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e-book Taken for a Ride: Cars, Crisis, And A Company Once Called

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And I did not just say that because Elon Musk endorsed me just the other week. The lines drawn for climate activists have become much sharper on reducing emissions. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC giving the world about a decade to switch over to an emission-free future, de-carbonizing transportation now has a CNN-countdown-clock-level urgency. Still, the Democratic candidates remain vague on how to they will fund or build a carbon-free transportation network.

Of the 1. Add heavy-duty trucks 23 percent and that number goes up to about 82 percent of transportation emissions. Part of that story is actually a success: Electricity generation used to hold the dubious honor of being the biggest contributor to climate change, until the combination of advancements in wind and solar and cheaper natural gas gave cleaner alternatives to coal power.

Indeed, carbon-free transportation will eventually require a carbon-free grid, with that latter goal set by or With 75 percent of Americans still driving to work by themselves, changing over to electric cars looks like a promising step for reducing emissions.

But a host of timing and technical challenges stand in the way. Electric vehicles accounted for just two percent of the 5. Ramping up EV sales would require radically ambitious incentives. Many EV skeptics note that the vehicles themselves are resource-intensive to manufacture , and electric cars take about twice as much energy to build than a traditional internal combustion car. And before mass electrification of cars and decarbonizing the grid, Americans will need to reckon with two big facts: The population is growing and people are driving more. Just look at California, which has been battling the Trump administration over raising fuel economy standards.

And on Friday, California and 22 other states, along with D. Even with increased fuel efficiency, climate targets prove difficult to reach. But emissions still rose by 21 percent over that period.


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Because driving—as measured in vehicle miles traveled, or VMT—increased by 50 percent, more than cancelling out the technological gains. That means putting about 5 million electric vehicles on the road , reducing carbon intensity of fuel by 20 percent by shifting to renewable sources such as hydrogen and biodiesel, and reducing driving by about 20 percent.

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With 46 percent of vehicle trips under three miles, reducing VMT could be sped by infrastructure and public transit improvements that encourage more people to take trips without a car. Urbanization itself reduces driving. To that end, T4A argued last week that federal funding that expands roads instead of improving transit undermines progress on climate policy. One study found that urban Millennials travel on average 24 miles per day by car, compared to 35 miles a day among rural peers.

And more densely developed housing means fewer vehicles miles traveled per household , so rethinking land use—and resisting sprawl —has to be part of any decarbonization regime.


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We could build our communities, suburbs, and cities to be safer, more convenient for people to get around without having to drive. Declines in transit ridership often lead to service cuts that, by making routes less frequent and convenient for everyone, lead to further declines in ridership. But with the introduction of Uber Copter, we may be entering a new, more wildly unequal frontier, where 1 percenters literally soar above the masses in major cities, with serious environmental and health costs to ordinary city dwellers.

Uber maintains that the journey from downtown Manhattan to JFK by helicopter takes about 30 minutes, compared with 82 minutes by transit. In many ways, the new venture for Uber is fitting. New York City streets are overwhelmed with more and more cars, many of them operated by Uber and Lyft—and people are seeking escape. Now the company can capitalize on the problem it helped create.

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The potential environmental harms, of course, are evident now. Helicopters are gas guzzlers. But as pressing as they are, the climate impacts of a massive new fleet of private planes and helicopters might not even be the biggest social concern related to Uber Copter. The service will fly over some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the United States.

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Long-term exposure to very loud noise is not just annoying. In , the World Health Organization studied the impacts of noise pollution over time. Researchers found that city noise levels—such as traffic noise which is generally in the to decibel range —heightens all sorts of common health problems, from stress and insomnia to cardiovascular disease.

Adding helicopters to the mix will only aggravate the damage. Everyone acknowledges that getting to the New York City airports from Manhattan is a pain.

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Transit access has never been easy. But this is primarily a political, not technological, problem. Even the advertised time savings appear to be something of an illusion anyway. New York only has three commercial heliports. A Reuters journalist attempted the journey and reported that it took 70 minutes once you factor in the ride to the heliport—just 12 minutes faster than Uber says it takes by transit, and about the same as a taxi.

When the New York Post sent two reporters to JFK from Midtown, one of them by Uber car and Uber Copter and the other by subway, the latter arrived three minutes earlier and spent a tiny fraction of what the former did. Taking a helicopter to the airport, like driving in the streets, is easy and fast when not many other people are doing it; but if it catches on, everybody suffers.

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Recently, New York City demonstrated how a more scalable solution might look. The city painted two lanes on 14th Street red, limiting them for use only by city buses. Clearing cars out of the way of buses full of people improved speeds so much that some bus drivers had to stop and wait to stay on schedule.


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  5. It promises to make no small group rich, but confers small benefits widely. Traffic congestion in crowded cities is a tragedy of the commons. Ultimately, the kind of freedom of movement that a service like Uber Copter promises can really only be offered at large scale by collective planning and government action.