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.]