'One Less Car' Uber bets a grand you'll ditch your wheels

Taxi app wants to prove it itself is cheaper, greener than owning a motor

Comment Uber is launching a month-long trial dubbed the "One Less Car" challenge to demonstrate people are better off using its app-hailed rides rather than each owning a personal vehicle.

Handily, it would also demonstrate how Uber is better off if people use Uber more. What a twist.

The trial will involve just 175 carefully selected people in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington DC, and will run from July 22 to August 25. You can try applying here.

Each participant will be given $1,000 in Uber vouchers, told not to use their own vehicles, and instead use the app as well as public transportation, cycling, and even good old-fashioned walking to get around.

Uber tells The Register that $500 of the credits can be used for rides and e-bikes, $200 for car rentals, and $300 for public transportation. Uber expects the trial will prove that using its taxi app will help people save money and cut down on emissions.

That said, Uber's claims about the cost of car ownership are questionable at best. It says it will be giving participants $1,000 because that's the average monthly cost of having a car, based on a 2023 study by AAA. But the study only looked at brand-new cars, and not used cars. People buy used cars way more than new ones in the US, at least, and the costs to upkeep new and old vehicles aren't the same.

What's more, AAA's one-thousand-dollars-a-month figure includes value depreciation or loss. However, depreciation is not a monthly cost someone has to pay, and only kicks in when someone sells their car for a price lower than what they paid for it. Needless to say, depreciation is especially bad for new cars, which start at a very high price, and AAA estimates a $375 monthly loss in value.

A thousand dollars in big cities won't give riders that many trips, either. According to Uber's own ride cost estimates as of October 1, an 11-mile trip from North Miami to Miami Beach costs $23, while a 14-mile ride from San Francisco International Airport to the city itself costs an eye-watering $40, and that's all without tips. With just $500 for rides, participants might only be able to justify a single Uber trip every other day at most during the trial.

Ubering around could definitely be greener

Of course, the expectation is that the participants will be encouraged to explore other transportation methods, and in North America's big cities, there are generally some alternatives such as trains, subways, and buses. Naturally, public transport can't send people to every possible destination, and walking and biking is expected to make up the difference.

But as we all know, the United States is geared heavily to private car ownership. Public transit is really hit and miss, to put it mildly, and few places are truly walkable. So, either get on your bike or get in someone's ride.

Uber has already tried this experiment in Australia, where it ran a study and found that when people couldn't use their cars, they used the bus 86 percent more frequently, and took 156 percent more trips by train. They also walked 75 percent more and biked four to five times more.

Uber has, as we snarked at the start, financial self-interest here. In a world where people don't own cars and treat taxis more akin to public transportation, Uber would be far more profitable. At the same time, the ride-share outfit isn't without controversy, particularly over compensation for its drivers, employment classification of those workers, and poor customer experiences including charging fees to disabled riders for taking too long to board.

There's also the possibility that Uber will replace its fleet of cars with self-driving vehicles, which might be good for Uber and maybe riders, but would put lots of people out of a job. ®

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