old, and many (aim to) buy a car by their early 20s

  3. I will admit I never thought of Uber and the likes from an environmental standpoint. People in Los Angeles will tell you these services have been a blessing and, in our part of the world, where people are not inclined to take public transport, they are mostly using Uber or Lyft in place of their car. Young people choose not to own a car at all, juggling their transportation needs between bikes, Uber and public transport. But in places like New York, for example, your point is absolutely valid

    • It’s interesting learning about different usage patterns in different parts of the world. I do remember you once saying (in a previous post?) that public transport in LA is not great, so it makes sense that Uber etc is popular there. But for some reason (probably media) I thought NY had decent public transport, so I thought Uber would be less popular (?) I suppose it is a big place to get around though…

  4. I haven’t thought about the environmental impact of these services, or I guess if I have I’ve assumed they’re better because of the sharing factor. But I think you might be right about the increased use.

    (I don’t use ride-sharing because I get pretty anxious about strangers and social situations with strangers, so when I can avoid them I do. Even though I would benefit quite a bit from using them. That’s because my chronic illness makes driving, catching public transport very difficult and often impossible, whereas someone else giving me a lift is quite manageable.)

    • Fair point. I reckon if there’s something that makes other options harder/impossible, then, yes, having the option to be driven by someone else is great. I hadn’t really considered this, and I suppose some of the increased usage probably comes from this (?) Still, I wonder how significant this category would be compared to people who have other options but use Uber just because it’s convenient

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