When we contemplate the difference we can make in the world through our actions it is sometimes hard to fathom let alone imagine. One such area of this is the global challenge of climate change. An issue of this magnitude is difficult to get our heads around and yet, as we know, it’s affecting everyone in a range of unpredictable and overwhelming ways.
Throughout the first two decades of the 21st century, our problem-solving conversations about climate change and caring for our environment have become more charged and more urgent. A leading point of stress is the complexity of two key areas of contemplation: the first, evaluating the scale of changes that are needed to care for our world and either slow or reverse the damage to the world’s climate, ecosystems, and species, and, the second, establishing exactly how much we need to change and if there are replacements to sources of damage rather than comprehensive bans followed by adjusting to life without toxic machinery and contaminants.
As we said at the beginning of this article, the challenges we face are hard, unpredictable, and all-consuming. Even so, what if there is potential for solutions to be integrated into existing technology? In this case, and for this blog post, we are focused on discussing if there is scope for taxi/cab mobile apps to help with lowering the environmental impact of a leading contributor to carbon emissions: cars and personal vehicles. Though it might seem like an odd point of even hypothetical consideration — continuing to use vehicles even while these are proven factors in climate change — for the purposes of this article, we are reviewing the ways that taxi apps might help us build greener, cleaner futures.
Read on to learn about how taxi apps might do this over the following areas of discussion:
- The taxi and transport mobile app development market in 2023
- The role of taxi and transport apps in cleaner travel and getting more green vehicles on the road
- How mobile app developers can promote climate change initiatives when developing a taxi app
- The role of developers to engineer a User Experience/User Interface with features that guide users to cleaner, greener, more sustainable options to help lower emissions
- The full range of clean and green mobile applications developers deploy outside of taxi apps
- The unexpected development areas of taxi app functionalities that can reduce climate impact
The taxi & transport booking app development market in 2023
The taxi booking app development is now in a mature phase when we look at the history of this application vertical. It’s now over a decade since the first rideshare mobile apps — both Uber (a public company as of 2019) and Sidecar (defunct as of 2015), launched in 2011 — made their way to market. Born amidst the disruptive post-Global Financial Crisis era, this period of decentralized, ‘share economy’ technology was characterized by software companies identifying common problems and using application development to solve them. Business of Apps describes the concept phase of ridesharing and taxi apps being brought to the world in terms of the two main ongoing market leaders, Uber and Lyft. David Curry writes, “The two companies are a product of the terrible taxicab ecosystem which existed in California before 2010.”
In the 13 years since, this area of applications has exploded with ridesharing now synonymous with the companies that own them: in the same way we refer to searching by the platform verbiage ‘Googling’, many of us now use the generic term ‘Uber’ for booking a rideshare. Recent figures from Statista project that in 2023 global rideshare (ride-hailing and taxi) revenue will reach $332.50 billion USD with over a third of this generated in China, at $130.20 billion USD. While revenue growth in the market understandably slowed in 2020, recovery in 2021 and 2022 has been steady. “Companies providing ride-hailing services are moving from providing traditional taxi services to services that can be booked via apps (e.g. ride pooling), which makes the process more transparent for customers than ever before,” is Statista’s analyst’s takeaway with the explanation, “Massive investments of automotive manufacturers in ride-hailing services further fuel the growth of the segment.”
So, if the market is continuing to grow with the help of automotive investors, how does this affect emissions and the associated impacts of environmental damage and long-term climate change? The current most-downloaded taxi/rideshare apps recommended by Digital Trends for the U.S. market in 2023 with a slew of unique offerings depending on the app are:
Other popular apps outside of the U.S. are:
- Easy Taxi, from Cabify
- Grab Superapp
- DiDi Rider
It’s important to note here that some apps, like the household name Uber, aren’t available in every region; this is another metric in how widespread these apps are and why it’s worth assessing the international nuances of how we review what these apps do to minimize environmental impact.
The role of taxi and transport apps in cleaner travel and getting more green vehicles on the road
We’ve now looked at the reality that there is not really any slowing down with ridesharing and taxi apps — at present this market remains in a period of growth and GlobeNewswire attributes what they call “immense popularity across urban settings” to the relative affordability, economical access, ease-of-use, and comfort as reasons for why demand continues to grow. Throw in the rising cost of fuel and insurance, parking costs in metropolitan areas, and public transport strikes throughout the world and for many people, the app route gives them peace of mind for their personal and professional transits.
Let’s review these two angles regarding the outlook for clean, green taxi & ridesharing apps
If, however, users all over the world are turning to rideshare, taxi, and transport apps, how does this bode for environmental impact? In this section, we’re addressing this directly as we look at the two sides of interest: on the one hand, there is data that shows these services may be doing more harm than good to the environment, and, on the other hand, there is also data that presents pathways for scaling down negative climate and ecosystems impacts.
How rideshare and taxi apps might cause damage
A number of studies from various researchers and academics have investigated and reported their findings on the environmental impact of ride-hailing and ridesharing since use became normalized in 2011. In the decade since, research from Carnegie Mellon University, China University of Hong Kong Business School, and the Union of Concerned Scientists USA (UCSUSA) to name three high-profile studies and reports that investigated the diverse ways that rideshare and taxi apps might be compromising sustainability and have a detrimental toll on the environment. The foremost points reported from these studies comprise these summary three points that, in the areas of study, this technology use was an environmental impact phenomena wherein user uptake in these markets after the introduction of ridesharing, ride-hailing, and taxi apps then could be largely tied to resultant:
- Increased vehicle use and road congestion — This is based on the argument that in some metropolitan areas with a smaller central business district there was actually less vehicles pre-rideshare and taxi apps. This is seen to be adding to more emissions without any accountability.
- Miles driven with no solo passengers — This trend is called ‘deadheading’ and refers to the emissions caused when a vehicle is transiting to a pick-up or between a drop-off and pick-up. The additional emissions put pressure on the climate that wouldn’t otherwise have existed; there is a similar problem of just one person taking one trip or taking a trip for the convenience, which statistically is much higher in the apps than with traditional taxi call-outs.
- Displacement of lower-carbon transit modes — The decreased public transport usage and decline in pedestrian transits has been linked to rideshare and taxi apps as people opt for the lifestyle flexibility of pick-up and drop-off suited to their needs.
How rideshare and taxi apps might help minimize and reduce damage
Studies on this side are conclusive while also demonstrating an outlook of acceptance: this technology is here to stay and it can instead be aligned with environmentally-conscious behavior shifts. The 2020 UCSUSA report suggests that, “For ride-hailing to contribute to better climate and congestion outcomes, trips must be pooled and electric, displace single-occupancy car trips more often, and encourage low-emissions modes such as mass transit, biking, and walking.” For minimizing and even reducing damage, here are four key ways that these apps might target environmental needs while the market remains in demand:
- Exclusively zero emissions apps — This is in line with designing transport and travel solutions that work to solve both consumer needs and the macro urgency to cease emissions completely (or close to completely).
- Business models shifting to be entirely carbon neutral — This is already underway in official communications from Uber, a market leader, with a multi-decade timeline published working towards ‘zero emissions’ including carbon offsets, supporting drivers to transition to electric vehicles, region-based zero-emission mobility platforms, and investing in infrastructure in the “fight against climate change”. At present, Uber does have ‘Uber Green’ that offers hybrid and electric car options.
- Apps offering car-pooling functionalities that users uptake — Most, if not all, rideshare and taxi apps now include car-pooling as part of their in-app offers to users. This takes more cars off the road and, in some cases, can even algorithmically allocate users to cars with a similar route.
- Hybrid transit framework — This gives people who are more likely to opt for low-carbon transport options, such as public transport one way then have the back-up of a rideshare or taxi ordered via app for their return journey; this technology functions as the ‘bridge’ for someone in a remote or unserviced area to get to and from their public transport service without having their own car or driving longer distances.
How mobile app developers can promote climate change initiatives when developing a taxi app
From here, we will focus on the role of mobile app developers in deploying taxi applications that promote clean and green priorities. As outlined above, climate change initiatives take a range of forms with the overarching objectives being:
- Steering users towards cleaner rideshare/taxi options — such as carpooling.
- Steering users towards greener rideshare/taxi options — such as choosing an electric vehicle for their ride.
- Guiding users towards hybrid rideshare/taxi options — such as how to combine public transport or zero-carbon transit (walking or traditional bike) with a short carpool or electric vehicle for the section where they need vehicular transport.
As we have previously touched on, some rideshare/taxi apps are being designed to be zero emissions or carbon neutral from their first day of development and deployment so this is not a key objective in these points.
In the development process, mobile app developers have a multifaceted role working to collaboratively devise, engineer, test, deploy, and maintain applications that meet the needs of organizations and the identified target market. To successfully develop a rideshare/taxi app that encourages and empowers users to make decisions to reduce environmental impact without compromising their in-app workflow requires the development of a User Interface (UI) that conveys key brand messages in tandem with a User Experience (UX) that naturally guides the user towards the desired actions.
Delivering this in an effortless way while also making the user feel valued exemplifies why mobile app developers need to have attention-to-detail that incorporates all facets of the brand’s standalone sales and service proposition in order to build an interface that clearly conveys core messages with an easy design for the user to accurately comprehend the importance of their cleaner, greener choices.
The role of developers to engineer a User Experience/User Interface with features that guide users to cleaner, greener, more sustainable options to help lower emissions
Now, we will unpack the technical features of how mobile app developers might engineer UX/UI features that can be used to guide users to a more sustainable option. In apps currently on the market designed to encourage environmentally conscious choices, the following commonalities with the UX/UI consist of:
- Thorough testing — This might be perceived as a logical step but this is the key to success in app development and deployment. During testing, any issues are identified and target user feedback establishes if the objectives of the product are being achieved; this is not a mistake that should be made at any point, especially not if it affects the sustainable efforts of the app owners.
- Simple yet robust design — This makes the app more user-friendly while also making it use less power for reduced energy consumption. It’s also going to negatively affect users if they can’t get home due to the transit app draining their battery.
- Powerful Routing, Direction, & Geolocation — The driver will only create more emissions if they can’t find their customer or their customer’s destination so designing with the right framework is a win for all stakeholders.
- Cost-Effective, Reliable Payments & Rewards System — The user needs to be able to rely on payments being made securely and swiftly. Making the UI transparent around cleaner, low-emission choices is part of payments, too: Uber has a payments structure that currently offers lower fares for the pool service and though green features are around $1 more, each trip earns more Uber Rewards points that a standard trip.
Looking ahead at this evolving app vertical, artificial intelligence has a role to play in facilitating the delivery of in-demand rideshare/taxi services with even greater efficiency and precision. There is great potential to build apps that not only analyze external traffic and locational data in conjunction with company-wide demand data but then use this for short-term and long-term decision-making. “Apart from this, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) with apps to connect the demand for taxis and time slots preferred by customers and efficiently coordinate and manage transportation systems is providing an impetus to the market growth,” GlobalNewswire reports. They continue, “Additionally, the introduction of eco-friendly electric taxi services to curb pollution and greenhouse gases (GHG) is acting as another growth-inducing factor.” Therefore this AI, as just one example, might result in pinpointing service demand trends to locations and devising solutions for fulfilling user needs without creating greater emissions. If algorithmic developments in the app’s GPS interface also continue to improve, as can be speculated, then developers are also capable of conceptualizing and delivering systems that equip drivers to follow more streamlined routes that reduce driving time and distance with emissions subsequently reduced, too.
The full range of clean and green mobile applications developers deploy outside of taxi apps
Adjacent to the rideshare, ride hailing, and taxi service apps we’ve investigated are those services that these mobile applications whose operations are based off of the same platform. When we are assessing if this niche of mobile applications can make a cleaner, greener future then it’s imperative we look at the environmental impact of some of the other high-volume usages these apps fulfil. Right now, apps like Uber plus other tech companies have products that are known predominantly for one major transport service plus they offer a range of additional functionalities:
- E-bikes and E-scooters — Taxis also extends to e-bike self-managed services in many places — these decentralized transport services are no longer exclusively cars. Right now Uber has already integrated its services with the Lime e-scooter brand to help lower emissions for the trips that are so short they don’t need a car making it both convenient for the user and better for the environment.
- Food Delivery — Ordering via these services is another aspect of environmental impact that is easily forgotten but it can be for the greater good as this affects everything from access to groceries through to food miles if people have greater capability to purchase and receive without using their own vehicles. The data gained from opting to have groceries and takeout delivered can then be leveraged in analysis of what food has most demand where and to possibly target emissions tied to distribution and food miles.
- Short-term care hire — Throughout the world, e-vehicle car hire services now make people’s lives easier. Accessible, straight-forward, and affordable e-cars can be hired at a moment’s notice through an app then left at a designated location meaning the car is actually only being driven, and emitting fumes if it’s a hybrid vehicle, while it’s in use; car sharing companies such as Evo are widely used in Canada whereas, on the side of the pond, the Parisian iteration of walk-up ‘e-car short-term hires’ has ceased due to contractual issues (there were no issues with the actual e-vehicle function).
In all cases, these solutions are designed to make people’s lives easier with a diversified strategy that can be adopted based on individual needs while also targeting the collective goals of reducing emissions in meaningful ways. The apps used in each scenario have the same user-centric UX/UI as the ridesharing/taxi apps that dominate however it is crucial to note that there have been accessibility barriers to food delivery apps that raises concerns about how inclusive technological solutions are if they cannot be used by all people, particularly when designed for essential services like grocery/food ordering and delivery.
The unexpected development areas of taxi app functionalities that can reduce climate impact
Taxi app functionalities are without doubt some of the most tested on the entire global market. The nature of their use is for our everyday lives and core activities thus the spinoffs of use like food delivery or bike hire as reviewed in the last paragraph leads us to dig deeper into some of the other service areas unexpectedly brought to market this way. The trajectory of these apps is seemingly perpetually ascending and the solutions being presented are very compelling. Most specifically, there is a wave of rideshare and taxi apps that we’ve observed are entirely designed around the unique value proposition of minimizing environmental impact with creative app solutions that don’t compromise the stakeholder needs component of UX. Furthermore, scientists aren’t entirely negative about the transport technology niche — they just want to see avenues that are targetting environmental impact; some have proposed ways to continue the use of rideshare and taxi apps with green vehicles and more pooled journeys.
Two apps that are exploding in popularity in the U.S. have tactical approaches for both environmental benefits and a quality UX are Bridj and Via. These two apps have an appealing model for user-oriented transport that has a lowered emissions rate:
- Bridj — Is an on-demand public transport that markets itself as a ‘shortcut in your pocket’. As an adaptive transit service, the app enables users to book a seat on one of a fleet of mini buses that connect them to where they need to go in a metropolitan area. Generally it eliminates some of the issues, including cost, that can undermine state-coordinated public transport services and timetables while picking up passengers at their nominated spot.
- Via — Is known as a ‘logistics engine’ with static routes that fills cars with strangers who have a popular, central destination. As more passengers sign on, the costs go down which is another benefit for use. In some cases, it might require users to walk to a stop, on average around one or two blocks, and users can bring a friend with them all while being able to access the service all day, every day of the week (24/7).
These apps are both leaders in the transport vertical with their own distinct way of pooling the majority of their user’s journeys in a format that’s unique yet, based on user response, very appealing.
While taxi apps are now part of our normal lives and certainly contactless functionalities even more so after Covid-19, projecting what the future will be like is obviously difficult due to how complex global environmental issues are. This is absolutely a technology vertical where there are opportunities to have a business model that’s entirely dedicated to minimizing the environmental footprint and have a unique value proposition which is only allowing low-emission or entirely electric vehicles. Additionally, designing into the app UI prompts around environmental offsets balanced with the green energy objectives of the brand— e.g. this trip just used this much fuel and saved this much carbon, and even offering a free ride to passengers who opt for low-emission drivers — is another way forward. There are numerous ways to promote and incentivize within the UI without diminishing the UX. In fact, while there are already companies, as we’ve covered here, who are working towards this type of model, this is no longer a trend and likely to be inherent to this app vertical for the remainder of this decade and beyond. Preparing for a time where there are only vehicles with no emissions as councils continue to change out their public transport for green alternatives and governments such as the UK announce plans to phase out fuel cars on a national level means this is the moment to take development steps that win passengers while also making a positive impact on the environment.
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