Report: The Role of Uber and Lyft in Sustainable Cities

December 14, 2021

Stoplight street sceneRecommendations include road pricing, street redesign, electrification, and fair labor practices

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 As office workers return to downtown areas, cities must tackle the traffic and pollution associated with Uber and Lyft, according to a new report and issue briefMoving Forward: The Role of Transportation Networking Companies in a Sustainable Future offers recommendations for cities to incorporate Uber and Lyft into a sustainable transportation system. NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) partnered with University of California, Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center researchers Elliot Martin, Ph.D., Susan Shaheen, Ph.D., and Adam Stocker to analyze data from the companies and develop the report.

“The pandemic has given cities a chance to rethink downtown areas,” said NRDC Research Lead Rabi Abonour, who partnered with the University of California, Berkeley researchers on an issue brief summarizing the report findings. “Many cities are looking to hit the reset button on traffic issues, and this report makes clear that tackling congestion means rethinking Uber and Lyft.”

Drawing on Uber and Lyft driver activity data as well as surveys of residents, drivers, and riders in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., the report found that:

  • Uber and Lyft appear to lead to an overall increase in driving and greenhouse gas emissions 
  • Uber and Lyft reduce driving the most when they enable people to avoid buying cars
  • Inefficient matching of passengers limits the environmental benefits of pooled rides
  • Uber and Lyft replace more public transit trips than they facilitate

“New policies can include everything from encouraging cleaner cars and pooled rides to redesigning our streets to make it easier and faster to walk, bike, and ride the bus,” said Abonour. “With smarter rules in place, Uber and Lyft can play a role in the sustainable transportation systems of the future.”

To avoid the increases in traffic and pollution that result from Uber and Lyft, the report recommends that cities implement the following policies:

  • Use equitable road pricing to manage traffic and encourage pooled rides
  • Redesign streets to prioritize transit, walking, and biking
  • Incentivize or require electric Uber and Lyft cars and fund public electric car chargers
  • Mandate fair labor practices to protect Uber and Lyft drivers

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​