It has become evident that these companies weren't always open about their business models, as the average ride cost on Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare services has increased over the years. A pair of studies has shown that even prices that are subsidized by investors don't tell the whole story. Instead, drivers and communities bear the costs.
Carnegie Mellon University has done one study, and it examined some of the more obscure benefits and costs of transportation network companies (TNC), the preferred term in academic and public documents.
The researchers discovered that rideshare vehicles contribute less to air pollution per ride after gathering data from TNC cars and users. This is because, according to Jeremy Michalek, the vehicle's first start-up produces a lot of noxious pollution before its pollution control system heats enough to make it effective.
Rideshare vehicles don't usually require a cold start and have lower emissions than your car. It is estimated that TNC trips produce about half as many pollutants as a personal trip. According to their estimates, this amounts to an average of 11 cents in value.
You're right, it's good news. It's kind of. It is, but only partially. Add to that the 45 cents per ride in community costs due to increased traffic, accidents, and noise. The net cost of a ride is about 34 cents more, which is paid by taxes or a lower quality of living.
Researchers suggest that people pool their rides and use mass transit when possible, though these have their limitations in times of pandemic. Although electrification of fleets could help, it comes with significant long-term and immediate costs.
The decentralized industry is also affecting drivers. Marissa Baker, University of Washington's Marissa Baker conducted a survey among Seattle's unionized drivers and found that many felt they were not supported by their employers.
Nearly everyone was concerned about COVID-19. In fact, 30% of respondents thought they had already contracted it. Most people had lost their income and only a third of them claimed they had received PPE from the company. Those who gave up driving after the pandemic said they had difficulty getting unemployment benefits. In Seattle, the majority of drivers are black men, often from immigrant communities, which presents unique challenges.
Workers who work in this type of job during the pandemic have very limited support from their employers. Baker stated this in a release that was included with the study. Drivers in Seattle have the benefit of additional protections that are not available in all cities. However, people in other areas may find it more difficult. (Delivery drivers are facing many of the same problems last year.
These studies only give a glimpse at the hidden costs of the gig economy. Independent inquiry is valuable, even if it's a survey or rough estimate about undocumented behaviors and costs.