Uber fight Photo: Matthias Rhomberg/Flickr

The recent fight between City Hall and Uber seemed to reach a shaky truce when the City Council voted to delay capping Uber cars in anticipation of a new study on the environmental impact of for-hire vehicles in NYC. But of course, the agreement couldn’t have been reached without a few heated back-in-forth exchanges and an emotional viral video.

So far in the debate, most of the criticism levelled at Uber has been focused on jobs and regulation. To Uber’s credit, most agreed that cabs and car-sharing programs are good for the environment because they reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

But Ben Adler of environmental news and commentary site Grist.org reports that new criticisms of Uber argue the opposite. He explained that Uber wasn’t the first company in NYC to offer this kind of ride service.

“The city already had a strong network of cars you could call on the phone to pick you up within a few minutes — called “livery cars” by the city government and “car services” by New Yorkers. The total number of livery cars in New York has increased from around 40,000 when Uber launched in NYC in 2011 to more than 63,000. Uber accounts for about 80 percent of that growth, and competitors like Lyft make up the rest,” he writes.

And this is on top of the 13,000 yellow taxicabs already in the city. But taxis could offer an advantage over Uber cars because of the amount of people they transport per day.

NYC taxis get quadruple the amount of daily rides that Uber cars do, and the city cars can only be certain environmentally-conscious, accessible models. Plus, taxis help raise money for public transit because of a 50 percent surcharge from each ride.

A chief critic of Uber’s environmental impact is Eric Goldwyn, an urban planning doctoral candidate studying NYC’s transportation system at Columbia University. He argues that a cap on Uber cars might be necessary. “I’m out in the farthest reaches of Brooklyn — the Flatlands, Mill Basin — doing research, I looked at Uber availability, and I couldn’t find an ETA higher than five minutes in all of Brooklyn. That tells me there’s more than enough Ubers out there. Is it worth adding to pollution, congestion, injuries, and deaths to get from five minutes to three minutes? You can’t do a cost-benefit analysis that would find it is,” he said.

Mayor de Blasio has placed a consistent emphasis on environmental issues during his tenure as mayor. He recently announced a plan to power 100 percent of City buildings from renewable energy, as well as a third NYC panel on climate change.

Weigh in on the debate @bbhnyc.

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