There are more than one billion cars and trucks on the road and it is very likely that in 10 years time, there will be more, not fewer, vehicles driving around. 

For all of the efforts that are now being dedicated to novel ways of using vehicles on new platforms that more elegantly combine supply and demand, vehicle ownership shows no real sign of slowing. 

In fact, even as transportation platforms like Uber, Lyft, Ola, Grab and Didi rise in popularity, the number of vehicles per household is also rising. Simply put, people are not giving up their personal vehicles to use shared services. 

Congestion in major cities is not falling as a result of ride-hailing, In fact, congestion is rising. And these platforms, which promised to reduce car ownership and lead to a shift in travel from asset-owned to asset used travel, have, in-fact, led consumers to ditch other modes of transportation, like walking, riding a bike or taking public transportation. 

Sustainable Transportation

Ride sharing services, sustainable or not?

Consumers are motivated by personal convenience, not sustainability.

They were taking public transportation or walking, because that made the most sense. When given another, better, option, they abandoned the environmentally friendly choice. 

This all leads to the question: in our rush to use technology to amplify our means of transportation, are we making things better? Or worse?  

The evidence is mixed. More people are using these platforms when they go out drinking. There is some evidence that drinking and driving is falling as a result. And ride-hailing has given people who can’t drive new options to get around. 

On the down side, the average speed of traffic in Midtown Manhattan has slowed to a miserable 4.7 mph.  

Part of the problem is that the explosion in ride-hailing services has led to tens of thousands of vehicles, which are empty, heading to pick up someone who has hailed them on their phone. 

Like most technologies that have solved one set of problems, new mobility platforms have caused others. In this case, mobility platforms have helped solve the supply and demand conundrum in the for-hire car service, using a phone-based GPS system, cash-free payments and peak-pricing incentives. 

Sustainable Transportation

Congestion ramps up. Photo Nabeel Syed

The combination put in place many options for people to get a ride where a cab, previously, would have taken too long or cost too much. But this has not caused a wholesale change in behavior or car ownership and has, thereby, made congestion and pollution worse. 

The rise of these new options for mobility has not been accompanied by a surge in ownership of electric vehicles, which might reduce the ground level pollution and fuel consumption more generally.  

Tesla is virtually the only manufacturer of electric vehicles that is regularly used as a cab because of its longer range and network of fast charging. And while the prevalence of this use is growing, it still is rare. Shorter range electric cars – something with a range under 100 miles – do not work well in the duty cycle of a cab. This is especially true when they must be recharged over an 8-hour period. 

Electrification may, at least, address the pollution cost of increasing congestions in urban areas, but it will be a slow march.  

So what is the future of mobility then if the new technological solutions are making things worse? 

The latest technological iteration is micromobility. Using the same platforms that brought us Uber and Lyft, companies now are offering electric scooters and bikes that are more nimble and take up less space in cities. These devices aren’t perfect either, but they are intriguing in how they can quickly, and cheaply move people around a congested urban area. 


As part of its commitment to topics important to our readers, Detroitisit and Deloitte will host “The Sustainable Future of Transportation” panel conversation during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). The conversation will challenge panelists, attendees and media to think differently and adopt more practical perspectives about where sustainability fits into transportation as a whole. As emissions rise, how will advancements in mobility – autonomous vehicles, ride-sharing, ride hailing as well as micro services, like bikes and scooters – affect real people living in suburban and urban environments today and the planet as a whole? How should automotive companies hold themselves accountable for sustainable practices, still factoring in the need for profitability?  

Please join the conversation on January 15th at the Detroit Foundation Hotel 5:30-7pm by visiting Please RSVP.