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Uber’s Free Market Environmentalism

For-profit businesses, not government, are the best source of environmental reforms.

Nearly 400,000 people marched in New York City last month to demand a focus on environmental issues, and market-driven companies like Uber are responding, not only much faster than government, but in a way that increases freedom, rather than restricting it.

Recently, Uber released its “City of the Future” goal: to take 1 million cars off the road in Europe’s largest city, London. “We believe in a future that looks a whole lot greener, cleaner, and more efficient thanks to fewer cars and more shared rides,” the company’s press release explained.

Rather than push top-down efforts to keep cars off the road—like narrowing streets, roping off certain lanes for carpools, or taxing drivers with hefty fines—Uber takes a bottom-up approach by providing consumers who care about reducing emissions with more opportunities to carpool, using their smartphones.

“Companies like Uber are empowering customers to choose their own ways to make the world a better place.”

Uber provides low-cost rides at a moment’s convenience, through a smartphone app city-dwellers can use anywhere, anytime. The company markets its services to commuters and partiers alike—a paid driver can be your “designated driver.”

Indeed, citing statistics on Seattle DUIs, the company claims that it has helped lower the rates of drunk driving in cities where it operates. A Washington Post study comparing the Seattle results with similar statistics in Philadelphia and San Francisco shows a similar trend—more driving options like Uber and Lyft, fewer DUIs. But these results do not factor in other variables, like drinking rates or police activity, which could have also contributed to the decline.

Beyond safer roads, the benefits of Uber also include less congestion and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, said the company’s release last week.  The company plans to take one million cars off the road in a city where population is increasing, “through a combination of increased peer-to-peer services like uberX and new and innovative features like uberPOOL.”

UberPOOL allows users to find other people in their area and arrange a 21st century taxi-carpool with them.

To demonstrate how this will save space on the road, the company shows two pictures, before and after uberPOOL. Both show 27 passengers on the road, but in the first picture there are 18 cars while the second shows only 10. In the current system of personal cars, taxis, and private hires, only 8 of 18 cars have more than one passenger. With uberPOOL, 9 of 10 have at least two, and six cars have three or more.

Image Credit: Uber.com

Thanks to Uber’s pioneering market innovations, customers can make cities less congested without resorting to big government policies that restrain freedom and might not even solve the problem.

As liberty writer and activist Matthew Hurtt points out, Uber is “doing its part to be ‘conscious capitalists,’ a term Whole Foods CEO John Mackey coined to describe businesses [which seek] to turn a profit while improving the world.”

Whatever position one takes on the issue of man-made climate change, big government policies are far from the best way to steward the earth. Instead, companies like Uber are charting a new course—empowering customers to make their own decisions and choose their own ways to make the world a better place.

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